Escaping the Soviet Union, the Russian Five committed treason and risked their lives while defecting to the NHL to compete during the glory days of the Detroit Red Wings.
Every die-hard Hockeytown fan remembers the Spirit of Detroit, a giant bronze statue residing close to Woodward and Jefferson, donning a giant Detroit Red Wings jersey for the first time during the 1996-1997 Stanley Cup Finals. The image lives in their minds and is timeless, much like a unit of Soviet defectors known as the Russian Five.
Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov, and Igor Larionov were a five-person unit of hockey players that forever changed the way North American’s viewed and played ice hockey.
They were also the primary catalysts for Scotty Bowman’s title-winning teams of the late nineties and early 2000s.
How dangerous was the Russian’s decisions to defect?
Take your hat off to former Red Wings GM Jimmy Devellano. He had the “courage” to take a significant risk in drafting Fedorov, Konstantinov, and Kozlov in the early rounds of consecutive drafts.
At the time, every pro hockey franchise knew some of the best players in the world hailed from the Soviet Union. Devellano needed an edge to propel Detroit to the level of a contender and felt the trio would make the difference. However, the KGB (Committee for State Security of the Soviet Communist Party) was known to enact inhumane measures ensuring that its athletes remained on national soil.
Facing the threat of criminal charges to go along with the potential deaths of their loved ones, both Fedorov and Konstantinov would eventually be among the first players to make a move. Both were extremely brave, considering the circumstances.