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Makarov the Great
Former Shark great should be next to get the call
10/23/08 - By Steve Flores

Fans are funny! Interesting is probably a better word. Fans of sport in general have, shall we say, their own way of looking at things. Each person's perspective is always different as is the way each of us looks at life itself. I'm not trying to get all existential here - actually nothing could be further from the truth. My inspiration for this little column was the text-message poll conducted by Comcast Sports Net on Wednesday night during the San Jose Sharks broadcast.

The question-O-the day was as follows: "Which ex-Shark should be the next player inducted into hockey's Hall of Fame? The nominees were as follows: Sergei Makarov, Mike Vernon and the Sharks current G.M. Doug Wilson.

First let me state that all three players have credentials that warrant their insertion into the Mecca of eternal hockey greatness. The results however made me giggle a bit as the fans chose Wilson with over 60% of their texts. This doesn't surprise me as most Sharks fans are 'relatively speaking' new to the hockey world and Wilson is key in the current Sharkie-world. He also won a Norris Trophy, is a multiple time All-Star and is a good, solid egg. He was a very good player.

Let me just say that the text results were not that which inspired me to start tapping the keyboard; the response of TV commentators Randy Hahn & Drew Remenda that chose Vernon as the 'obvious' choice is what bothered me. They chose Vernon.

I have no argument with Vernon's pedigree either. The guy won Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1997. The guy was a great Goalie.

But people please!!!!!! Sergei Makarov is a living legend.

I have been a hockey fan for almost 40 years now. Today's NHL has a far broader reach and scope than when I was a kid. In the early 1970's the Bay Area had the Oakland/California Golden Seals. Throughout their stay in the East Bay we had very little TV coverage of the team. As a league there was never really much network coverage and Cable TV was not the media beast that it is today. There were very few satellite dishes planted in peoples yards and XM/Sirius radio was the brainchild of no one. At that time in hockey history there was the Hockey News and newspaper coverage. In a nutshell one really had to work to get their information on the game itself and the lack of Television coverage left a lot of open space for mystery.

The 70's and 80's were also the era of the Cold War with Russia specifically and communism in general.

Olympic Hockey was played by amateurs not NHL stars. The exceptions to the Olympic rule were the Russians. Yes, by definition they were amateurs but that's because their players were simply not allowed to leave the motherland to collect a paycheck.

In 1989 that all changed as the political climate began to change and Russian players began their exodus to North America.

Makarov was one of those players. During the 1980's Makarov played on the most famed international line of all-time. For those of you hockey youngsters the KLM line was comprised of Makarov, (former Shark) Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. This trio was truly legendary. The Russians were always clouded in mystery, intrigue and a near darkness that reflected the Cold War itself. The players were rarely if ever allowed to speak publicly and they were part of a regimen and an era of Russian hockey players that seemed more militaristic than athlete in regard to their persona. Fear was something that their coach legendary Victor Tikhonov wanted to instill in opponents and mystique is that which was born.

Along with legendary defenders Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov the Soviet Union was the standard bearer of hockey excellence for many years. The Soviets won Gold Medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships like it was their birthright. The politics and draconian methods of coaching and system employed by the Soviets can be debated somewhere else. My input here is simply stating that Makarov is a true legend.

When people spoke of him prior to his NHL debut they spoke of the man is if he were a phantom or legend of ancient lore. He was a member of an elite crew that simply appeared at an arena and devastated all opponents. His list of achievements is far too long for me to list in specific detail in this column. Do a search and see for yourself. World Championships, Gold Medals, Canada Cup titles etc etc. He was even on the famed 1980 Olympic team that fell to the Americans in the greatest upset in hockey history.

In 1989, when he joined the NHL, he was awarded the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He was 31 and mentally and physically, hardly a rookie. The NHL changed the award so that no one over 26 could ever win the award afterward; it is now referred to as 'The Makarov Rule'.

The game always came easy to him and he was 'old-school' in his approach to the game. He wasn't a fan of coach-talk and simply wanted to play the game. He had natural skills that he displayed with flare and results. When I was a teenager I viewed him as a larger than life figure.

He was a living legend whom ended up plying his wares in front of me for the Sharks. For me It was an honor to watch one of the greatest players to ever lace em up. I have never been one to worship athletes. I love Sport. I love hockey, but autographs and fawning over performers is not my thing. There has only been a handful that I have looked at with wide eyes and awe. Sergei Makarov is and always will be Paul Bunyan with a hockey stick and no disrespect to Drew, Randy, Mike Vernon or Doug Wilson, but they are all in the long shadow cast by the greatest Right Winger to ever hail from the former Soviet Union.

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