Russian Five

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Soviet Union hockey jersey

The Russian Five is the name of the unit of five Russian ice hockey players who defected from the USSR to play for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. The Russian Five consisted of five players: Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Konstatinov.[1]

CSKA Moscow and Soviet National Team[edit]

The first unit, also known as the Green Unit, was a unit of players for both the CSKA Moscow and the Soviet national hockey teams during the 1980s. It consisted of Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov on defense, and Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov (also known as the KLM Line) as forwards. The rest of them, including Sergei Fedorov and Fetisov, played on the second or third lines of the USSR team. Before this group of Soviet hockey players came to light, and before the Soviets were known to the world as a powerhouse team, their program was started in 1946, and sent their first team to the national stage only eight years later in 1954. The Soviet hockey team showed very promising potential as they won the gold medal of the 1954 world championships, beating out defending champions Sweden. This sparked the beginning of the dynasty of Soviet hockey.

The oldest of the five, Fetisov, started his Soviet hockey career in 1976 and won 13 gold, two silver and three bronze medals. He was the only of the five to play in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. He was the beginning of the Russian Five group, followed by line mate Vladimir Konstatinov and center Igor Larionov. Eventually the last of the five, Fedorov and Kozlov, made the jump from the junior Soviet hockey team to the men's national team in 1989 and 1991 respectively.

Detroit Red Wings[edit]

The second unit or Russian Five, also known as the Red Army and "The Wizards of Ov", was a lineup for the Detroit Red Wings during the 1990s. The Russian Five — all hockey legends in their own right in their native Russia — emulated the style of the Soviet Red Army teams that dominated world and Olympic competition during the 1970s, 80s and early 90s with a combination of speed and puck control.[2]

Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman put together the unit after finding out that many Soviet teams frequently put their forwards and defensemen together on five-man units.[3] Reports of the time credited Larionov (nicknamed The Professor) with mentioning the idea to Bowman, and eventually leading the Red Army line through a spectacular display of their prowess. They played a two-minute shift at both ends of the ice, denying all attempts at defensive maneuvering. Viewers were quoted as saying it looked like they were playing keep-away from the other teams.[2] The five-skater group included Larionov and Fetisov in their respective positions, and also included Fedorov at centre, Kozlov at left wing and Konstantinov on defense.[4]

The Russian Five were often noted for their skill and ability on the ice together. Fedorov won the Hart and Selke Trophies in 1994,[5] and the Selke again in 1996.[6] Konstantinov was runner-up for the Norris Trophy in 1997.[7]

The unit played an instrumental role during the Red Wings' success of that decade. They helped the Red Wings reach the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals, the first appearance for the club since 1966. During the 1997 playoffs, the Red Wings went 16–0 when any of the Russians scored a point, and 0–4 when they did not. The Russian Five led the Red Wings to win the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, the first time in more than 40 years that the Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup.[8]

The Russian Five lost one of their members just days after the 1997 Stanley Cup championship, when Konstantinov became involved in a limousine accident, which ended his career and that of team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov. Fetisov was also injured in the accident, but he recovered and returned in the subsequent 1997–1998 season. The team wore a special patch on their jerseys, which read "Believe," in both English and Russian. This motto helped inspire the team through the 1998 playoffs, resulting in the Wings' second consecutive Stanley Cup win.[9] Larionov and Fetisov were the leaders of the unit; the younger players looked up to them and let them lead their team to their second ever back-to-back Stanley Cup win in franchise history.

The Russian Five[edit]

Viacheslav Fetisov[edit]

Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov (born April 20, 1958) debuted for the CSKA Moscow's junior team when he was sixteen years old,[10] he later joined the Soviet Championship League for the 1978-79 season. After an impressive rookie year totaling 29 points in 29 games and winning back-back top defenseman at the junior international level,[10] Fetisov would play for the Soviet Men's National Team starting in 1980 until 1991. In those years he totaled nine gold medals, two silver medals and three bronze medals.[10] During the 1989 season Fetisov showed interest in competing in the NHL, he submitted a request to Soviet officials but was immediately shut down and recalled to the Soviet Minister of Defence where he was told to either apologize or be sent to Siberia. Even with this challenge Fetisov defected to the United States with help of the Soviets' glasnost policy.[10]

Fetisov was drafted to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1978 NHL entry draft eleven years before defecting to the North America.[10] Since he couldn't play in North America he was later re-entered into the 1983 NHL entry draft and was drafted to the New Jersey Devils. During this time, The Soviet Union announced that their players could play in the NHL as long they would continue to serve the Soviet Union by playing for their national team.[10] Fetisov was later traded to the Detroit Red Wings in April 1995,[10] where he would eventually meet the rest of the Russian Five.

Igor Larionov[edit]

Igor "The Professor" Larionov (born December 3, 1960) began his career in the Soviet League with the Khimik Voskresensk during the 1977-78 season, only appearing in six games and recording three goals. He quickly improved after his rookie season with the Voskresensk, totaling almost a point per game and gaining attention from CSKA Moscow and Soviet head coach Viktor Tikhonov.[11] Tikhonov approached Larionov before a game between CSKA and Khimik during the 1980-81 season, asking him to play for them for the rest of the season, Larionov played for Khimik that game, recording five points against Tikhonov's CSKA Moscow team.[11] He later joined CSKA Moscow as a top-line forward playing alongside Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, the three became known as the "KLM Line" and dominated Soviet League as well as international play.[11] They were then joined by the well-known defensive pairing Kasatonov and future Russian Five teammate Fetisov. Together they were known as the "Green Unit", because they all wore the green jerseys during practice.[12]

Larionov was named Soviet MVP during the 1988 season compiling 57 points, 32 of those coming from assists.[11] The Soviet Union led a tight grip on their players, since CSKA Moscow was under the Soviet Army; they were forced to stay in barracks for 11 months out of the year.[13] Larionov would later revolt against Soviet Authorities and help Fetisov defect to North America to play in the NHL.[1]

During this time, Larionov openly expressed his desire to play in the NHL, after this report came out Tikhonov suspended his passport and kicked him off of the international team until the lobbying of Fetisov ended.[13] Larionov stood strong in his desire to play in the NHL. After eight more years of fighting, the Soviet Union eventually allowed him to play in the NHL, but only after selling him and taking some of his contract.[13] Larionov played in the NHL for six years before joining Scotty Bowman and the Red Wings, where he would meet the rest of the Russian Five.[13]

Vladimir Konstantinov[edit]

Vladimir "Vladdie" Konstatinov, like his other Russian Five teammates, started his career with CSKA Moscow. He earned the nickname "Vladinator" for his aggressive and physical style of play. Konstantinov was a strong two-way defenseman who could score the puck if given the opportunity. During the 1987 World Junior Championships, he was the only Russian to fight in a line brawl against Canada. In doing this he impressed Red Wings scout Neil Smith.[13] Unlike Fetisov and Larionov, Konstantnov did not have to deal with the barriers forcing Soviet hockey players to stay out of the NHL.[1] He signed with the Detroit Red Wings, where he met his Russian Five teammates. He would later go on to win the NHL Plus-Minus Award in 1995-96 and help the Red Wings win their first Stanley Cup in almost 20 years.[14]

After the Stanley Cup win in the 1996-97 season, Konstantinov was involved in a major limousine crash that forced him to retire. When he, Fetisov and team masseur Sergei Mnatskanov were on their way home from a celebration, their suspended limousine driver crashed into a tree, sending Konstantinov into a long coma.[1] After the crash, Konstantinov was in a wheelchair because of the injuries to his spine and back. Once the Red Wings completed the back-to-back Stanley Cup wins, they wheeled Konstantinov onto the ice, all wearing "believe" patches to commemorate his recovery.[13]

Sergei Fedorov[edit]

Sergei Fedorov (born December 13, 1969) is the most well-known of the five. He also had the most successful career and was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the IIHF Hall of Fame.[15] He started his career with the CSKA Moscow, playing on a line with future NHL superstars Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny, forming a famous and feared line in international play.[3] During his time with CSKA Moscow, Federov was a leader and debatably one of the best on the team. Because of this, Tikhonov and the Soviet Union wouldn't let him leave to play in the NHL.[3] During a charity game in Portland, Oregon, Federov snuck out the back of a team dinner and was flown to Detroit to play for Scotty Bowman and the Red Wings.[3] He was one of the few Soviet players to defect from the Soviet Union to play for the NHL, along with linemates Konstantinov, Larionov and Fetisov.

Federov made an immediate impact with the Red Wings, scoring 79 points in 77 games in his rookie year, earning him a spot on the all-rookie team.[15] During his next six seasons as a Red Wing, he compiled 513 points in 429 games played, earning him the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, two Frank J. Selke Trophies and three Stanley Cup Championships.[15] Federov's teammates said "he once held claim to the title of top player on the planet" and "he is three great players in one".[3] During his time in the NHL, the Soviet Union agreed to let the players who defected play for their home country during the international games. Federov played for Russia for during the Olympics three more times, and only twice more for the World Cup of Hockey.[15] He retired after the 2011-2012 season, playing in the KHL for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, ending his career as one of the best to ever play the game.

Vyacheslav Kozlov[edit]

Vyacheslav Kozlov (born May 3, 1972) played left wing and was the youngest of the Russian Five. He started his career playing for Khimik Voskresensk in the Soviet League, and playing internationally for the Soviet National under 18 team.[16] He gained the interest of coach Tikhonov of CSKA Moscow, eventually joining his team for the 1991-92 season and then defecting halfway through the season, with help from Scotty Bowman, to play for the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL.[16]

Kozlov was a speedy and smart winger. Playing alongside the other of the Russian Five complemented his style, and he helped lead the Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons.[3] He bounced from the NHL and the Red Wings AHL affiliate team, the Adirondack Red Wings, eventually cementing himself as a leader and an NHL veteran.[3] Kozlov also played for Russia during two World Cups and did not make the Olympic roster.[16] After 18 years in the NHL, he played in the KHL for CSKA Moscow and Spartak Moskva, to finish his career out in Russia.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d Rush, Curtis. "'The Russian Five' Hockey Documentary Expanding To New Markets". Forbes. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  2. ^ a b The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Gave, Keith (2018). The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage. Gold Star Publishing. ISBN 1947165178.
  4. ^ "'Russian Five' changed hockey's fabric forever".
  5. ^ "1993-94 NHL Summary". Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  6. ^ "1995-96 NHL Summary". Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  7. ^ "1996-97 NHL Awards Voting". Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  8. ^ "Stanley Cup Finals '97".
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Viacheslav Fetisov". Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  11. ^ a b c d "Igor Larionov at". Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  12. ^ Willes, Ed (2007). Gretzky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-8942-8.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "The rise, fall and resurrection of Russian hockey". 2002-02-14. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  14. ^ "Vladimir Konstantinov at". Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  15. ^ a b c d "Sergei Fedorov at". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  16. ^ a b c d "Vyacheslav Kozlov at". Retrieved 2019-06-29.

See also[edit]