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Hall of Fame

Sergei Makarov strived for perfection: Igor Larionov

Center on Red Army 'KLM Line' says right wing was 'special player,' deserves to go into Hockey Hall of Fame

by Igor Larionov / Special to NHL.com

Center Igor Larionov played with right wing Sergei Makarov and left wing Vladimir Krutov on the Red Army's famed "KLM Line" from 1981 until they left the Soviet Union to come to the NHL in 1989. Together they won two Olympic gold medals, four World Championship gold medals and the 1981 Canada Cup. Larionov, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, also reunited with Makarov in the NHL for two seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Here he shares his thoughts on Makarov, who will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, in a special testimonial for NHL.com:

The first time I met Sergei Makarov was the spring of 1981 at training camp for the Soviet national team for the World Championship in Sweden.

I was playing for my hometown team in Voskresensk, which is outside of Moscow. Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov from the "KLM Line" and the "Green Unit" with defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, all of them played for the Red Army. I was the last guy to join.

I was invited to the training camp and we went to play a couple of exhibition games in Finland before the World Championship, and coach Viktor Tikhonov put all three of us on the same line for the first time. That was the first time I saw Makarov and played with him. 

We clicked instantly. There was instant chemistry. When I got into that group, the older-school guys I played with were already consistent members of the national team. I was 20 years old and I was the youngest guy on the line and I realized how much demand for success there was and how much demand for the little details and the skill was required to play with these guys, especially Makarov.

He was always taking everything to the maximum on every shift, almost to perfection. Every shift there has to be scoring chances, there has to be pinpoint passes. He wanted to attack, get scoring chances and get goals.

There was a two-and-a-half year age difference between us and I was very nervous. I joined the team in 1981 and the first time Makarov played in the World Championship was 1978.

So he had three years on the national team and the Red Army team and I was the young guy coming in trying to impress. There was pressure, but I felt like when you played the game right and played with those guys you had chances every game, and I just had to make sure those guys were happy.

When you've got so much skill on the line, you have to have somebody to orchestrate the skill. That's what they were looking for, somebody to fill the gap. 

Makarov was a very strong skater. He would skate at high speed going right at the defenseman. It's hard to describe him going one against one at high speed and make it look so easy against any defender in the world. 

As a scorer, every breakaway, the goalie had no chance. He had too many moves. Too many quick moves and a quick stick and a quick mind. He was a special player.

If you look at his stats, his stats are first class, there's no doubt about it. But as one of the top players in the game when he was playing for the Soviet national team in the Olympics and the World Championship, and then going to North America and the NHL in 1989, his consistency was remarkable. 

His style of the game and his leadership on every team he played for were outstanding. His skill level and other stuff, I can describe that, but I'm talking about his consistency to be able to be a top guy and the go-to guy. He was a team player. Every time he stepped on the ice he had just one goal and that was to win the hockey game.

When the IIHF named its Centennial All-Star Team in 2008, he was one of the players selected. Sergei was one of the top six players in the 20th century. That was a great accomplishment.

It wasn't just something he did for one or two years. He was consistent year after year in international play and any competition.

He came to the NHL late in his career with the Calgary Flames when he was 31 and he won the Calder Trophy. After that they changed the rule so you had to be 26 years old or younger to win the rookie of the year.

But that was fun for him to come and play for the Flames after they won the Stanley Cup in 1989. He played with some good players, and he was actually sharing his skill and making the players around him better players.

There's no doubt he would have been one of the best players in the League if he had been able to come over at age 23 instead of 31. No doubt.

When I heard he had been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame I was so happy for Sergei. He's such a great athlete, such a great man and successful. He's a very proud Russian guy and for him it's a huge accomplishment. For his skill level, for his success, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

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