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NHL playoffs full of greybeards

May 4, 2009

by Matt Kane

Since my satellite provider does not give me the Vs. channel, I have to rely on the few minutes SportsCenter devotes to hockey to get my nightly Stanley Cup Playoff news.

I happened to be watching SportsCenter Wednesday night when I heard something I hadn’t heard in years: The name “Sergei Fedorov.”

Fedorov scored the game-winning goal for the Washington Capitals in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers earlier Wednesday to advance Washington to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The ESPN anchor led into the highlight reel saying something to the effect of “The other Russian comes up big,” for the Capitals.

Today’s hockey fans know the most famous Russian in the NHL is Fedorov’s teammate, Alex Ovechkin.

Aside from Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin is the face of the NHL. But not long ago (in my mind), Fedorov was THE Russian of the NHL.

Fedorov was drafted by the Red Army Detroit Red Wings in the 1989 entry draft. In 1990, while his CSKA Moscow team was playing in the Goodwill Games in Seattle, Fedorov secretly boarded a flight to Detroit, and defected from the Soviet Union so he could play in the NHL.

Fedorov started his career with the Red Wings in 1990, and was instantly a superstar of the NHL. After Fedorov’s defection to Detroit, the Russians, indeed, were coming, as the likes of Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket; and Alexander Mogilny soon followed his lead to the NHL.

Fedorov won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the league’s most outstanding player of the regular season after the 1993-94 season.

Fedorov helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997 and ‘98, and his 134 playoff points in the 1990s ranks him third, behind Mario Lemieux (186) and Jaromir Jagr (135).

I was in junior high when Fedorov first showed up in the NHL, and I remember the hype surrounding the Russian with the flowing, blonde hair.

He was awesome.

Fedorov could score, pass, check and play defense. The total package. He was the league’s Ovechkin for over a decade before the Ovechkin we know even set foot in the NHL.

Fedorov went on to play two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks (2003-04 and 2005-06), two-plus with the Columbus Blue Jackets (2005-2008), and has been with the Capitals since the end of the 2007-08 season. But I will always remember him wearing number 91 with the Detroit Red Wings.

I hated Fedorov back in the early 1990s, but only because he was so good.

Now, when I hear about players who played 15 or 20 years ago, coming up big in the current season or playoffs, it brings a smile to my face.

I think it has something to do with that player’s career coinciding with my youth. When he nears the end of his career and finally retires, that means us fans who grew up watching him are getting old.

Going through the rosters of the eight remaining teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I noticed a few other old-timers to keep an eye on: Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, Boston’s Mark Recchi, Pittsburgh’s Bill Guerin, Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne, Detroit’s Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom, and Vancouver’s Mats Sundin.

Their playoff beards are a whole lot thicker than Ovechkin’s and Crosby’s, and a little greyer.