Thursday, March 15, 2012

2003-04 Toronto Maple Leafs Alexander Mogilny Jersey

At the beginning of 1989, former Buffalo Sabres Director of Amateur Evaluation Don Luce travelled to Anchorage, Alaska to to 1989 World Junior Tournament. There, Alexander Mogilny and linemate Pavel Bure were finishing third and fourth in tournament scoring while leading the Soviets to a 6-1 record and the gold medal. Luce met briefly with Mogilny in Anchorage and gave him a business card, cementing Mogilny's decision to defect at the first opportunity.

That opportunity arrived four months later when the Soviets were given two days in Stockholm after winning the 1989 World Championship. Luce, at home in North America, received a phone call on this date in 1989 from a man who claimed to be Mogilny's agent, Sergei Fomitchev. Unsure if he was really in contact with Mogilny, he asked Fomitchev to have Mogilny repeat what he had said to him in Anchorage. Told then that he had not played very well, Mogilny had stated "I show you next game", prior to scoring a hat trick against Canada to clinch the gold medal.

Mogilny Soviet Union, Mogilny Soviet Union
Mogilny while playing for the Soviet Union National Team

After Mogilny repeated the phrase, Luce and Meehan were on a plane to Sweden three hours later, arriving midday on May 3rd. While waiting for Fomitchev to return from shopping, Luce got an urgent call saying Mogilny's defection had to happen right away because it would be his best opportunity to get away.

The next two days were spent moving from hotel to hotel to avoid being found while Meehan worked with the U. S. Embassy to arrange the necessary paperwork.

The day they left they abandoned their rental car and took a taxi to the airport, and once inside the security gates, their fears of the Soviet officials was over. Meehan remembers, “He asked me in his broken English, ‘Am I free now?’ " And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re free.’ And he went over and had a beer. He couldn’t believe it. He said ‘free’, he didn’t say ‘safe’. He said ‘free’. I found that to be kind of poignant.”

During his rookie season in the NHL, Mogilny would wear the number 89, which was presented to him by the Sabres owner Seymour H. Knox III in recognition of his place in the draft and year of his defection.

Mogilny would play 65 games that season, scoring 15 goals and 43 points while he was in the process of becoming acclimated to living in North America and learning a new language and culture. "It was a huge adjustment to come to the NHL. The language barrier was the toughest part. Lack of communication affected me both on and off the ice. It also took some time to get used tot he airline travel. I had to deal with a fear of flying," Mogilny recalled.

He would double his goal total the following season to reach 30 for the first time.

The arrival of Pat Lafontaine in Buffalo would give Mogilny a world class teammate to work with and his point totals took another jump upwards, finishing 1991-92 with 39 goals and 84 points and became the first Russian on an NHL All-Star Team. Given a year to work together and now fully integrated into life in the United States and the NHL, Mogilny had one of the greatest seasons in league history in 1992-93. He would score 127 points from 51 assists and a remarkable 76 goals in 77 games. His 76 goals remain tied for fifth all-time in a single season with Teemu Selanne and Phil Esposito.

With Lafontaine limited to just 38 games over the next two seasons, Mogilny was named team captain in his absence, the first European to ever captain an NHL club, but his production suffered as a result of the missing Lafontaine.

Mogilny Captain, Mogilny Captain
Mogilny as captain of the Sabres

He was then traded to the Vancouver Canucks and reunited with Bure for the 1995-96 season, in which he would score 55 goals and 107 points, the second highest of his career in both categories.

Mogilny Bure Canucks, Mogilny Bure Canucks
The Russian duo of Mogilny and Bure reunited in Vancouver

After five seasons of diminishing point totals in Vancouver, from 107 to 73, then 45 twice, he was dealt to the New Jersey Devils late in the 1999-00 season, having previously enjoyed the most minimal playoff success to that point in his career, having only escaped the first round once in ten seasons.

Now with the Devils, Mogilny would see his first extended playoff run, which would evetnually lead to a Stanley Cup championship. When he won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, he became just the ninth player in history to join the Triple Gold Club, having already won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics and then adding World Championship gold just days before his defection in 1989.

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 on this date in 2004, only the second Russian player to ever do so, when he registered three assists in a 6-5 overtime win against his former club, the Sabres. It came a month and a day after his former World Juniors teammate Sergei Fedorov reached the 1,000 point mark. Mogilny then returned to the Devils for the final season of his career in 2005-06 before retiring with 473 goals and 1,032 points in 990 games.

Mogilny Devils, Mogilny Devils
Mogilny during his final season of 2005-06

Following his defection, Mogilny would never play for the Soviet Union again and only suited up for Russia just once at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, cutting short what was destined to be an outstanding, international career.

When asked following his career about the reasons for his defection, Mogilny responded, “Why did I do it? I did it for freedom. If the bird can fly and the fish can swim, you have to be able to move around the world and be free and not watched constantly. If a human being doesn’t have freedom, that’s not life. It’s like living in a cage. To me, you might as well be dead.”

Today's jersey is a 2003-04 Toronto Maple Leafs Alexander Mogilny jersey from the season during which he scored his 1,000th NHL point.

The evolution of this Maple Leafs jersey began back in the 1992-93 season when Toronto adopted a brand new style jersey with a more traditional look based on a sweater first worn back in 1934-35, only now paired with their modern Maple Leafs crest. The jersey first evolved with the adoption of a modern name and number font in 1997-98. While the name remained unchanged, the curvy numbers were replaced in 2000-01 with a return to a more classic block font for the numbers, although now trimmed in blue and outlined in silver, the first time a third color had been used on a Maple Leafs jersey since World War II, when the lettering on the crest was red for a few seasons.

The retro style maple leaf secondary logo was replaced by a new "TML" monogram at the same time the number font was changed in 2000-01.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2003-04 jersey, Toronto Maple Leafs 2003-04 jersey
Toronto Maple Leafs 2003-04 jersey, Toronto Maple Leafs 2003-04 jersey

In today's video section, an interview with Mogliny from the 1989 World Junior Championships in January, a few months prior to his defection in April after the World Championships. He sticks to the party line quite well, giving little hint as to what was to follow, or at least that's what the interpreter tell us...

Here is a look at the some of the career highlights of Alexander Mogilny.

Here, Mogilny scores his 70th goal of the 1992-93 season, only the seventh player to reach 70 in NHL history.

Speaking of the remarkable 1992-93 season, here is a brief feature story on the partnership between Mogilny and Lafontaine.

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