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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hockey Team Gets U. S. Link

In a move that breaks new ground in the business of international sports but that is likely to anger Russian sports fans, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League have signed an agreement with Russia's Central Red Army team to help finance the club in return for greater access to the team's player talent.


The deal, announced in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, links the dominant team in Russia for the last two decades with the most successful North American team of the 1990s. It provides for the Russian team, known by its Russian acronym CSKA, to play exhibition games and take part in clinics in the United States and for Pittsburgh players to train with the Moscow club here. The Penguins will also hold training clinics in Russia.


In return, the CSKA team, which has lost its state subsidy, will receive a cash investment from the Penguins club, owned by Pittsburgh Hockey Associates and by actor Michael J. Fox. The amount of money was not disclosed.


CSKA general manager Valery Gushin and head coach Viktor Tikhonov, who coached Russia's Olympic gold medal teams in 1976, 1984 and 1988, signed the deal, Reuters reported from Pittsburgh.


In a phone interview, Penguins public relations spokesperson Harry Sanders hailed the move as a breakthrough in international sports relations. "It is the first deal of its kind in professional sports", he said. "Never before has this kind of deal been made between two distant countries, and there has certainly never been anything of its kind between the United States and Russia".


But the move may be unpopular, not only with Russian sports fans, but with some factions of the CSKA franchise.


CSKA assistant coach Vladimir Popov, questioned about the agreement, replied angrily, "What deal? We don't know about any deals here in the Soviet Union. If you want to ask about deals, ask Tikhonov when he comes back".


Reminded that it had already been announced in the United States, Popov answered, "In the Soviet Union, we hear about things long after everyone else does".


That the CSKA team - which was once one of the best, if not the best, team in the world - should now function as a farm club for an American team will doubtless be seen by many Russian fans as a move that humiliates the country and its athletes.


"Of course, it's humiliating from their side", said Komsomolskaya Pravda sportswriter Dmitry Filipchenko, referring to CSKA. "This was a great team, and now American minor leaguers will be playing here".


What makes the situation even more infuriating from the Russian side is that the NHL, in a sense, was a key agent in the CSKA's fall from prominence.


The Red Army team - which produced this year's NHL leading goal scorer in Buffalo's Alexander Mogilny and the 1990 NHL rookie of the year in Vancouver's Pavel Bure - has been severely depleted by mass defections to the NHL. Salaries are much higher in the league than they are in Russia.


This year, 22 Russian players played in the NHL. Most of the best Russian players who are now in the United States and Canada played for CSKA. All five of CSKA's starters in the late 1980s - Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makharov, Igor Laryonov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, and Alexander Kasatonov - defected to the NHL.


Pittsburgh Hockey Associates chairman Howard Baldwin said his team plans to use its link to CSKA as a center for a broad, "North-American style" scouting operation in Russia to search out young talent.