The Russian Five film will premiere at the Free Press Film Festival tonight at the Filmore Detroit, and this morning, the Free Press’s Mitch Albom pays tribute to the real thing:
I was lucky enough to be there when they all joined the Red Wings — and mad professor Scotty Bowman had the idea of playing them all at the same time.
In truth, there had been a “Russian Five” unit before, in Russia, actually, in the 1980s, with Fetisov and Larionov part of the group. They played together on Soviet national teams as well as for CSKA Moscow.
Then the NHL widened its doors for Russian players. And one by one, these men made the pilgrimage from one corner of the world to the next. It wasn’t easy. They waited years, or they defected. One, Konstantinov, even faked like he was dying to get out of his Soviet obligations.
But once assembled, their collected greatness was an inevitability. And it happened in Detroit uniforms. When Bowman sent those five over the boards together — on Oct. 27, 1995, in the Calgary Saddledome, during the 10th game of the season and just a few days after Larionov had joined the team — thunder clapped, the history books flung open, and a new chapter in NHL history was penned.
The Wings won that game, 3-0. The Russian unit scored two of thee goals. More importantly, Bowman was rewarded for his trust in the savvy leadership of the older Larionov and Fetisov, blended with the youthful mix of speed, finesse and muscle that Fedorov, Kozlov and Konstantinov represented.
“It was just beautiful to watch,” Jim Devellano, then the Wings’ GM, told Keith Gave in his fine book on the subject, “The Russian Five: A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage.” “Every pass was tape to tape. They knew where everybody else was. They showed us the pride of the Russians.”
Albom continues, and the Russian 5, in person? They made Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s chemistry look second-rate.