Hopewell Valley Student Podcasting Network
Show Name: Interesting World of Sports
Episode #8: The Russian Five
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Today we will be discussing the Russian Five’s background, NHL career, and the post cup accident.
Segment 1: Background
- During the Cold War, the best hockey players in the Soviet Union were not allowed to leave to play in the National Hockey League
- Before 1989, Victor Nechayev, who played three games for the Los Angeles Kings, was the only player from the USSR to play in the NHL.
The five players were:
- Sergei Fedorov – Center,
- Vladimir Konstantinov – Defensemen,
- Slava Kozlov – Winger,
- Slava Fetisov – Defensemen,
- Igor Larionov – Winger,
Segment 2: NHL Career
- Coached by Scotty Bowman, who is widely regarded as the greatest hockey coach of all time, played the five Russians together as a unit for much of the 1995–96 season.
- By that time, there were 55 Russians playing in the NHL.
- At the end of the regular season, the five Russians had scored a whopping 117 of the Red Wings’ 325 goals
- The team won an NHL-record 62 games, but eventually fell to the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Finals, the series before the stanley cup.
- In the 1997 playoffs, the Russian Five were a critical part of each series.
1997 Stanley Cup Finals
- Detroit faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.
- Prior to the series, most hockey commentators believed that the Flyers would be too much for the wings to handle
- However, the Red Wings surprised most observers by being the more physical team and possibly breaking the stereotype that Russians and Europeans in general are “soft” hockey players.
- One man that stood out in that category was Konstantinov
- The Red Wings shockingly swept the Flyers and won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
- At the conclusion of Game 4, the Stanley Cup was presented to the winning team’s captain, Steve Yzerman, who hoisted it above his head and skated the traditional victory lap around Joe Louis Arena.
- He then handed the Cup to Slava Fetisov, the now-39-year-old former captain of the Red Army club.
- The Red Wings players and coaches dedicated their efforts the following season to Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov.
- The Red Wings managed the rare feat of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions, sweeping the Washington Capitals in the finals.
- Three of the five – Fetisov, Larionov, and Fedorov – were elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame after they retired.
- You may be confused with this whole wheelchair talk so let’s take a few steps back.
Segment 3: Limo accident and beyond
Six days after the Stanley Cup win, most of the team gathered for a golf outing and dinner at The Orchards Golf Club in nearby Washington Township. Limousines were ordered so that no one partying would have to drive. Fetisov, Konstantinov, and team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov left the party in a limousine driven by Richard Gnida, who had a suspended license after two convictions for drunk driving. The limo veered across three lanes of traffic, skipped the curb, and crashed into a tree. All four occupants were taken to nearby Beaumont Hospital; Fetisov suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung but made a full recovery. Mnatsakanov spent several weeks in a coma, and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
Beyond how Russians were perceived, the five also changed how hockey was taught in North America, in no small part because of the value they placed on puck possession.
In a 2020 interview, coach Scotty Bowman pointed out that the Russian Five brought a different style of breakout to the NHL
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