It was a night when 27-year-old Sergei Fedorov could do no wrong.
The day after Christmas 1996, he did something so extraordinary it was rarely seen in the National Hockey League before him or since.
The Russian center accounted for every goal in the Red Wings’ 5-4 overtime win over the visiting Washington Capitals, while victimizing the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Jim Carey.
“I'm still shaking, I'm so excited,” said Fedorov, following his five-goal performance in that Thursday night victory. “The puck was going in for me. I think all my shots went in.”
Legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom played 12 NHL seasons and celebrated three Stanley Cup championships as Fedorov’s teammate. Lidstrom has many fond memories of the Red Wings’ star import, including the time the two went inline skating during an off day in southern California.
But his favorite memory of Fedorov is from his magical five-goal night.
“My favorite story is probably when he scored five goals against the Capitals,” Lidstrom said, “and after the last goal he just threw his gloves in the air.”
Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano called Fedorov’s effort one of the greatest individual performances he’s ever witnessed during his three-plus decades in Detroit.
Besides the Stanley Cup victories, the post-season accolades and the All-Star game appearances, Hockeytown loyalists will never forget that remarkable December performance and the exulted jubilation that followed.
Fans will have the chance to celebrate the Russian star’s many accomplishments when he is inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame next Thursday at Sound Board inside of MotorCity Casino Hotel.
Fedorov is part of a world-class group of inductees this year, including former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo, Mich.); Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo; Baseball Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin (University of Michigan); former Detroit Lions defensive lineman Doug English; Olympic swimmer and pentathlete Sheila Taormina; and pro bowler Aleta Sill (Dearborn, Mich.).
Had there been an award for the most versatile hockey player of the 1990s it definitely would be in Fedorov’s trophy case. In an era when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux roamed NHL rinks, Fedorov – selected by Detroit with the 74th pick of the 1989 NHL draft – was developing into one of the league’s most exciting two-way centers.
A swift skater and gifted stick-handler, Fedorov was equally potent as a high-scoring center or puck-moving defenseman, which, on occasion, Scotty Bowman would pair him with Hall of Famer blueliner Larry Murphy.
“Fedorov was clearly going to be a star,” wrote Devellano, in his 2008 autobiography. “He was one of the flashiest players in the NHL at the time and, as was the case with Lidstrom and (Vladimir) Konstantinov, his international savvy helped make him a great NHL player a lot faster than was the case with most second-year players in the league.”
Prior to his 1990 defection, Fedorov had been a highly-decorated international star in the Soviet Union. A three-time Olympian, he helped his country win silver in 2002 and bronze in 1998. He also owns three gold medals (1989, 1990 and 2008) and silver (2010) from the World Championships, as well as gold (1989) and silver (1988) from the World Junior Championships, where he skated on a line with Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure.
“It was easy hockey,” said Fedorov, in a 2005 ESPN interview. “We didn't have any trouble communicating on the ice, no matter how fast we played. Hockey was just fun. On that line, I played defensively and would back-check. As soon as we got the puck, I would find either Alex or Pavel with a good pass and the puck would be in the net before I crossed the blue line.”
It wasn’t long before the rest of the hockey world learned of Fedorov and his incredible skills. At 20 years old, all Fedorov wanted was to play hockey and live well. He had grown tired of the living conditions surrounding the CSKA team and Moscow and the commitment to the Red Army.
So, a year after Mogilny became the first Russian player to defect to the United States to play in the NHL, Fedorov followed.
Though he didn’t speak a word of English his transition was eased because he didn’t know enough to be afraid of making a huge life change.
“It was 1990 and I was in Portland, Oregon playing in an exhibition game,” Fedorov said. “I had been in contact with the Red Wings for more than a year, so finally I decided it was time for me to try playing in the NHL. I was only 20 when I defected. I didn't know much about life ’cause all I did was practice hockey all the time. I wasn't scared when I left the Russian team, but I was really excited. Sometimes the less you know, the better. All I could think about was playing in big NHL arenas and that's why I wasn't scared 'cause I didn't know any better.”
From the start, Fedorov felt quite at home in Detroit, producing 31 goals and 79 points, and making the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1990-91.
Two seasons later and, out of necessity, Fedorov enjoyed his most-productive season in North America while establishing the fifth highest single-season point output in franchise history.
Forced to become a true leader after a season-ending injury to Steve Yzerman, the Russian superstar went on a mission for the Red Wings, compiling 56 goals and 120 points, finishing second in the points race to Gretzky. Fedorov captured three prestigious awards that season – the Hart Trophy, Selke Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award, voted on by his league peers. He won the Selke as the league’s best defensive forward again in 1995-96.
He was the first European-trained player to win the Hart and, eventually, was the first Russian to ever reach 1,000 points in the NHL. He finished his 18-season career with 1,179 points and 10 seasons with 30-plus goals. Mogilny (1,032) and Alexander Kovalev (1,029) are the only other Russian-born players to reach the milestone.
Fedorov is one of two players – Yzerman being the other – to finish their Red Wings’ careers in the top five in nine all-time team categories. Besides being a six-time NHL All-Star and helping Detroit win Stanley Cup titles in 1997, 1998 and 2002, Fedorov is third in franchise history with 163 points in 162 playoff games. He still ranks among the franchise’s top five all-time leaders with 400 goals, 554 assists and 954 points from 1990-2003.
Following the 2002-03 season, he signed an unrestricted free-agent contract with Anaheim before closing out his illustrious career with stints in Columbus and Washington.
Fedorov is the 24th member of the Red Wings' organization in the MSHOF, which already has enshrined legendary coach Jack Adams (1955); Gordie Howe (1957); Ted Lindsay (1966); Sid Abel (1967); Ebbie Goodfellow (1968); Terry Sawchuk (1974); James Norris (1976); Alex Delvecchio (1977); Bill Gadsby (1986); Budd Lynch (1994); Red Berenson and Bruce Martyn (1996); Red Kelly (1998); Scotty Bowman (1999); Jack Stewart (2000); Mike Ilitch (2004); Jimmy Devellano (2006); Norm Ullman and Steve Yzerman (2007); Marian Ilitch (2010); Marcel Pronovost (2012); Mark Howe (2013); and Lidstrom (2014).
Tickets for the induction are on sale now through the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame website or by calling 248-473-0656.