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Original Issue

To Russia, with Love

Turning his broad back on the NHL, Alexander Ragulin became a Soviet hero

It sounds quaint in this globalized era, the idea that politics might keep a top athlete from seeking fame and fortune. "I could have played in the NHL," Alexander Ragulin, a pillar of the Soviet Union teams that dominated international hockey in the 1960s and '70s, said a few years ago. "But I never thought about leaving. That would have meant defecting, and that would have made me a traitor to my country."

To many North Americans, Ragulin, who died last week of a heart attack at age 63, was the scarred face of the Soviet juggernaut. One of the world's most intimidating defensemen, he stood 6'1" and weighed 225 pounds at a time when few players topped 200. Between 1962 and '73 he won three Olympic gold medals and 10 world titles, and he's in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.

Ragulin became well-known in the West during the Summit Series between Canada and the U.S.S.R. in 1972, which Canada won. After retiring in '73 he spent his life in Moscow, coaching and organizing teammate reunions. "Perhaps some good came from our losing," he said. "If we had won, then no one in Canada would want to remember our names."




The rugged Ragulin (left) wrestled with Phil Esposito in '72.