By: Andrey Osadchenko
Picking 5 best Russian players for the Flames is pretty easy. There haven’t been too many ruskies put on the flaming ‘C’. In fact, in the entire history of the organization, the Flames have had 12 Russian players and only a few of them were able to leave their mark.
Note that this list doesn’t include Igor Kravchuk, because he made the respective Oiler article a little earlier. It’s also worth mentioning that the first Soviet player in the NHL, Sergei Priakhin, is not mentioned here either, since in all honesty he had more impact on the history of hockey than on the Flames’ history. It’s a rather twisted irony.
1. Sergei Makarov
Birthday – 19.06.1958
Position – Right Wing
Height – 5’11
Weight – 183lbs
Drafted – 1983 round 12 #231
Stats with the Flames – 94+198=292 points in 297 regular season games, 1+6=7 points in 9 play-off games
Makarov made his way over the Atlantic in 1989 at the age of 31. An unimaginable thing nowadays, but it didn’t stop Sergei from showing what he was capable of on the ice. Note that by that time Makarov has already won the 1981 Canada Cup, was a runner-up at 1987 Canada Cup, 2 Olympic golds and 6 World Championships.
However, he didn’t good start out all that well with the Flames. In one of his first interviews overseas, Makarov said he’d love to get traded to the Vancouver Canucks to reunite with his former Red Army line-mates Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. That didn’t exactly help establish a good atmosphere between Makarov, Flames’ head-coach Terry Crisp and his teammates.
On the ice, though, everything worked for him just fine. In his rookie season he scored 24 goals and picked up 62 assists for 86 points in 80 games, which was enough for him to claim the Calder Trophy. In fact, the NHL changed the Calder qualifications after Makarov’s win so that established veterans would be ineligible for the award going forward.
Overall, he played 4 seasons for the Flames before moving to San Jose, where he was finally reunited with Igor Larionov. He also got divorced and married again to a lady named Mary. He currently resides with her and their 2 children in California. His older son, Artem, still lives in Calgary.
2. German Titov
Birthday – 16.10.1965
Position – Centre
Height – 6’0
Weight – 190lbs
Drafted – 1993 round 10 #252
Stats with the Flames – 107+121=228 points in 345 regular season games, 7+6=13 points in 18 play-off games
The Khimik Voskresensk alumni came to the NHL when he was 27-years old. No matter how ridiculous it seems, it’s probably not the craziest part of his career. The mere fact he became a pro hockey player is somewhat surprising. At the age of 15 he had to make a choice between soccer and hockey. Titov was successful at both – he played for junior TEAM USSR soccer team of his age group.
Nevertheless, he chose hockey over soccer because his father liked it more. After that, German was forced to put the skates on a shelf for 4 years because of the military service. Later on his line-mate Theo Fleury asked him what did he do in the army and Titov’s answer was: “Nothing. Just drove a tank and blew stuff up”.
He signed with the Flames after a season in Finland where he player for TPS. He had to buy-out his contract by himself and spent $100,000 on it. It’s fair to say it was worth it. Titov became one of the best Russians who ever played for the Flames and was considered to be one of their top forwards at one time when he played on a line with Theo Fleury and Robert Reichel. Titov fell in love with Calgary and currently peacefully resides there with his family.
3. Valeri Bure
Birthday – 13.06.1974
Position – Right Wing
Height – 5’9
Weight – 179lbs Drafted – 1992 round 2 #33
Stats with the Flames – 93+99=192 points in 256 regular season games, 0+0=0 points in 0 play-off games
Valeri is a noticeable Russian in the early simply because he spent his major junior career in the CHL in that epoch, which was very rare compared to his compatriots. He played for 3 seasons for the Spokane Chiefs, scoring 135 goals and 298 points in 178 games. Unfortunately, his pro career wasn’t nearly as successful.
Pavel Bure’s younger brother was originally drafted by the Habs and was traded to the Flames in 1998 along with a 4th round pick (Shaun Sutter) for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski. His numbers increased slightly after the trade and arguably his best season in the league he spent with the Flames. In 1999/2000 Valeri scored 35 goals and had 40 assists for a total of 75 points in 82 games.
In 2001 the Flames traded Bure to the Panthers along with Jason Wiemer for Rob Niedermayer and a 2nd round selection (Andrei Medvedev). He retired in 2006 at the age of 32 (just like is brother) because of back and hip injuries. He currently resides in California and runs his own winery.
4. Andrei Nazarov
Birthday – 22.05.1974
Position – Left Wing
Height – 6’5
Weight – 229lbs
Drafted – 1992 round 1 #10
Stats with the Flames – 15+31=46 points in 112 regular season games, 0+0=0 points in 0 play-off games
Originally drafted by the San Jose Sharks, Nazarov joined the Flames in the January of 1999. Tampa Bay traded him for Michael Nylander. Despite what you may think, this trade turned out not so bad after all, considering the fact Nazarov was a tough-guy.
Fourty-six points in a little more than 100 games is a result you just don’t expect from an enforcer. In fact, in the 1999/2000 season Nazarov set his personal record in points – 10+22=32 in 76 games while registering only 78 penalty minutes. And, yes, we are talking about a guy who spent more than 24 hours in a penalty box in his career. He is also hands down the best Russian tough-guy the league has ever seen.
Nazarov retired at 32 and now is a head-coach of infamous Vityaz (KHL) and is one of the assistant coaches for Team Russia.
5. Oleg Saprykin
Birthday – 12.02.1981
Position – Right Wing / Left Wing
Height – 6’0
Weight – 194lbs
Drafted – 1999 round 1 #11
Stats with the Flames – 29+47=76 points in 187 regular season games, 3+3=6 points in 26 play-off games
Just like Valeri Bure, Saprykin was born and raised in Moscow, started his hockey career in Red Army and played major junior out west with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Oleg showed a lot of skill in the 2 seasons he spent in the WHL, scoring 77 goals and 159 points in 114 games. Note that WHL is generally seen as the toughest league for young Russian players to showcase their skill.
The Flames drafted him very high – 11th overall – but it didn’t exactly pan out. Saprykin’s production went downhill as soon as he became a pro. The Flames probably thought they picked a potential 35+ goal-scorer when in fact Oleg turned out to be a power forwar who could score 20+ points per season.
Nevertheless, he was one of the best Russians who ever played for Calgary, even though it certainly highlights more the lack of his compatriots in the history of the organization than it speaks of his strengths. In 2004 Saprykin was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes along with Denis Gauthier for Daymond Langkow. After spent another 2 years in the NHL, Oleg returned to Russia and played 2 amazing seasons for Red Army. Then he tried his luck with bigger KHL clubs who offered him some good coin and his production once again suffered. However, this season he finally found himself back on track and has 11+10=21 points in 28 games with the league reigning champion Salavat Yulaev.
**Andrey is the Nation’s Russian correspondant. Follow him on twitter here.