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To prepare for the June 24 NHL draft, Viktor Tikhonov, 18, works out in the gym in his garage in Los Gatos, on June 7, 2006. His father, Vasili Tikhonov, a former San Jose Sharks assistant coach and a good skater in his own right supervises Viktor's workout. (LiPo Ching/San Jose Mercury News)

LOS GATOS -- He grew up here as your typical Northern California kid, skateboarding and hanging out at the beach.

But he also spent countless hours on Bay Area ice rinks, and all that hard work has given Viktor Tikhonov the chance to live out his hockey dream at the Sochi Olympics.

If he does get to stand on the victory podium, however, he won't be listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner." Tikhonov, 25, is carrying on a family legacy as he plays for Russia. He shares his name with his 83-year-old grandfather -- the Vince Lombardi of Russian hockey, a domineering figure who won three Olympic titles, though he is better known in the United States as the losing coach in the 1980 Miracle on Ice.

"It's kind of funny to think about it, but the last time Russia won was 22 years ago, when he was the coach," Tikhonov said in a recent phone interview. "Maybe it'll come full circle and we can go from Tikhonov to Tikhonov. That would be kind of cool."

The Olympics, though, will be bittersweet because his father won't be there. Vasili Tikhonov, a former Sharks assistant coach, died in an accident last summer in Moscow.

The family is still struggling with the tragedy, and Tikhonov is using his father's memory to fuel the drive to capture the gold medal, said his sister.

"It definitely does," added Tatjana "Tiki" Tikhonov, who serves as the family spokesperson on their father's death so her brother can focus on hockey. "We are Tikhonovs. Dad is alive in all of us."


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Tikhonov returns each summer to Los Gatos, where his mother and sister still live, an anonymous guy training at Sharks Ice when he's not surfing or mountain-biking. But the man whom local friends simply call "Vik" represents the latest generation of Russian hockey royalty.

"They are celebrities in Russia," said Hal Nunn, who coached Tikhonov starting at age 6 with the youth team Santa Clara Blackhawks. "There's no bigger name in Russian hockey. And it's just a fantastic family of really nice people."

Tikhonov, who holds dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, speaks flawless English and Russian along with a little Finnish and German. Born in Riga, Latvia, he moved to Los Gatos at age 4 when his father joined the Sharks organization. At 12, his hockey journey took him to Finland, Switzerland and then Russia before returning to the U.S. in 2008.

That year he was the first-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes. Tikhonov did play 61 NHL games, but today he is a speedy forward with SKA St. Petersburg -- in Russia, not Florida -- of the Kontinental Hockey League, the best in Europe.

But those who know him say he's the same humble kid who skated against players two years older on his way to the top.

"He hasn't lived off the famous last name," said Jon Gustafson, a Sharks executive who also briefly coached Tikhonov as a youth. "He got there because he worked hard. "

His grandfather got him his first pair of skates. But both Gustafson and Nunn recall how father Vasili and son were inseparable and often would practice NHL-level drills for hours even when the younger Tikhonov was only 9 or 10.

But what Nunn remembers most was how Tikhonov never acted entitled even when he was so much more advanced than his teammates.

"We never had to sit him down and tell him that hockey is a team game," Nunn said, "and that we didn't want him lugging the puck all the way down the ice like he was Bobby Orr."

As a teenager, Tikhonov established himself as a rising prospect in Russia and grew closer to his grandfather -- who once had ruled the Soviet Union's hockey program with an iron fist.

The younger Tikhonov began to understand the pressure that came with his name.

"In the States, not many people remind you every day," the younger Tikhonov said. "But in Russia, it's, 'Oh, you're this guy's son or that guy's grandson.' Only in Russia did it really hit who he was or what he'd done."

Tikhonov had put himself in position to make the Olympic team by playing in the KHL in front of Russian coaches when tragedy rocked the family. On Aug. 7, Vasili Tikhonov, 55, fell four stories to his death from his Moscow apartment. He apparently had been trying to cut a hole in netting that covered scaffolding during renovations of the building.

The Tikhonovs have maintained their Los Gatos home over the years, and Tiki Tikhonov and her mother, who also is named Tatjana, were there when they received the news.

"Mom actually talked with dad a few hours before he passed," said Tiki Tikhonov, 29, who today coaches in the Santa Clara Blackhawks program. "Everything was great."

With his father gone, Tikhonov's grandfather has an even more prominent role in his life.

The senior Tikhonov sees the grandson play whenever his St. Petersburg team travels to Moscow, and is expected to be in Sochi watching with pride. The Russian team carries the heavy burden of winning on their home country's ice.

"Things you pretend to do when you're a kid is win the Stanley Cup and get the Olympic gold," Tikhonov said. "Having the chance to do that now is a dream come true."

He has another year-and-a-half on his KHL contract, and it's his sister's dream that he then comes back to his other home to play for the Sharks. But the focus now is on the Olympics.

"We've been telling everybody we know that they should root really hard for the U.S. in everything else but hockey," she said. "Then they have to cheer for Russia and my brother."

VIKTOR TIKHONOV
Who: Member of the Russian Olympic hockey team who was born in Riga, Latvia, but spent much of his childhood in Los Gatos.
Age: 25.
Family: Grandfather, also Viktor Tikhonov, 83, is the most decorated hockey coach in Russian history, leading the former Soviet Union and then Russian national team to three Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships. Known in the United States as the losing coach when the U.S. upset the Soviets en route to the 1980 Olympic gold medal in the famous Miracle on Ice. Late father, Vasili Tikhonov, worked for the Sharks from 1993 to 1999, including as an assistant coach. Sister, Tiki, coaches with the Santa Clara Blackhawks youth program and this summer plans to begin Tikhonov Training Camp in the Bay Area with her brother.
Career: First-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2008 draft (28th overall) and scored 8 goals and 8 assists in 61 career NHL games. Now has found success as a forward for SKA St. Petersburg of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
Personal: Wife Genia, who was born the Ukraine, raised in Belarus and moved to the United States at age 16, where she later met Tikhonov in San Jose. They have an 18-month-old son, Lev.
Home: St. Petersburg, Russia, during hockey season, Los Gatos during the summer.