. 1990-1996

17 1988 . 
Are the Russians coming?; NHL teams banking on glasnost; Soviets worried about defections // The Ottawa Citizen. 

Larry Sicinski. 

Hamilton Spectator columnist Larry Sicinski's command of the Russian language enables him to speak to Soviet players directly. Over the years, Sicinski has built a rapport with them unique among North American journalists.

HAMILTON _ The Soviet Union's promise to permit its aging stars to play in the NHL is a calculated effort to ward off a serious threat of defections.

Over the years, a number of NHL teams have secretly approached Soviet players to come to North America.

So far, none have followed up on the standing invitations.

But with the advent of glasnost and familiarity with the West, bred by increasing hockey exchanges between nations, the temptation for Soviet stars to abandon the homeland has never been greater.

Soviet authorities, in turn, have been trying to make private deals with some NHL clubs which would embargo the employment of defectors.

Prior to a statement by the Soviets in February via NHL Players' Association boss Alan Eagleson and NHL president John Ziegler that some players would be released, some NHL teams were as actively involved in recruiting Soviet talent as such a touchy endeavor would allow.

A number of clandestine rendezvous have taken place.

The Washington Capitals had at least three secret meetings with Mikhail Tatarinov, a skilled young Moscow Dynamo defenceman.

Veteran Red Army rearguard Viacheslav Fetisov, who may play for New Jersey Devils next season, has conceded that representatives of that club have approached him directly. Fetisov recently received permission from Soviet hockey authorities to play in the NHL, but must receive clearance from the army.

Goalie Evgeny Belosheikin also claims to have been solicited by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Even the Vancouver Canucks, who have gone through proper channels in their quest to break into this untapped resource, were seen walking through Europe a few years back with a pocketful of cash in search for someone.

Still, Soviet national team assistant coach Igor Dmitriev discounts suggestions that Soviet players are on the verge of defection.

''For us, players want to be on the national team. If they don't make the national team, they don't think beyond their respective teams. They don't look past that,'' he says.

''They believe if you're not on the national team, you won't be able to play in the NHL. You won't have a chance.''

Dancers such as Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov who fled the Soviet Union did so only to expand their artistic freedom, he says. ''Hockey players want only to play with the best. And the best is the Soviet national team.''

Be that as it may, it hasn't stopped players such as Tatarinov from listening to NHL offers. And he is only one of several Soviet players who have been left salivating over the beckoning gold mine in the NHL.

Tatarinov first talked with Capitals' representatives during the world junior hockey tournament in Finland in 1985.

Complications at the last minute scuttled another rendezvous, planned for the '86 world junior tournament in Hamilton, with the 21-year-old native of the Siberian city of Angarsk.

But there were two subsequent secret meetings in Montreal, including one in which a $1-million five-year contract was laid before him.

A Caps' source confirms the offer was made.

Tatarinov's eyes glazed over the $200,000-a-season offer, but he balked at signing any documents. Soviet officials, who have ''stool pigeons'' on every squad touring North America, began worrying that Tatarinov was weakening.

In an effort to quietly dissuade this young talent, they moved his parents to Moscow to be near him.

Since then, Tatarinov seems to have fallen into disfavor, a curious development considering his talent.

He was left off the Soviet's winning Olympic roster. He missed the Canada Cup last September. He did not compete in the last world championships in Vienna.

He last played with the Soviet national team during Rendezvous '87 in Quebec City in February, 1987. There, he was exceptional.

But Tatarinov did not go to Vienna, much to the surprise of Washington general manager David Poile and Jack Button, director of player personnel, who were there to watch him.

It was reported that Tatarinov had been injured in practice before the worlds and had broken his jaw before the Canada Cup. But smiles on the faces of some players who know the truth tell another story.

Asked what happened to him, Vasily Pervukhin, 32, a defence partner of Tatarinov's, said during the Canada Cup that it was he who broke Tatarinov's jaw.


''With a puck,'' answered Pervukhin, a longtime national team earpiece for club officials.

Pervukhin plays for Moscow Dynamo, a team known for its spies. Even the players kid about it. ''A KGB team,'' one Red Army player calls it.

The Capitals drafted Tatarinov in the 10th round in 1984, two weeks after his 18th birthday. They made their first contact with him six months later in Finland.

''The reason we drafted him was that we thought he defected along with Petr Svoboda when they were in that same tournament,'' says Poile. ''We thought he was in West Germany.''

The Caps have eased off their pursuit in the past two years for two reasons: A) The Soviets have cut off his accessibility, and B) They're waiting to see the list of players the Soviets say they'll release to the NHL.

''We don't know what to do right now. I guess we're just curious about what their policy will be in releasing players,'' Poile says.

There's still no word on the list of players to be made available, says Eagleson.

The Soviet International Ice Hockey Federation said in Calgary that a list of 10 eligible players would be released during the NHL playoffs.

''They could do it in two weeks or just before the draft in June,'' Eagleson said. ''You never know with those guys.''

Poile speculates on what would happen if the Soviets released only Fetisov and his defence partner, Alexei Kazatonov, to the Devils. ''The Washington Capitals and the rest of the Patrick Division wouldn't be too happy about that.''

New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello's is convinced these two defencemen will be with the Devils before long.

''I feel strongly that it will happen because they have to reward them at this period of their lives,'' Lamoriello says.

He claims the Soviet Union's ''sports culture committee'' has made a decision to do something to deter potential defectors. That includes granting older players _ 28, 29, 30 _ the chance to play in the NHL.

Lamoriello returned to Calgary on three occasions for serious discussions during the Olympics, each time at the request of the Soviets.

While in Calgary, he had extensive chats with Roman Dacyshyn, whom he calls the Soviet team's agent.

Dacyshyn, owner of a Hamilton restaurant, works for Toronto lawyer Bob Price, whose firm (International Impresarios Inc.) represents the Soviets in many exchanges outside hockey, such as the ballet and Moscow Circus.

''I have to be careful about what I say right now. The reason I say he's (Fetisov) the first player they'll release is that he's the player who could best exemplify what they're trying to do right now,'' says Lamoriello.