Red Wings: Russian Five became the driving force behind multiple titles

Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport
Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport /
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Red Wings, Jim Lites
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

How did the Detroit Red Wings’ front office plan to get the job done?

Wings executive vice-president Jim Lites masterminded the operation to extract Detroit’s assets from their prison-like living conditions as military athletes. His persistence was admirable.

Along with the help of Russian-speaking Detroit sportswriter Keith Gave, the Wings passed secret letters to Fedorov and Konstantinov during international competitions that declared their intentions to finance and smuggle the duo to Detroit.

Gave’s media credentials allowed him access to the pair. During his brief interaction with Sergei and Vladimir, he let each player know they had been recently drafted and passed along Lites’ Intel.

Despite the Red Wings’ initial efforts, the players resisted making the jump citing fear of disloyalty to their country.

Why did the Soviets finally decide to pull the trigger?

The Soviet Union was beginning to crumble, so Fedorov decided to play Russian Roulette in regards to his life. Fascinated by Lites’ bribes that included thousands of dollars in cash, the promise of riverfront living in downtown Detroit, and a brand new Corvette, the youngster was complicit in his kidnapping from the 1990 Goodwill Games.

Shortly after, both Konstantinov and Kozlov were able to seek refuge due to a need for medical care in the United States.

Kozlov survived a car wreck that resulted in the death of a teammate and was at risk of never walking again. Before that, Lites’ paid-off a reported six doctors to lie and corroborate that Vladimir was suffering cancer so that he’d be discharged from his position as a captain in the Soviet Red Army.

Both would go on to join Fedorov in Detroit. Together, the trio displayed their dominating, puck-control style of play against the NHL’s best. Quickly, the Red Wings’ fortunes were beginning to change.