Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"This Cup wasn't for Vladdie and Sergei, it was because of them."

10 Years ago, i sat in my apartment with my children. Fresh in my memory was Steve Yzerman hoisting the cup over his head in a crowd of red on Woodward Ave. It was estimated that 1 million people attended the 1997 Victory Parade in Detroit. It was still fresh in my memory mostly because it was my first Stanley Cup as well. I grew up watching the Tigers and occasionally, the Lions, but NEVER the Red Wings. My dad ruled the Television and until 1995, i was oblivious to the sport. I read in the paper about the sweep in the finals that year, but didn't watch. The next season, 1996, I didn't watch many games during the regular season. Seriously, only about 20 - tops. But I watched the playoffs. I witnessed Steve Yzerman's double overtime goal against the Blues. I witnessed the awful hit on Kris Draper via Claude Lemieux and the heartache that was losing to the Avalanche in the 3rd round after that fantastic season. And I remember not really knowing who "Brenden Shanahan" was when he suited up for game one of the 1996-97 season, but being excited none the less. I watched in delight that March when at 18:22 of the first period, the clock stopped as Darren McCarty beat the piss out of who we now know as the Turtle, and Short little Mike Vernon took out a Legend by the name of Roy. (Not Wah, but Roy - like Orbison) I was there for the playoffs, with my livingroom wall plastered with news paper articals and i jumped up and down and cheered loudly to the point of the upstairs neighbors pounding on their floor to get me to shut up as Darren McCarty scored what was the single prettiest goal i'd ever witnessed to give us our first Stanley Cup in 42 years. And I made sure the entire building knew by posting a flyer on the bulletin board in the lobby. It was a fantastic night.

But just 6 short days later, as i sat in my apartment with my children, i received a telephone call from my best friend in a panic to turn it onto PASS (Pass Sports - now known as Fox Sports Detroit). And the first thing i see is Steve Yzerman, walking hastily into a hospital. The headline saying that members of the Detroit Red Wings were in a car accident, and rushed to the hospital. This hosptial. "Who was it?" "Is he dead?" "How many were there?" I was going crazy with questions. They showed the limo. It was totaled. Later i find out that it was part of the Russian Five. 5 Russians on our team, 2 Defensemen and 3 forwards, all able to speak their own language on the ice, and thoroughly ruin the night of many-a-hockey player. Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov, along with team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, were all injured in the limo when driver Richard Gnida, who's drivers licence had been suspended, "Blacked out" and crossed 3 lanes before jumping the curb and crashing into a now non existant tree and severely injuring both Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov. Fetisov was also injured, but not nearly as severe. With closed head injuries, Vladimir and Sergei endured months of comas and rehab only for us to come to the realization that both careers were over. The best Defenseman in the NHL had lost his ability to play. He would never be the same.

One year later, with Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov in the arena, and Fetisov on the ice, the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup. After Steve Yzerman hoisted it, and the Washington fans cheering, Vladimir Konstantinov was wheeled onto the ice, handed the Stanley Cup and as he held up one finger, signaling that Detroit was once again Number One, the team gathered around him for the team photo before any other player skated with the cup. Trainer John Wharton was summed up the entire night when he said: "This Cup wasn't for Vladdie and Sergei, it was because of them."

I Believed.

The Wings’ Vladimir Konstantinov celebrates the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory, the team’s second straight title, a year after he was severely injured in a limo accident that ended his career.

The Wings’ Vladimir Konstantinov wasn’t the only Red Wing injured in the infamous limo accident on June 13, 1997. Team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov and defenseman Slava Fetisov were also hurt in the accident.

A well-wisher covers up with his coat against the rain as he checks out the items left by others near the site of the limo crash that injured Red Wings Slava Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov, and team massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov. This site is on the west side of Woodward at Redding. The crash site is in the background in the median.

Vladimir Konstantinov takes his turn with the Stanley Cup after the Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers on June 6, 1997. It marked his final NHL game.

Red Wing Vyacheslav Kozlov has a picture of injured Wings player Vladimir Konstantinov, right, and masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov taped in his locker as shown here after a practice.

Vladimir Konstantinov kicks a ball around with his daughter Anastasia, 10, right, at their home in 1998. In the background are friends and neighbors


mrsmeyer2000 said...

I just read this blog entry and loved it! The fight with McCarty was what got me loving hockey! That was the greatest!! My husband and I also call Roy - Roy (like Oribison, not Wah) as a joke! GO WINGS!!!!!

Elle Kay said...

glad you love the wings... i'm not keeping much of an update on this site anymore but you can add me to your myspace - of you have one - or just go and visit it...