Greg Adams remembers Vladimir Krutov as a quiet man who struggled to fit in during his first and only season in the NHL with the Canucks.
According to reports, Krutov, one of the Soviet Union’s all-time great hockey players and part of the national team's storied KLM Line, died at age 52 in Moscow on Wednesday.
Krutov arrived in the NHL in 1989 along with countryman and fellow linemate Igor Larionov on the fabled Soviet KLM line. The expectations were huge that Krutov and Larionov – two of the top players in international hockey – would make the Canucks an elite team. It failed miserably and Vancouver missed the playoffs that season.
“Vlad was a quiet guy who didn't say much,” recalled Adams, a member of that team who's now a realtor in Phoenix. “I felt sorry for him in a way. There was a lot of pressure on those guys. Igor lived up to those expectations, but Vlad didn't.”
Larionov arrived in the summer and attended training camp, but Krutov was delayed and showed up in poor condition.
“Vlad and Igor were two different guys. Coming in, Igor was still a great player, whereas Vlad didn't arrive here in the same (physical) condition.
“You can't step into the NHL and not be in shape,” said Adams. “But you could see in practice that he still had his talent, he still had ability, but his conditioning made it too hard for him to compete. He came in like that and he couldn't catch up.”
Larionov, who went on to win three Stanley Cups with Detroit, was outgoing and had a reasonable grasp of English when he arrived. Krutov had almost none and it made it difficult for him to fit in with the team, said Adams.
“He never really learned much English and the language barrier was a big obstacle for him to overcome,” said Adams. “It's tough to come to a different county with no English.”
According to a report by Associated Press, the Russian Hockey Federation said Krutov died Wednesday. It did not give a cause of death, but the ITAR-Tass news agency said he had been taken to a hospital several days earlier for stomach bleeding.
“Volodya was such a dependable and steadfast man that I would have gone anywhere with him – to war, to espionage, into peril. There are fewer and fewer guys like him in every generation of hockey players,” federation president and former Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretyak told the Sport-Express newspaper.
Born in Moscow, Krutov gathered attention for his play with a local factory team Meteor and was then invited to the hockey school of the CSKA Moscow club. He played with the team between 1978-89.
Krutov and his CSKA teammates Larionov and Sergei Makarov formed one of the most potent scoring lines that hockey has ever seen, and led the Soviet team to gold in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. He was also part of the team that lost to the United States at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and won five world championship titles in the 1980s.
Along with defencemen Vyacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, they became known as the “Green Unit” for the color of their practice jerseys.
He was one of the first Soviet players to play in the NHL, but spent only one undistinguished season with the Vancouver Canucks. He later played for Zurich and Swedish lower-league clubs Ostersund and Brunflo, and coached CSKA for one season in 2001-02.
After that, he was director at a state sports school. In 2010, he was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation’s hall of fame.
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