On Tal Pinchevsky’s Breakaway

A couple weeks ago, Justin Bourne of The Backhand Shelf posted his recommendation of Tal Pinchevsky’s new book, Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL – The Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes.  Having finished it last weekend, I’m finally getting around to posting my thoughts.

I’ll admit, I was a little underwhelmed, though I think that has to do with having heard parts of the stories before.  Growing up a Red Wings fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it’s easy to have already heard (at least parts of ) the defection stories of Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, or Petr Klima.  The story of how European players were contantly tested and were percieved as too soft for the NHL was the story of the Russian Five era Red Wings.

I would have liked to know more about Konstantinov’s defection, in particular.  How do you go about bribing a doctor to give a cancer diagnosis in a collapsing Soviet Union?  Of course, with Konstantinov unavailable as an interview, that story becomes much harder to tell.

Negatives aside, there were a few things that really stuck with me from each of the stories.

With the early defections – Vaclav Nedomansky, the Stastnys, Klima – it’s amazing just how much the representatives of the North American teams had no idea what they were doing.  It really was a case of just flying over to Europe with a bag of cash and then figuring it all out on the fly.

The flip side of that is just remarkable: These players were willing to leave their homes with no plan, just a goal.  With that in mind, it’s not a surprise how often the hold up for a player was finding a way to get his significant other to North America as well.  You can’t just leave everything behind.

It shouldn’t be a shock (though I say that only after having read the stories) that some defectors aren’t willing to talk about their entire experience.  To them, it was something they had to do, not something they want to share.

Also surprising was just how isolated some of the early defectors were once they made it to North America.  Yeah, we heard a lot about Fedorov when he came over, but the thing to remember was that some of his relative success adapting came from what the Red Wings learned when Klima came over.

We’re talking about people who may not have spoken the language, may not have seen a supermarket, may never have had a checkbook or a credit card.  It’s one thing to adapt on the ice, it’s another thing entirely to change your way of life.

It’s incredible what some of these trailblazers were able to accomplish and what it took for them to do it. The NHL we know today would not exist without their efforts.

Red Wings, Maple Leafs Each Add Four to Alumni Showdown Rosters

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Thursday the addition of four players to each of their rosters for the Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park on December 31.

The Red Wings have added Petr Klima, Dallas Drake, Garry Unger and Paul Ysebaert to their alumni roster.

Klima was one of the Red Wings many eastern European draft selections of the 1980s.  He was selected in the fifth round of the 1983 draft and defected from then-Czechoslovakia in 1985.  He played in 293 career games with the Red Wings before being dealt to the Edmonton Oilers in 1989.  After stints in Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh, he ended his NHL career with a return to the Red Wings for 13 games in the 1998-99 season.

Drake also started and ended his career with the Red Wings.  Selected by Detroit in the 1989 draft, he made his NHL debut for the 1992-93 season.  Drake was traded to the Winnpeg Jets the following year and moved with the team to Phoenix.  He played six seasons for the St. Louis Blues before returning to the Red Wings to close out his career with a Stanley Cup in 2008.

Like Drake, Unger also played for both the Blues and the Red Wings.  Acquired from the Maple Leafs during his rookie season of 1967-68, Unger would play parts of four season with Detroit before being dealt to St. Louis.  He played nine seasons with the Blues and closed out his career with campaigns for the Los Angeles and Edmonton.

Ysebaert played parts of three seasons with the Red Wings from 1990 to 1993.  He started his career with New Jersey before being traded to Detroit, then moved on to Winnipeg, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

The four players added by the Maple Leafs were Joe Niewendyk, Borje Salming, Frank Mahovlich and Mats Sundin.

The following players are confirmed to appear at the Alumni Showdown:

Red Wings
Red Berenson
Jimmy Carson
Dino Ciccarelli
Alex Delvecchio
Dallas Drake
Kris Draper
Sergei Fedorov
Petr Klima
Joe Kocur
Martin Lapointe
Igor Larionov
Ted Lindsay
Kirk Maltby
Darren McCarty
John Ogrodnick
Dennis Polonich
Mickey Redmond
Garry Unger
Luc Robitaille
Paul Ysebaert

Chris Chelios
Paul Coffey
Mathieu Dandenault
Jiri Fischer
Viacheslav Fetisov
Mark Howe
Vladimir Konstantinov
Larry Murphy
Aaron Ward

Chris Osgood
Mike Vernon

Maple Leafs
Dave Andreychuk
Wendel Clark
Russ Courtnall
Vincent Damphousse
Bill Derlago
Tie Domi
Ron Ellis
Doug Gilmour
Gary Leeman
Kevin Maguire
Frank Mahovlich
Brad May
Lanny McDonald
Joe Nieuwendyk
Gary Roberts
Darryl Sittler
Mats Sundin
Darcy Tucker
Rick Vaive
Tiger Williams

Dave Ellett
Jim McKenny
Bryan McCabe
Bob McGill
Borje Salming

Johnny Bower
Curtis Joseph
Mike Palmateer
Felix Potvin

Wings, Leafs Announce More Alumni Showdown Additions

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs announced seven more players who will appear in the Alumni Showdown between the two teams in December on Thursday.

The Red Wings added Aaron Ward, Red Berenson, Jimmy Carson and Dennis Polonich.

Ward started his career with the Red Wings in 1993-94 and played seven seasons with the team, winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998 before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2001.  He won another Cup with Carolina in 2006.  He closed out his career with four seasons split between the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, another stint with Carolina, and the Anaheim Ducks.

Berenson, the legendary University of Michigan head coach, spent parts of five seasons with the Red Wings in the 70s.  He also played for the Montreal Canadiens, Rangers, and St. Louis Blues over 987 career NHL games.

Carson played part of four season with the Wings in the early 1990s.  He started his career with the Los Angeles Kings before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in the Wayne Gretzky deal.  The Oilers traded him to the Red Wings early in the 1989-90 season and the Wings sent him back to LA in 1993.  He closed out his NHL career with stints in Vancouver and Hartford, then retired from hockey after two years with the IHL’s Detroit Vipers.

Polonich played his entire NHL career in Detroit, serving as team captain during the 1976-77 season while Danny Grant was injured.  He was famously injured by Wilf Paiement of the Colorado Rockies in a 1978 game when Paiement smashed him in the face with his stick.  Polonich was sent down to the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings in 1983 and never made it back into the NHL.  He closed out his career with two season’s with the IHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks in 1986 and 1987.

The Maple Leafs added Tie Domi, Brad May, and Dave “Tiger” Williams.  May and Williams also spent time with the Red Wings over their careers.

The following players are confirmed to appear at the Alumni Showdown:

Red Wings
Red Berenson
Jimmy Carson
Dino Ciccarelli
Alex Delvecchio
Kris Draper
Sergei Fedorov
Joe Kocur
Martin Lapointe
Igor Larionov
Ted Lindsay
Kirk Maltby
Darren McCarty
John Ogrodnick
Dennis Polonich
Mickey Redmond
Luc Robitaille

Chris Chelios
Paul Coffey
Mathieu Dandenault
Jiri Fischer
Viacheslav Fetisov
Mark Howe
Vladimir Konstantinov
Larry Murphy
Aaron Ward

Chris Osgood
Mike Vernon

Maple Leafs
Dave Andreychuk
Wendel Clark
Russ Courtnall
Vincent Damphousse
Bill Derlago
Tie Domi
Ron Ellis
Doug Gilmour
Gary Leeman
Kevin Maguire
Brad May
Lanny McDonald
Gary Roberts
Darryl Sittler
Darcy Tucker
Rick Vaive
Tiger Williams

Dave Ellett
Jim McKenny
Bryan McCabe
Bob McGill

Johnny Bower
Curtis Joseph
Mike Palmateer
Felix Potvin

Four of “Russian Five” to Appear at Alumni Showdown

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday that four members of the famous “Russian Five” will appear at the Alumni Showdown on December 31 at Comerica Park.

The Russian Five was the first group of five Soviet-trained players to play as a unit in the NHL.  Assembeled by coach Scotty Bowman – who will be behind the bench at the Alumni Showdown – in 1995, the line consisted of Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov.

All but Kozlov will be at the outdoor game against alumni from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In addition to the four Russians, the Maple Leafs announced six new players who will appear: Gary Leeman, Russ Courtnall, Bill Derlago, Bob McGill, Vincent Damphousse, and Dave Ellett.

Confirmed participants for the two teams are now as follows, with more to be announced:

Detroit
Chris Chelios, Dino Ciccarelli, Alex Delvecchio, Kris Draper, Sergei Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Mark Howe, Joe Kocur, Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Larionov, Ted Lindsay, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty, Larry Murphy, John Ogrodnick, Chris Osgood, Mickey Redmond, Luc Robitaille, Mike Vernon

Toronto
Dave Andreychuk, Johnny Bower, Wendel Clark, Russ Courtnall, Vincent Damphousse, Bill Derlago, Dave Ellett, Ron Ellis, Doug Gilmour, Curtis Joseph, Gary Leeman, Kevin Maguire, Bob McGill, Jim McKenny, Mike Palmateer, Felix Potvin, Darryl Sittler, Darcy Tucker, Rick Vaive

Datsyuk Announced as Selke Finalist

The National Hockey League announced on Monday that the Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk is one of three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins are the other finalists.

The Selke Trophy is awarded annually to “the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game,” as selected by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Datsyuk has previously won the award in three consecutive years, from 2008 to 2010. He was unseated last season by Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.

No other current Red Wings have won the Selke Trophy. Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov (1994, 1996), Steve Yzerman (2000) and Kris Draper (2004) had won it before Datsyuk.

The winner will be announced on June 20 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

Franzen’s Five Goals Carry Red Wings over Senators

Johan Franzen scored five goals Wednesday night, equaling the output of the Ottawa Senators as the Detroit Red Wings earned a 7-5 win.

The five goals were the most by a Red Wing since Sergei Fedorov scored all of the Detroit goals in a 5-4 win over the Washington Capitals on December 26, 1996.

Ottawa’s Alexei Kovalev opened the game’s scoring just 1:15 in, when he lifted a shot over scrambling Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard for a power play goal.

Franzen scored his first at 6:52 of the opening period, banging the puck past Ottawa netminder Robin Lehner from the side of the crease.

Just 48 seconds later, Franzen made it 2-1 when he beat Lehner from the high slot off a feed from Henrik Zetterberg.

The Senators replied one minute later, with Peter Regin deflecting a shot from Kovalev past Howard to tie the game back up.

With 8:48 left in the period, Daniel Alfredsson found a wide open Chris Campoli in the left faceoff circle to snap a shot past Howard, putting Ottawa up 3-2.

Kris Draper put a rebound chance past Lehner with 9:24 left in the second period and Niklas Kronwall blasted a shot into the back of the net 13 seconds later to make it 4-3 Detroit and chase Lehner from the net.

Milan Michalek tied the game back up 29 seconds after Kronwall’s goal, beating Howard on his own rebound chance to make it 4-4.

Franzen’s third of the night came just 30 seconds into the third period. He snapped a shot from the left faceoff dot past Brian Elliot on a rush and a Detroit power play.

Michalek’s second goal of the game tied it back up 29 seconds later. He tipped a Kovalev shot past Howard to make it 5-5.

Franzen scored on a two-man advantage at 7:10 of the third to put the Red Wings back out in front. Brian Rafalski‘s shot went wide of Elliot but the puck bounced off the back boards and came out the other side, where Franzen lifted it into the net.

The Senators appeared to tie the game with about eight minutes left when Chris Neil poked the puck out from under Howard and into the net but the play was blown down.

With 34 seconds left, Franzen completed the scoring, adding an empty net goal.

The Red Wings finished the night with two goals on three power play chances. The Senators scored once on two power play tries.

Howard made 29 saves on 34 Ottawa shots. Lehner stopped 15 of 19 shots faced while Elliot took the loss, stopping 16 of 18 Detroit chances.

The Red Wings are back in action on Friday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets.


Danny Cleary returned to the Detroit lineup after missing 14 games with a broken ankle… Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return from his broken hand on Friday or Saturday. Tomas Holmstrom could also return from injury this weekend.

May Asks for Chelios’ Sweater Number, Sparks Jersey Retirement Talk

Brad May could be switching to a new sweater number.

The enforcer was given #20 when he joined the team on a pro tryout at the end of the preseason and kept that number for his first regular season game after signing a one-year deal on Thursday. Ansar Khan reports that May has asked Chris Chelios for permission to switch to #24.

“(Chelios) was really cool,” May said. “I just figured it’s his (number). He’s such an icon, I figured I’d call him.”

“I like the number – Chris Chelios, Bob Probert. But I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I may ask, but now that I’m 20, who knows?”

May had previously worn #24 during his stint with the Anaheim Ducks.

Like May, Chelios also asked permission to wear #24. When he came to Detroit in 1999 he called the number’s previous owner – Probert – to run it by him.

George Malik asks whether or not the Wings should retire #24 for Chelios.

He mentions Brendan Shanahan‘s #14 being put back into use but Sergei Fedorov‘s #91 remaining out of circulation, as well as the #16 of Vladimir Konstantinov.

Personally, I think it’s a travesty that the #6 of Larry Aurie is not represented in the Joe Louis Arena rafters and would not raise any of those numbers before Detroit’s first real star was recognized. The Ilitch family’s refusal to honor Aurie is confusing and downright ridiculous.

At this point the only numbers I’d even think about retiring are #6 and (when the time comes) Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5. After Aurie’s number is retired we can talk about another old-timer in Red Kelly‘s #4.

Chelios should have his number retired, just not here. Though he won two Cups and ended his career with the Red Wings (and one more Cup with Montreal) I believe he’ll always be remembered as a Blackhawk and his #7 should hang at United Center.

Shanahan and Fedorov should wait, we shouldn’t even be talking about them until they retire from playing. And as I said above, they don’t get consideration until Aurie is taken care of.

Konstantinov, as much as it pains me to say it, should not have his number permanently retired. It should remain out of circulation until all of his former teammates have left the Red Wings. Only then should it be brought back.

Red Wings Down Blue Jackets in Shootout

The Detroit Red Wings ended their three-game losing streak on Sunday night, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 in a shootout.

Pavel Datsyuk, Jiri Hudler, and Johan Franzen scored in the tiebreaker for the Red Wings. Franzen’s goal was the game-winner, coming in the fifth round before Chris Osgood stopped David Vyborny on Columbus’ chance to extend the game.

Most of the game’s goals came on the power play.

Duvie Westcott got Columbus on the board with a power play goal with 9:31 remaining in the first period but the Red Wings even things up with a Nicklas Lidstrom goal 4:27 later while skating five-on-three.

Tomas Holmstrom tipped a Lidstrom shot past goalie Pascal Leclaire for a power play goal just 26 seconds later and Sergei Fedorov tied things up again on a two-man advantage at 40 seconds into the second period.

Brett Lebda scored the game’s first even-strength goal at 1:42 of the second, a rifled shot from the left circle.

Rick Nash pulled the Blue Jackets back into a tie after a gaffe by Chris Osgood with Columbus on the power play late in the second. Osgood played the puck behind the net and had to scramble to get back in front to make a stop. The rebound came to Nash and Osgood couldn’t get in position to make the stop with 5:34 remaining.

The teams traded even-strength goals in the third period. Nikolai Zherdev put the rebound of a shot by Nash past Osgood with 6:09 remaining and Datsyuk evened things up with 4:50 left, picking up the puck after his own blocked shot and roofing it over Leclaire.

Osgood stopped 36 of a season-high 40 shots against. Leclaire made 31 saves on 35 shots against.

The Red Wings were two-for-three on the power play while the Blue Jackets scored on three of their five chances with the extra attacker.


Leclaire left the game for 3:07 in the second period to be lectured by Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock. Fredrik Norrena faced no shots in that time.

Shootout Loss Spoils Bertuzzi’s Detroit Debut

A shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets spoiled the debut of Todd Bertuzzi for the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night.

Bertuzzi, playing his first game since November when he was with the Florida Panthers, finished the night plus-one with no points and a missed shootout attempt.

Former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov clinched the win for Columbus, scoring in the sixth round of the shootout. Mikael Samuelsson had missed on Detroit attempt in the final round.

Neither team scored in the first forty minutes of play, which was controlled by Columbus as the Red Wings played a lazy game.

Pavel Datsyuk scored to get Detroit on the board at 8:30 of the third period. Jiri Hudler poked the puck to him in the neutral zone and Datsyuk carried into the Columbus end before wristing a shot past the glove of Blue Jackets’ goalie Fredrik Norrena.

Ole-Kristian Tollefsen tied things back up with 2:42 remaining, firing a shot from the top of the left circle that bounced off the blade of Robert Lang‘s stick and past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood.

Osgood finished the night with 29 saves on 30 shots against. Norrena made 35 saves on 36 shots, with half of those shots coming in the third period.

Neither team scored on the power play. Detroit five tries and Columbus had six, including a lengthy five-on-three.

The point for the shootout loss gives the Red Wings 100 on the year, the seventh season in a row that they’ve reached triple-digit points. They’ll look to add to that total on Saturday when they host the St. Louis Blues.


Dan Cleary also returned to the Detroit lineup. He was held without a point but scored in his fourth-round shootout attempt.

Early Lead Holds in Blue Jackets’ Win Over Red Wings

The Columbus Blue Jackets scored three times in the first period and added one more late in the third, holding off a comeback by the Detroit Red Wings to pick up a 4-3 win.

Columbus opened the scoring at 8:30 with a shorthanded goal by Jason Chimera. Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek misplayed the puck behind the net and Chimera jumped on it, looping back out in front of the goal to lift a shot over Hasek’s shoulder and into the top of the net.

Just 1:24, the Blue Jackets’ lead went to two when Rick Nash got the puck all alone in front of Hasek and put it around the sprawling goaltender.

With 1:22 remaining in the period, former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov notched his first of two goals on the night on a wrister from the right circle between Hasek’s legs, a power play goal.

Goaltender Chris Osgood, returning from a hand injury that forced him to miss six weeks, took over in the Detroit net for the second period as the Red Wings mounted a comeback.

With 6:03 remaining in the middle frame, Robert Lang got the puck from behind the net on a pass by Dan Cleary and put a shot into Columbus netminder Fredrik Norrena. Lang picked up his own rebound and reached across the top of the crease, putting it around Norrena to get the Red Wings on the board.

The game’s final minutes became a shootout when Jiri Hudler wristed a shot past Norrena with 7:18 remaining in regulation.

The Red Wings pressured to get the tying goal but Fedorov notched his second of the night with 1:52 remaining on a 3-on-1. Only 20 seconds later, Lang scored again to pull Detroit back within one.

With Osgood on the bench for the extra attacker, the Red Wings were unable to pull even and Columbus held on for the win.

Osgood finished the night with 13 saves on 14 shots, allowing only the eventual game-winner to Fedorov. Hasek made nine saves on 12 shots in his period of play, while Norrena stopped 33 of 36 shots against.

The Blue Jackets scored the game’s only power play goal on one of their six tries with the man-advantage. Detroit had four power play attempts.

The two teams will meet again in Detroit on Wednesday in the second game of their home-and-home series.