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'Professor' uses smarts in business world

Shared passion for wine forges bound between Larionov, businessman

Saturday, 05.3.2008 / 5:21 PM ET / Features
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\'Professor\' uses smarts in business world

Former NHL center Igor Larionov formed a company called Il Triple Overtime Wine following his 2004
retirement, which has recently gone international.
Since winning two Stanley Cups in Detroit, back-to-back in 1997 and 1998, Aaron Ward went on to win another with Carolina in 2006 and become a solid defenseman and established leader everywhere he has gone, including his latest stop with the Boston Bruins.

Yet, Ward still credits the player and person he is today to the man they call “The Professor,” former Red Wings forward Igor Larionov.

“The best thing about Igor -- and I try to live that way now -- is his maturity and composure,” Ward said.

“They called him “The Professor” because of his trademark glasses and he was so smart and even-keeled on the ice and off it. He played the game with ease and was just always under control. I remember when I’d lose my composure as a young man, he would always tell me: “Just think the game. Make decisions as carefully as you can and think about how to approach your next move.”

“I mean, here’s a guy who was maybe 175 pounds and maybe 5-foot-10 but he was so successful on both the international stage and then in the NHL because he always tried to learn the game and then preach what he learned to the young guys around him. He was, and is, one of the best character guys and smartest people I’ve met.”

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“The Professor” will be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame this month at the World Championships and NHL.com caught up with Larionov recently to reflect on his induction and what he has been doing in during life after hockey.

The Professor enters the wine lab


Larionov played his last NHL game in 2004, but even before then “The Professor” already was calculating his next move and planning for life after hockey. 

When Larionov came to the Red Wings, he befriended Mike Davis, a Detroit-based wine distributor and restaurant owner. A mutual friend put Davis and Larionov in touch because they both shared a passion for wine.

The pair quickly realized that with their respective connections in hockey and the wine business internationally, they had the potential to start a wine company, specifically targeting Russia, a market and economy they felt was ripe for the picking.

“Igor and I became good friends quickly and we figured why not do something with our shared passion for wine,” Davis said. “I told him that with the growing economy in Russia and his prominent name there -- he’s like an icon -- we could combine that with my connections in the wine business around the world and work with the best in the business. We put our concept together and it just went from there.”

So in 2002, following his third Stanley Cup championship, one in which he scored the Game 3 winner in triple overtime, they formed a wine company. Eventually, it would be called Il Triple Overtime Wine, aptly named in honor of that triple overtime winner in Carolina. 

The wine company created California and Australian wines that were originally distributed in Russian and Switzerland, but are now distributed in Canada, the United States, and online at www.iltripleovertime.com. Many of the wines have hockey-related names such as “Hat-Trick” a California Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Slapshot” an Australian Shiraz.

When Larionov retired in 2004, he knew he would need something to keep him busy and give him a sense of schedule and balance. Il Triple Overtime Wine has done just that and, in the process, he has found a way to most importantly spend quality time with his family. He also keeps active in the hockey world, coaching youth hockey and running international tournaments in California, Michigan and Russia.

“I knew the lockout was coming and decided that it was time to move on,” Larionov said. “I had already got into the wine business and now I decided it was time to go in a different direction and, most importantly, spend quality time with my family and be a parent. I wanted to watch my son develop as a kid and a hockey player, and watch my girls grow up and follow their dreams to be professional singers. So the wine business became a way for me to create a schedule and work around that. It still allowed me to spend time with my family but also kept me busy and helped me pursue another passion of mine.”

As Ward pointed out, Larionov has always displayed great patience and a desire to learn and pass on the knowledge he gained. He has approached his wine business in the same fashion.

"I’m very honored to be inducted and I’m really looking forward to this event." - Igor Larionov on his upcoming induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame
“It takes time to build your company and clientele, so I’ve been patient and tried to learn as much as I can about wine and the business,” Larionov said. “This is a very interesting business and you meet so many different types of people, so I’ve done my best to take their advice and apply it to what we do with Triple Overtime, building our business.”

Larionov and Davis travel frequently to improve their business and their travels have brought them to Napa Valley, Southern Australia, throughout Canada and the U.S., Switzerland and back to Larianov’s native Russia.

During his career, Larionov built many friendships and he is doing the same on his business sojourns.

“I’m really enjoying meeting so many different types of people and sharing our love for wine,” he said.

“It’s just been such a great and interesting experience.”

Connecting Cultures

Larionov and fellow countryman Viacheslav Fetisov were instrumental in breaking the barrier that stopped Soviet players from joining the NHL.

After being drafted in 1985, but struggling to break free from the Soviet Union and the strong-armed tactics of Viktor Tikhonov -- who doubled as coach of CSKA and the Soviet national team for which Larionov played -- Larionov and Fetisov finally made the jump across the Atlantic in 1989 and began their NHL careers.

lgor Larionov sponsors his International Youth Hockey Tournaments in Russia, Michigan and California.
In the process, they opened the floodgates for many Russian players and served as pioneers in that respect.

Since retiring, Larionov has continued to connect the North American and Russian hockey cultures through numerous youth hockey tournaments in Russia, Michigan and California.

For Larionov, it is his way of helping young hockey players experience new cultures and form friendships, just as he was able to do during his NHL career. It is also a way for him to stay connected to the game.

“Hockey is my life and I still love the game so much,” Larionov said. “You can never get away from the game completely so I figured I’d start these tournaments for 7-to-15 year-old boys and help them experience what I did when I came to North America.

“This gives the kids a chance to experience different cultures and I think that’s very important for us all. So for them to see the game in a different perspective and to form friendships with players from another country is very beneficial to them as they grow and mature.”

As always, Larionov tries to preach what he practices and that is to be willing to learn, and exhibit patience and respect for whomever he may meet.

“Those are qualities that I always tried to have and use and, hopefully, these kids can learn to do so through this experience,” he said.

The next “Igor Larionov International Youth Hockey Tournament” will take place in Los Angeles from May 22-26. For more information, go to www.iltournaments.com.

Ready to add another highlight

Larionov is part of the 19-member Triple Gold Club, consisting of players who have won gold at the Olympics, World Championships and the Stanley Cup.

In May, he will be honored for his play on the international stage and inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame. For Larionov, this honor will go right up there with the two Olympic gold medals (1984, 88), four IIHF World Championship gold medals, one Canada Cup title (1981) one IIHF World U-20 gold medal (1980), an Olympic bronze medal (2002) and the three Stanley Cup Championships he won with Detroit in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

“I’m very honored to be inducted and I’m really looking forward to this event,” he said.

“This will be one of the greatest highlights of my life and I’ll remember it forever. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish internationally and I hope I was able to help others experience what I did.

As anyone who knows Larionov will tell you, this is a well-deserved honor. But, to really honor Larionov one should follow in his footsteps and spread what they have learned from him.

“He’s become like a brother to me and that’s quite an honor to be so close to such a respected human being,” Davis said. “Igor is like they say, a “professor” and one that truly cares about helping others.”

Author: James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent


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