SERGEI MAKAROV

Sergei Makarov was born as the third son of Mikhail and Evdokia Makarov on June 19th 1958 in Cheliabinsk, an industrial city of 2 million people located near the Ural Mountains in the central part of Russia. Life was not very easy for his family. His father was a worker in the metal industry and his mother looked after the three sons and Sergei’s younger sister Anna. Unlike their father, who played soccer in the company team, the Makarov sons preferred to play hockey. Nikolai, the oldest, Juri, the second and Sergei always played on the floor of their house in the “Makarov Championship”. Each of the boys symbolised a Moscow hockey team. While Juri pretended to be Spartak, Nikolai was Dynamo, and Sergei played for the Red Army team in his fantasy. Because of his connection to this sport through his brothers, Sergei used every free minute after school to play on the street and on frozen ponds.  

with his brother Nikolai

His family and especially his brother Nikolai, who only began playing hockey at the age of ten, were very important for Sergei Makarov. At the age of five, Sergei used to skate behind his brother, trying to be faster than him. From that time Sergei developed great ambition and stubornness to be the best. This attitude and his habit of speaking his mind were sometimes a problem for him, later in his career. He always played with older and stronger kids and so he had to work on his speed, to avoid getting hit. At the age of eight he had his first minor success. While playing for a kids’ team at a regional championship he was awarded MVP in his age group. His mother had to brake him and Nikolai in their ambitions, because she wanted the kids to have a good education. She succeeded in this, because all her boys were good at school.

All of the three Makarov sons passed their examinations in an institute for sports and sciences. Sergei began playing for the team of his father’s company, while Nikolai was discovered by the Red Army team and sent to Chebarkul, a kind of Red Army farm team. Nikolai’s move was also very important for Sergei. He often visited Nikolai with his family and while watching him play he saw a young guy playing for Cherbakul who changed his life forever. His eyes always kept following one certain player who was to become the best winger ever produced by the Soviet hockey system and the idol of Sergei Makarov - Valery Kharlamov!

Makarovs idol Valery Kharlamov

When Nikolai went back to Cheliabinsk between games, he always had to show Sergei  Kharlamov’s moves and his style of playing. It was not always easy for Nikolai, because Kharlamov made some moves that only he was able to do. So Sergei used every free minute to try to play like his idol, always on the ice, repeating the moves his brother had shown him. One of the biggest moments in Sergei’s life was, when Valery Kharlamov visited the Makarovs in their house in Cheliabinsk for dinner. This was probably the time then Sergei decided to do everything to finally become a hockey player. The first step was to join the local team, Traktor Cheliabinsk.

First he played in several of Traktor’s junior teams. During those years Makarov was often criticised by the coaches when his team lost. They often blamed him for failure. The stubborn Makarov wanted to quit with hockey, but Anatoli Kostrikov, who was the coach of the senior team at that time, began to observe the talented winger and was able to convince him to keep playing. In the season of 1976/77 Sergei played eleven games for the senior team, which surprisingly finished third in the Soviet Championship. That year he was also invited to play for the Soviet Union in the Junior World Championschips, where he won his first Gold Medal. 

Traktor Cheliabinsk team logo

He and his teammates, among them Sergei Starikov, Sergei’s best friend at that time, were able to repeat their success in the following year in Canada, where the nineteen year-old Makarov was named “best player” in five games. Although he was very successful, with exception of the Traktor fans, the hockey experts in Russia didn’t see his talent. A lot of people, even in their own federation, criticised Viktor Tikhonov for inviting Sergei Makarov to some friendly games for the senior team in Scandinavia before the World Championship in 1978. But Tikhonov, who always did things his way, didn’t want to listen to the critics. Surprisingly, Makarov was named for the Championships in Prague in 1978. The Soviet Union won Gold after two disappointments in 1976 and 1977. Makarov was picked to play for the Red Army team.

That was the start of a glorious career. Makarov went to CSKA Moscow, where they had the strongest team of all time. Zhluktov, Kapustin, Lebedev, Petrov, Mikhailov, Maltsev and Sergei’s idol Kharlamov were the stars of the team, and nobody thought that this young guy would have a chance against the other players. But together with the other Red Army prospect Vladimir Krutov, he was able to become an important part of the team. In that year he scored 18 goals for 39 points.

Meanwhile, in May 1978, he married his girlfriend Vera, who he had met on New Year’s Eve in 1975. In October 1979 their son Artem was born. After winning the World Championship in 1979 and 1981 and the loss of the Gold Medal in the “Miracle on ice” during the Olympics in 1980 against the young US-Boys, he and the left winger Vladimir Krutov received a new center in their line. With Igor Larionov and the two defenders Alexei Kasatonov and Viacheslav Fetisov, they formed the strongest line in the hockey world for the next decade. This “Green Unit” electrified hockey fans around the world with their magnificent play. The first demonstration of their strength took place during the Canada Cup in 1981.

Sergei and a russian movie actress

Makarov became the best right wing in Europe. After the tragic death of Kharlamov he became the successor of this great player. His marvellous stick handling, unbelievable speed and scoring instinct made him one of   Viktor Tikhonov’s most dangerous weapons. He became assistant captain and silenced the criticism of the past. 

together with Krutov

During his time with the Red Army team, he won 11 national Championships and was the leading scorer in the Soviet league nine times. He was chosen for the USSR First All-Star team in the years from 1981 to 1988 and the “player of the year” three times. His international appearances with the Soviet squad were also very successful. Two gold and one silver medal in the Olympic games, eight times world champion with the USSR senior and twice with the junior team. He was nominated for the World Championship First All-Star team eight times and was named best forward in that event in 1985. He was one of the Canada Cup winners in 1981. He also won the “Gold Stick” award as the most outstanding player in Europe twice. Sergei Makarov is an “Honoured Master of Sport” in Russia. Maybe his greatest personal achievement was winning the prize named after his idol. As the technically best player in Russia he won the “Kharlamov prize” two times. Even the Mongolian Republic published a stamp whith Makarov on it in 1984.  

Never being an easy character and always willing to stand by his opinion, he sometimes had disputes with friends and coaches. He showed this attitude before the World Championship in 1989 when he went to a TV show with some teammates with the goal of reinstalling the banned captain Slava Fetisov. He was not as loud as Fetisov and Larionov during the hockey revolution in the Soviet Union at the end of the eighties, but always showed his support for the fight for more freedom. As we know, the players won the war.

On  July 1st 1989, the Calgary Flames signed Sergei Makarov as the second Soviet in their team after having signed Sergei Priakin a few months previously. But, instead of Priakin, whose signing was more of a publicity act, Sergei was to become the successor of Sweden’s great Hakan Loob, who left the team after the Stanley Cup season. GM Cliff Fletcher was enthusiastic about Makarov’s prospects in Calgary.

At the beginning, Makarov also had trouble getting used to his new life in Canada. In contrast to Larionov, who spoke English fluently, Sergei had problems with the language and his stubborness didn’t help either. The right wing was frequently in conflict with his teammates and with coach Terry Crisp. The tactics of Crisp were based on short shifts, putting the puck deep and getting plenty of shots on goal. In Russia, his line usually had shifts of about two minutes and didn’t play dump and chase hockey. Makarov was very successful with the “Soviet style” of hockey and didn’t believe in dump and chase hockey. He was 31 years old when he arrived in Calgary and didn’t want to, or wasn’t able to, change his game. He told friends that he was stunned about the lack of passing for precision shots in the NHL. He also told a newspaper that he would welcome a trade to the Vancouver Canucks to play with Krutov and Larionov. This was not a good way of breaking the ice between him, his teammates and the coach. Terry Crisp and Sergei Makarov never became good friends.

But in spite of the problems off the ice, Sergei Makarov had the most successful season of all the first Soviets in the NHL. His 24 goals and 62 assists for 86 points brought him the Calder Memorial Trophy as “Rookie of the year”.

This award started a big discussion among the NHL officials. Was it correct to give this award to a player of his experience and success? Most of the NHL GM’s preferred to give the prize to young players like Jeremy Roenick or Mike Modano. Many contended that Makarov’s games for the Red Army team constituted playing in a pro league and so he wasn’t allowed to receive the prize. On November 13th, 1989, during a general manager’s meeting in Chicago, it was decided that there was nothing to be done at present, because they couldn’t change the rules in the middle of the season. The year after Makarov won the prize, a new rule stated that only players of 26 or younger would be considered rookies. Sergei Makarov stayed three more seasons in Calgary and excelled on the ice. After scoring for 79, 70 and 57 points in the seasons 1990-91 to 1992-93 he was traded to the Hartford Whalers for future considerations.

He never played for Hartford, but was immediately drafted to the San Jose Sharks, where he was reunited with his former teammate and friend Igor Larionov at the beginning of the 1993-94 season. At that time, San Jose was still a very new team in the NHL franchise and the first seasons had been a complete disappointment for club officials and fans. But that was to change in the coming year.

After a poor start to the season, the Sharks had developed into a serious competitor, likely to reach the playoffs. Together with the Swedish Johan Garpenlov, the two Soviet veterans formed a strong first line and helped the team to the playoffs, where they upset the favourite Detroit Red Wings in seven games and reached the conference semi-finals against Toronto. Makarov and Larionov, both in their mid 30’s, were meanwhile playing something like they had in the old days. Although they both had some disputes with young coach Kevin Constantine about their style of playing they respected him, and on the other hand they were respected by the other players as the leaders, especially Larionov, who was the brain of the team. Makarov was the first player to score 30 goals in one season in the Sharks history. He also scored  the first penalty shot in San Jose’s franchise.

In spite of his success in San Jose, Sergei Makarov was not a public man and not always available for press and fans. But it was his job to play hockey and help the Sharks to win. And he did it very well, at least in his first season with the Sharks. In his second, the lockout season, he was only able to score 10 goals and his effectiveness was put into question. The Sharks officials knew that he wasn’t getting any younger and for the 1995-96 season Makarov was dropped from the Sharks’ roster. It seemed that a great career had come to an end.
Although his Sharks career was over he was a happy man. He had found a new love. After separating from his first wife Vera in Calgary, he met Mary, who had worked for the San Jose Sharks in the ticket sales. They are now married and have two small children. In the 1995-96 season he didn’t play. Instead he became an assistant coach for the Russian national team during the World Cup.

In the 1996-97 season Sergei made two comeback attempts. First the Dallas Stars signed him on a contract. But Sergei’s great days were over and his last NHL job was only 4 games long. Then he played some games for Fribourg, Switzerland where he met his former teammates Bykov and Khomutov. Quiet and barely recognized, one of the legends of hockey ended his career. It was sad that this man, who nearly always wore the No. 24,  was never able to engrave his name on the Stanley Cup

What is he doing now? Sergei Makarov still lives in the Bay Area, California with his wife Mary and his small children; son Nicky and daughter Katya. His oldest son, Artem lives in Calgary. The tennis fan Makarov enjoys his new, anonymous life. Sometimes he visits Sharks games and still misses the atmosphere and the game. Sometimes he still plays post-game matches. He is a certified player agent who acts as a liaison for young Russians wanting to play in North America. Several times a year he visits Cheliabinsk to see his family and friends. Maybe we will see him one day as a coach. He is definitely on of the greatest hockey players the world has ever known and his fans around the world will never forget his fantastic style of play. .

In 2001 Sergei was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. He received that honours during the World Championship in Germany. Hopefully it’s only a question of time till he follows his former teammates Vladislav Tretiak and Viacheslav Fetisov as third Russian player to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. He definitely deserves it. Good luck, Sergei!