Thursday, October 20, 2011
By the time he completed the 1988-89 season in the Soviet Championship league, Viacheslav Fetisov had won 11 Soviet Championships, a pair of Player of the Year awards, two European Junior golds, three World Junior golds, six golds, one silver and one bronze medal at the World Championships, a Canada Cup championship and two Olympic gold medals plus one silver, but there was one championship trophy he was not eligible to compete for - the Stanley Cup.
Around the time of the 1989 World Championships, Sergei Priakin, considered expendable by the Soviet National Team, was allowed by Soviet authorities to play for the Calgary Flames in the NHL. Looking to escape the rigid Soviet system and the iron hand of coach Viktor Tikhonov, whose 11 month a year training schedule had grown more than tiresome, the now 31 year old Fetisov also requested to be allowed a move to the NHL.
He met with great resistance at first, but with a new policy of openness now taking hold in the Soviet Union, as well as the Soviet officials desire for an influx of cash, Fetisov, along with seven other players, were allowed to leave for North America, with the stipulation that they continued to compete internationally for the Soviet Union.
Originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1978, Fetisov's name was put back into the draft in 1983 when he was selected by the New Jersey Devils. The new Soviet players had an immediate impact on the NHL, even as they dealt with various instances of culture shock and a less than warm welcome by Canadians who felt their jobs were being taken.
Fetisov scored a career high 42 points during his first North American season, while compatriot Sergei Makarov was named the recipient of the Calder Trophy.
The move to North America had great meaning to Fetisov, beyond just the opportunity to earn a larger paycheck.
In keeping with the agreement, following the Devils elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Fetisov won his seventh and final gold medal at the 1990 World Championships.
He would play four additional seasons for New Jersey, as well as his final appearance for the Soviet Union in 1991 World Championships, where he would the second bronze medal of his career, prior to a move to the Detroit Red Wings during the 1994-95 season.
Once in Detroit, the Red Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose to Fetisov's former club, the Devils. In 69 games with Detroit the following season, Fetisov would equal his NHL career high with 42 points. Additionally, the Red Wings would again make a strong playoff push, eventually losing in the Conference Finals to the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche. Prior to the start of the following NHL season, Fetisov would conclude his international career by playing for Russia for the first and only time at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
It all came together for the Red Wings in 1997, as Fetisov, as part of the famed "Russian Five", won the 1997 Stanley Cup with a four game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The victory made him and long-time teammate Igor Larionov the only men to have ever won the Stanley Cup, the World Championship, an Olympic gold medal, the World Junior Championship and the Canada Cup. The Canada Cup evolved into the World Cup of Hockey, and Joe Sakic and Scott Niedermayer joined the two Russians as winners of the five most important championships in the world of hockey.
Following the Stanley Cup victory celebrations in 1997, Fetisov was involved in a limousine crash which ended the career of teammate Vladimir Konstantinov and quite nearly cost him his life. Fetisov escaped with relatively minor injuries and was able to continue his playing career.
Shortly after the following season began, Fetisov competed in his 500th NHL game, a 3-3 tie against the St. Louis Blues on this date in 1997. It would prove to be another successful season for Detroit, which concluded with an emotional repeat championship for the Red Wings which ended in a memorable scene on the ice as a wheelchair bound Konstantinov was included in the Stanley Cup presentation following the Red Wings victory. It would be the final game of Fetisov's NHL career.
He would retire with 367 games played in the Soviet Union, scoring 339 points, and 546 games in the NHL, mainly due to the much longer NHL schedule despite playing two seasons more in the Soviet Union, in which Fetisov scored 228 points.
Fetisov has won numerous awards in his home country, including the Order of Lenin in 1988 and even had an asteroid named for him. In the world of hockey, Fetisov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 2008, Fetisov was named to the IIHF's International Centennial All-Star Team, which named but five players to create the finest starting lineup of the century, with Fetisov receiving 54 of a possible 56 votes, with no other player earning more than 38.
Today's featured jersey is a 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings Viacheslav Fetisov jersey as worn during his 500th NHL contest. This jersey is highlighted by the "Believe" patch worn in support of Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov in it's regular season location of the upper right chest. This patch is better known for it's location on the left sleeve, where it was moved to make way for the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals patch.
Today's video segment contains footage from the Slava Fetisov Farewell Hockey Game which took place in Russia. See if you can recognize any NHL stars in the footage.
In this brief highlight, Fetisov slices and dices Team Canada and scores easily after a coast to coast rush.
We conclude today with a tribute video to Fetisov, which includes some amazing footage of his time in the Soviet Union, much of which we have never seen before as well as some of the original red and green New Jersey Devils jerseys. Highly recommended, but perhaps with the sound off...