Igor Nikolayevich Larionov (born December 3, 1960) is a Russian retired professional ice hockey player, known as The Professor. Along with Viacheslav Fetisov, he was instrumental in breaking the barrier that kept Soviet players from joining the National Hockey League (NHL). He primarily played the centre position, and is considered one of the best passers of all time. Larionov won three Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002) and was inducted as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 10, 2008.
Soviet League (1977–89)
Larionov began his career in the Soviet League with Khimik Voskresensk in 1977–78, appearing in six games. Joining the club full-time the following season, he recorded seven points in 32 games as a rookie. He improved to 45 points in 43 games in 1980–81, garnering the attention of CSKA Moscow and Soviet national team coach Viktor Tikhonov. Tikhonov approached him before a game between CSKA and Khimik early in the 1980–81 season, inviting Larionov to play for him. He notched five assists that game against Tikhonov’s team and the following season, joined CSKA Moscow as the top-line centre between Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. The trio became known as the “KLM Line” and dominated both the Soviet League and international competition. They were joined by defensive pairing Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov to form the five-man lineup known as the “Green Unit”, so called for the green uniforms they wore during practice.
Larionov put up 53 points in his first season with CSKA, including a Soviet career-high 31 goals. He was named the Soviet MVP in 1988 following a personal best 32 assists and 57 points. Despite the success, Larionov resisted Tikhonov’s draconian coaching style and the Soviet system that had a tight grip on the players’ personal lives. He objected that Tikhonov kept his players confined to barracks (in CSKA’s Archangel training facility) for as much as 11 months a year, even when they were married (CSKA was a functioning division of the Soviet Army). He told a Russian magazine that with the players being away from home for so long, “it is a wonder our wives manage to give birth.”Larionov also recounted suspicious injections that national team players would receive annually leading up to the World Championships. After refusing injection prior to the 1982 World Championships, he was not asked again.
Larionov led the revolt with Fetisov against Soviet authorities that prevented Soviet players to defect to the NHL. He had been drafted by theVancouver Canucks in 1985 and openly expressed a desire to move to North America. After talking to reporters about one day playing in the NHL, Tikhonov told Larionov that there was a mix-up with his passport and that he could not join the team for their six-city tour of the NHL in December 1985. He was to be kept off the national squad as well until the lobbying of Fetisov and other players returned Larionov to the team.
National Hockey League (1989–2004)
After eight years of voicing his discontent, Larionov was allowed to join the Canucks in 1989–90. He left the Soviet Union along with many other Soviet players, including all four of his “Green Unit” teammates. They were sold in order to infuse the cash-strapped Sovintersport (the governing body for sports in the former Soviet Union), which would draw a portion of the players’ salaries. Larionov was joined in Vancouver by Krutov, and both struggled initially. While Krutov lasted only one year in the NHL, Larionov played three years for the Canucks and got progressively better as he adapted to the North American game. In the 1991–92 season, he centered the Canucks’ top line, which included Greg Adams and rookie Pavel Bure. Larionov took the young Russian star under his wing that season.
After his three-year contract with the Canucks had expired, Larionov chose to play a year in Switzerland so that Sovintersport would not continue to draw a portion of his salary. He returned to the NHL with the San Jose Sharks in 1993–94, where he was re-united with Sergei Makarov and helped the Sharks to a record 59-point improvement over the previous season. The Sharks then upset the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the playoffs and extended the Toronto Maple Leafs to seven games in the Conference Semi-Finals before falling.
During the 1995–96, the re-building Sharks traded Larionov to the Detroit Red Wings. Larionov was one of five members of the Red Wings’ “Russian Five” unit in the mid-1990s. He and Fetisov were looked on as father figures by the team’s other Russian players, which included Sergei Fedorov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov.
In 2000, Larionov signed with the Florida Panthers, where he was re-united with Pavel Bure. It was a disaster, though, and Larionov was traded back to Detroit before the end of the season. He played his final NHL season for the New Jersey Devils in 2003–04, where Viacheslav Fetisov was an assistant coach. He finished his career by playing two games for the Swedish team Brunflo IK in 2005–06, producing one goal and three assists. Brunflo is the same team that his former linemate in CSKA Moscow and the Soviet Union, Vladimir Krutov, ended his career with ten years earlier.
On June 17, 2008, it was announced that Larionov would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player. He was appointed to a three-year term on the Hall’s selection committee on March 31, 2011.
On the international stage, playing for the Soviet Union, Larionov centered Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov on the famed “KLM Line”. Along with defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, they formed the “Green Unit”, so named because they wore green jerseys in practice. All five players also played for CSKA Moscow.
He won two golds (1984, 1988) and one bronze for Russia (2002) in the Olympics, and four golds (1982, 1983, 1986, 1989), one silver (1987), and one bronze (1985) in the World Championships. He was an instrumental member of the Soviet squad that won the 1981 Canada Cup (this tournament was the coming out of the KLM Line) and played in the 1984 and 1987 events as well. He then played for Russia in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Joe Sakic and Scott Niedermayer are the only four players in the world who have won Olympics Gold, World Championship Gold, a Stanley Cup (IIHF Triple Gold Club), Canada/World Cup, and World Junior Championship Gold.
Larionov is married to former figure skater Elena Batanova and has three children, Alyonka, Diana and Igor II. Currently, he is a professional wine merchant making wines under the labels “Hattrick” and “Triple Overtime” with wines from Australia and California. Other wine labels include “Slapshot” and “IL Triple Overtime.” The name Triple Overtime Wine Company roots from Larionov’s winning goal in the third overtime period of Game 3 in the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.