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, Sergei Fedorov
Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport /

How did the Russian Five become Hockeytown immortals?

Still, to this day, the memories are vivid. I remember watching Wings games every Friday night with my father while eating Jet’s Pizza in front of our humongous box, big screen TV in Shelby Township.

At certain points, like many other kids, I would pretend to be Sergei Fedorov while playing. How many pairs of skates did Nike sell because of his success with the other Russians?

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Whether it was Larionov’s brilliance, Konstantinov’s grit, and big-time hits, Kozlov’s quiet act as a fifth-wheel who managed to come away with timely goals. Or Fetisov’s ability to anchor the defense or Fedorov’s dominance by way of skating and scoring ability, it was always understood those Friday night games were a spectacle to see.

We remember Fedorov’s five-goal night. We remember Larionov wrestling Peter Forsberg to the ice to ignite the on-ice fight with the Colorado Avalanche.

Don’t forget about the night the unit was the primary driving force that chased Patrick Roy from the net, as the Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens 11-1 in what would become his final game for the club.

The Russian Five were cool as ice and made hockey in Motown fun again. After years of heartbreaking letdowns, these five felt it was necessary to show the world and this franchise that winning was fun, and be conducted in a manner that challenged conventional thinking.

Their family-like culture spread through the locker room, and soon thereafter, a city that was starving to reach the pinnacle of the sport again.

Together, the group of Soviet comrades defied a nation and provided the spark necessary to ignite a Mike Illitch owned Red Wings club that suffered through a 42-year championship drought before defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.

It was on that night that captain Steve Yzerman passed the Stanley Cup to Fetisov and Larionov after conducting his victory lap around the Joe in front of a sellout crowd.

Women jumped up-and-down screaming for joy, as their men wept like babies with tears streaming down their cheeks. The spirit’s flowed, and the octopus’ had been thrown, all while five former members of the Soviet Red Army team celebrated with their teammates.

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Authors note: Background information derived from both personal knowledge and Jim Reihl’s award-winning documentary, The Russian Five. The film was an adaptation of The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery, and Courage, written by Keith Gave.