Wednesday, May 4, 2011
On May 2, 1989, Alexander Mogliny, then just 20 years old, made a choice that would affect the rest of his life.
While in Stockholm, Sweden, having just completed winning a gold medal at the 1989 World Championships, Mogilny made the life changing decision to become the first Soviet player to defect, leaving behind his family but escaping the totalitarian rule of the communist system, and iron-fisted Soviet old school coach Viktor Tikhonov in particular, whom Mogilny felt would make his life not only at the rink, but outside of hockey, miserable for years to come due to his independent nature.
The story begins at the 1988 NHL Entry Draft when the Sabres, with one of their two picks in the fifth round, selected one of the most exciting young players in the world, Alexander Mogilny with the 89th overall pick. While many Soviet players had been chosen in the NHL draft before, it was generally in much later rounds when taking a flyer on a player unlikely to ever appear in an NHL game was worth the roll of the dice with an essentially meaningless pick.
Gerry Mehan, the Sabres general manager explains, "
The move to New Jersey was a positive one for Mogilny, as he would regain his scoring touch and exceed 40 goals for only the third time in his career, with 43 goals during an 83 point season and another run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
He would sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2001-02 season, where he would play for three seasons, including winning the Lady Byng Trophy in 2003 and scoring his 1,000th point in 2003-04, before returning to the Devils for the final season of his career in 2005-06 before retiring with 473 goals and 1032 points in 990 games.
Following his defection, Mogilny would never play for the Soviet Union again and suit up for Russia just once in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, cutting short what was destined to be a fine, if not outstanding, international career.