The beautiful Spring weather we’ve had this past weekend (sarcasm on full display) gave me a chance to get out to see The Russian Five. Of course, being the hockey fan I am, I’ve wanted to see it since I first heard about the movie. It lived up to the hype, and more.
Last Tuesday Dave Coulier and I were on Darren McCarty’s Grindtime podcast as we re-lived March 26th, 1997 on it’s 22nd anniversary. You know, Fight Night At The Joe. The previous Friday Darren and Cooler had seen the movie on it’s red carpet night and they told me all about it.
I kinda knew the story of how some of the guys had to ‘sneak’ into America to play in the NHL but this movie really spelled it out. It was a lesson on how things worked back in the late 80’s, as far as the geo-political climate is concerned. The movie cleverly told the whole story. It was cool to watch the building blocks of the Russian Five form. First with Sergie Fedorov, then Vladimir Konstantinov and Vyacheslav Kozlov. Vyacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov would come to the Red Wings from other NHL teams. At times it was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters out there on the ice. But the question always remained, did they have the drive and grit to win it all? We know how that turned out.
The flood of memories that came to me were many watching this. I got to Hockeytown in the Fall of 1995, right in the thick of Wings climb. The first game I went to was in March of 1996. They were playing the Buffalo Sabres, my team as I grew up in the sticks outside of Buffalo. I remember the Sabres scored first, and I started to stand up to cheer…no one else did. At that very moment, I became a Red Wings fan, and I’ve never looked back. This movie pegged it for Wings fans. The battles, the team becoming a TEAM through cultural differences and upbringings, Fight Night, and finally the culmination of everything Scotty Bowman had dreamed of for the Wings, and Detroit, The Stanley Cup!
We all know what happened days after the parade and all that Detroit celebrated after a 42 year draught…..the limo crash. I said this talking with D-Mac and Cooler the other day, that as much as we’ve been spoiled to watch some of the greatest players from Stevie Y., to Nick Lidstrom and so on, there’s also a part that feels like we were short-changed by not getting to see the career of Konstantinov flourish and play out. The guy was really coming into his own as a premier defensemen in the league. He was the D-man that you had to know when he was on the ice, or you might leave it with some loose fillings.
This is the kind of documentary that, obviously, hockey fans will love. But it’s also an emotional story of five guys who came to a foreign land, thousands of miles from home, and achieved the ultimate goal. It’s a story of taking chances, on both the side of the player and management of the Red Wings. All told, it was a great look back to the grind, sacrifice and team that built Hockeytown.