Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Igor Larionov Autographed Card

The last time the Vancouver Canucks were irrelevant for this long, they were wearing their finest uniforms (the "spaghetti skate"), the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were dominating their division, they had a good group of young players to build around (including captain-to-be and current Team President Trevor Linden) but needed one spark-plug that came in the form of Pavel Bure.

Right now, they have potentially-good youngsters like Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Troy Stetcher, Olli Juolevi, Thatcher Demko, Jonathan Dahlen, Elias Pettersson and Jacob Markstrom, but I don't see their savior anywhere yet, so I predicted they would finish 8th in the Pacific Division this year.

Two years before the Canucks plucked Bure away from the Central Red Army team, they had already brought him a mentor in Igor Larionov, one of the best players in the world in the 1980s, of whom Wayne Gretzky - the best player of all time and a part-time teammate of Mario Lemieux's on Team Canada - once said was the "best center in the world".

It's easy to see why, too: Larionov won two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988) with the Soviet Union, and one bronze for Team Russia (2002), but it was at the World Championships that the Big Red Machine really took its domination to the world stage, winning four gold medals (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989), one silver (1987), and one bronze (1985). The Soviet squad also won the 1981 Canada Cup, which was the first time Larionov was paired with Vadimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov to form the "KLM Line". He also played in the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cups, as well as its replacement, the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, in 1996.

Then came his turn in the NHL, starting in Vancouver, where he posted 52 goals, 92 assists and 143 total points in 210 games, followed by a decent stretch with the San Jose Sharks (82 points in 97 regular-season games, plus 27 points in 25 playoff games), the better part of 8 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings (three Stanley Cups, 397 points in 539 regular-season games and 59 points in 105 postseason games) interspersed by 26 games with the Florida Panthers (11 points), and 49 games (11 points) to close off his career with the New Jersey Devils. As a veteran leader on the Wings, he earned the nickname "The Professor".

Of course, with all those championships, he's one of the 27 members (to date) of the famed Triple Gold Club (Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, a Stanley Cup). Better yet, though, with Joe Sakic, Scott Niedermayer and Viacheslav (Slava) Fetisov, he's one of four Quintuple Gold Club members, which adds Canada/World Cup titles and World Juniors gold to that feat. Sakic and Niedermayer also have Memorial Cups as well.

It was no surprise when he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.

Post-retirement, he served as Director of Hockey Operations for SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL) and is now a player agent (notably for Nail Yakupov, for whom he laid out a map for success) and a wine maker.

Here he is sporting the Canucks' superb 1980s white (home) uniform, on card #246 from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which he signed in blue sharpie:
While he mostly wore #8 or #9 in his NHL career, he wore #18 in Vancouver, which fits him perfectly in my Canucks Numbers Project.

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