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
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What about the elder statesmen?

According to Jim Riehl’s The Russian Five, Fedorov said “absolutely” when asked whether or not Wings’ should trade for Fetisov. Coined with the nickname “Papa Bear,” the defenseman acted as a mentor to not just his countrymen, but many of the young players in Hockeytown.

Fetisov was widely regarded as the best European born defenseman in the history of the game at the time and had a wealth of knowledge to share.

Illitch’s club also had the opportunity to trade for Larionov. Known for his ability as a playmaker, and his on-ice intellect, it seemed as if the elder Soviet was always two steps ahead of everyone else.

His ability to forecast what was going to happen during a play and put himself or a teammate in the right spot to make an impact was brilliant. It’s almost as if he was ice hockey’s version of John Nash (a brilliant Princeton mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in economic sciences).

What legacy did the Russian Five leave behind?

Watching the five-man unit team up on ice was mesmerizing. Grouping each player together was reflective of the Soviet-style of play, and each player used their skill and finesse to control the puck and wear opponents down until they made mistakes.

Their success catapulted the Red Wings to an NHL record 62 wins during the ’95-’96 regular season. At times, the unit would control the puck for an entire shift. According to Joe Lapointe of the New York Timesthey scored 117 of the Red Wings’ 325 goals that season.

The strategy would go on to revolutionize the way hockey was played in North America. It was dominant, and the old style of dump-and-chase was growing staler by the day. Soon after, their success was undeniable, and teams began plucking talent from all over Europe and Asia.

Also, the Russian Five dispelled any rumors that European-born players were “soft” as they often gutted it out and played through injuries. Before that, many execs in the NHL feared winning a championship was unattainable with too many overseas players on any one roster.