On January 29, 1989 the fifteenth World Bandy Championships begin in Moscow. The host team, The Soviet Union, has won eleven of the previous 14 Gold Medals. They have won two silvers. In 1987, however, at the World Championships in Sweden, the Soviets experience a catastrophe. They finish third. A humiliation to Soviet bandy. A tiny canary perhaps in the colossal coal mine of the collapsing Soviet Union. The Soviet economy is in disarray. Its citizens displeased and for the first time in seven decades willing to express their unhappiness out loud. They demand change. In response, Mikael Gorbachev institutes two new policies. Perestroika, an attempt to restructure the faltering economy. Glasnost, or Openness, to allow social and political reform designed to give Soviet citizens more rights and freedom. Perestroika and Glasnost do not impact the Soviet desire to reclaim the gold in the 1989 World Championships. Bandy existed in Russia before the revolution. It will continue to exist long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their name for bandy is Russian Hockey. Winning the gold is a matter of national pride, especially on the home ice of Moscow.
The Soviet Government offers the National Team an incentive for winning in Moscow. If they are champions again they will be allowed to come to the US the following season for a week to compete on the bandy rinks of Minnesota. The Soviet bandy leaders convey this to US General Manager Magnus Skold just prior to the Gold Medal game on February 5. They inform Magnus that US bandy will of course cover all expenses for the team while they are in the US. They have complete confidence that Magnus will make this happen. The Soviets also have complete confidence that they will win the Championship match vs Finland. They do not lose to Finland. In the round robin Sweden has beat the Soviets but Finland has upset the Swedes. The final round robin match is Finland vs the Soviets. If Finland loses by two goals or less they will still advance to the Championship match. Late in the game the Soviets are up 6-2. Yet in the last five minutes the Soviet defense makes two major errors leading to two Finnish goals. The final is 6-4. Sweden is out. As the Soviet players leave the ice after the game their path to the locker room is lined by the Swedish players. "Bazor" they call to the Soviets. "Bazor" Shame, Shame on you. In the championship match the Soviets crush the Finns 12-2. They have just booked their tickets to the USA for January 1990.
Back in Minnesota, Magnus and US Bandy come up with a plan to finance the cost of the Soviet visit. In addition to two national team matches between the Soviets and the US there will be a separate tournament. Six US club teams will each draft three Soviet players. The players for each US team will be responsible for the expense of hosting their three Soviets. The tournament is called The Glasnost Cup. Tim Roth is in charge of transportation. He is on a tight budget. A yellow school bus will take the Soviets from the airport to the hotel and back again when the week ends. For excursions during the day Tim rents two large, well used, vans from Rent A Wreck. He obtains an excellent daily rate. Well within budget. Steve Jecha volunteers to print up souvenir sweat shirts as mementos for the Soviets and to sell to the US players and fans. Unfortunately there is a mix up at the printers. On the front of the sweatshirts, boldly emblazoned, is The Glanost Cup. Not a problem for the Soviets who can only read Russian Cyrillic. Steve promotes the misprinted sweatshirts to the US players and fans as a true collectors item. Like a two headed nickel. He sells them all.
On the bus from the airport to the hotel the Soviets sit quietly together with the three political security officers accompanying them. If they are experiencing any positive emotions at being in the US they know better than to express them. The next evening is the first national team match. The first and only international match ever played at the outdoor rink in Roseville on Dale Street. The ice is acceptable but the lighting is dim, bordering on feeble. This gives the game a dreamlike quality but the Soviets are very awake. Their skill and speed is eyes wide open real. The final score is 9-2. The Soviets of course. The following evening the Soviets not only attend a Minnesota North Star game, they play an exhibition against each other between the second and third period. Fifteen thousand spectators look on. The size of the crowd does not impress the Soviets, all of whom have played in front of forty thousand spectators back home. The venue, however, makes an impression. The players begin to outwardly express both excitement and humanity. During the day the political security officers allow the US players to take the Soviet players out sightseeing and shopping. Walgreens is especially popular. They load up on cosmetics, not only for their wives and girlfriends but also to sell on the black market back home. One player explains that a single lipstck costing less than a dollar will sell for twenty times that amount in Moscow.
The Glasnost Cup begins. All games are played at Lewis Park bandy rink in Edina. The six teams pick up their three Soviets at the hotel and bring them to the rink. When the game is over they are to bring them back to the hotel. This does not happen. Instead they take their Soviets out to various bar/restaurants for dinner and some bonding alcohol. At Williams Pub Steve Jecha and the Stabek players buy a round of beers for their Soviets. Nine rounds later the two groups have bonded, even as neither group can speak a word of the other's language. In the meantime the Soviet team leaders have expressed a desire to visit a naked ballet, otherwise known as a strip club. They have wads of rubles but limited dollars. Their US bandy host explains to the dancers that the fistfuls of rubles are actually with much more than dollars. And the dancing begins.
The Soviet bandy visit is covered by the local media. WCCO television assigns Eleanor Mondale to report on the Soviets both on and off the ice. Mondale will later in her career work as a correspondent for both ESPN and the NBC Today Show. In 2013 she is inducted posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame. She even authors a book about the children of US Presidents. As the daughter of former US Vice President Walter Mondale she is well qualified. The Soviets are very enamored with Ms Mondale.
The Minnesota Reindeer reach the Saturday afternoon championship game of the Glasnost Cup. Their three Soviets are Vladimir Plakhunov, Andrei Efremov and Viktor Salomatov. Each wears the red jersey of the Reindeer. Reindeer player Jim Hautman gives his jersey to Plakhunov and replaces it with a red hunting shirt during the game. The Reindeer win the Glasnost Cup. Hartman, also a renowned wildlife artist, will later in 1990 win the prestigious US Federal Duck Stamp Award.
On Sunday afternoon the Soviet and US National Teams meet for a second match. The rink at Lewis Park is surrounded by hundreds of spectators, most of whom have never seen a bandy game before. They have come to see the Soviets perform. They are not disappointed in the least as the Soviets win 12-1. That evening Chris Halden hosts the Soviet players from Moscow Dynamo at his home in St Louis Park. Cathy and I welcome the players from Jenisej at our modest house in south Minneapolis. Cathy prepares a meal of steak and potatoes for our guests. Each steak weighs at least one pound. The plates are eaten clean. I speak with Soviet libero Viktor Shakalin. He is fascinated that Cathy and I are the only two people living in our three bedroom, two bathroom house. He and his teammates, world class athletes, world champions and Soviet heroes, have only lived in apartment buildings all their lives. It turns out to be fortunate that we have two bathrooms. None of the Jenisej players have consumed a pound of premium steak before at one sitting. They line up outside the two bathrooms, waiting their turn, in significant gastral distress.
Monday morning on the yellow school bus to the airport from the hotel. Magnus Skold is accompanying the Soviets. The players and even the political security officers are talking and laughing out loud. Gesturing emphatically at all the sites and people they see out the window. It is cold so the windows remain closed. But the Soviets have opened up. Glasnost indeed.