Throwback Thursday: A brief Russian Five history (w/ videos)

Back in the mid 1990’s, there was a line formed by coaching great, Scotty Bowman of the Detroit Red Wings that would end up being more of an impact decision than even Bowman imagined. A line consisting of Russian skaters Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav “Slava” Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov. The first time the line was put out as a unit on the ice, they played a two-minute shift and denied anything offensively, but it was their chemistry on the ice together, puck control and speed that really caught Bowman’s eye. The “Russian Five” was officially born.

From then on, it seemed that no other opposing line was able to match what the Russians had to offer. The line was a key component to the roster after being formed. During the Wings’ Stanley Cup Championship run in 1997, the Red Wings as a team went 16-0 when any of the Russians recorded a point and were 0-4 when any of the Russians failed to produce a point. I understand 5 guys don’t make up a team, but with how dominant the Wings were during that Cup year, it just goes to show how valuable the Russian Five really were to the Wings in bringing Lord Stanley back to Hockeytown.

Six short days after winning the Stanley Cup, the Red Wings were dealt a serious blow when 2 players and a member of the team’s training staff were all involved in an automobile accident, with both players involved being members of the Russian Five line. I still get choked up and a little teary eyed watching that clip in the Return to Hocketown: Detroit Red Wings 1997-1998 NHL Championship Season movie installment. Fetisov escaped the wreck with only minor injuries and was able to recover and play for the Red Wings the following season. Konstantinov and the training staff member unfortunately weren’t so lucky. Konstantinov suffered serious head injuries, paralysis and spent several weeks in the hospital in a coma before finally being able to be released. The team’s training staff member, Sergei Mnatsakanov, was injured the most severely out of the 3 involved in the accident, as it has been more of an uphill battle for Mnatsakanov’s road to recovery.

The following season, the Red Wings wore special patches on their jerseys that featured Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov’s initials and the word “believe” written in both English and Russian. There was also a customized rock that read “believe” and it was placed in Konstantinov’s locker on the top shelf along with a trading card of his and his gloves. The Red Wings used the “believe” motto as motivation throughout the season, transitioned that into the playoffs and went on to capture the Stanley Cup yet again in 1998, becoming the 3rd Red Wings team in history to capture the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. As the Wings were celebrating on the ice and the Stanley Cup was given to the Red Wings captain, Steve Yzerman, whom also recieved the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP, something occured that still gives me goosebumps to this day just thinking about it.

Vladimir Konstantinov appeared on the ice in a wheelchair and Yzerman placed the Stanley Cup in his lap. He then proceeded to take Konstantinov for a lap around the ice with all of the Red Wings roster following closely. It’s a moment that Red Wing fans who were watching will never soon forget. The Red Wings reached out to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, to see if they would be able to have Konstantinov’s name be on etched on the Stanley Cup, Bettman accepted and allowed the Red Wings’ request. The Russian Five have made several appearances, whether it be individually or as a group in something Red Wings-related since they’ve all retired from the game.

Another special moment occurred on December 31st of 2013. Prior to the start of the second Alumni Showdown Game at Comerica Park, all the members of the “Russian Five” reunited on the ice and took a photo together. The crowd cheered massively in bunches as Konstantinov made his way on to the ice with the assistance of a walker to reunite once again with his old linemates. If you’re a true Detroiter and the group “Russian Five” is mentioned, you easily understand the meaning behind them. They were absolute magic whenever they stepped on to the ice and will go down as one of the greatest lines ever put together in NHL history. It’s an extra special feeling knowing that they did it all, wearing a Red Wings uniform.

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