|Red Wings center Igor Larionov and defenseman Vlacheslav Fetisov skate with the Stanley Cup following the team's 2-1 win over Philadelphia in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena on Jun 7, 1997. (Photo by Rick Stewart /Allsport)
DETROIT – Vyacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov formed two of the most famous playing units that the world has ever seen when they helped the Soviet national team dominate in the 1980s and the Red Wings a decade later.
Known as the Green Unit, the pair – along with forwards Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov and defenseman Alexi Kasatonov – propelled the Russians to five world championships and the 1981 Canada Cup. The group also skated for the famed Central Red Army team that won the Soviet national title 12 times.
With Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Kozlov already featured on the roster in the mid-90s, the Red Wings sent a shock through the hockey world when they acquired the final piece of their own version of the famous Russian quintuplets, acquiring Larionov in a trade just eight games into the 1995-96 season.
In December, the pair of Hockey Hall of Famers – along with Fedorov – will join forces for the first time in six years when they lace up the skates for the Alumni Showdown during the SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park on New Year’s Eve.
Larionov, who still resides in metro Detroit, and conducts development camps for elite youth players from around the world, is excited to rejoin Fetisov, his Red Army and Red Wings teammate, for such a huge fan spectacle. It’s expected that Konstantinov, who also lives in the Detroit area, will participate in the event as an ambassador.
Fedorov, who was the first Russian or European to win the Hart Trophy, in 1994, as the league’s MVP, was recently named general manager of CSKA Moscow, a team that he began his Russian playing career with. He played 13 seasons in Detroit and continues to rank in the team's all-time top five in career goals (400), assists (554), and points (954).
In June, Larionov, who is a first-year player agent, experienced the highs and lows of life when he attended the funeral of Vladimir Krutov in Moscow. Larionov and Krutov, along with Sergei Makarov, made up the famed Soviet trio known as the KLM line.
“I’m looking forward to it, it’s exciting,” Larionov said. “I saw Slava in Moscow for the funeral for Vladi Krutov and he wants to play. I told Kenny (Holland) that he wants to play and it he has room for him, so Slava will be flying in for the game too.”
Larionov, who won three Stanley Cup titles with the Red Wings and is among a small fraternity of players that make up the Triple Gold Club, had two clients selected with the top three picks of this year’s NHL draft when Sarnia Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk when to the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens, respectively.
“It was fantastic, just unbelievable to have such great talent and to be drafted first overall and third overall, it was just fantastic,” Larionov told DetroitRedWings.com.
Fetisov, who is widely considered to be one of the finest defensemen that the game has ever seen, resigned his post as CSKA Moscow president and chairman of the Kontinental Hockey League in January. He retired from the NHL after helping the Wings to the ’98 Stanley Cup, producing 36 goals and 192 assists in nine seasons with the New Jersey Devils and Wings.
The two Russians are the latest alumni players to commit to the Alumni Showdown against former Maple Leafs players, which will be played the day before the NHL is expected to set a new attendance record for an outdoor hockey game when the Wings and Leafs face-off in the 2013 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
“This will be the first time Winter Classic for me,” Larionov said. “And I’ve never been to a game at Michigan Stadium, but of course, I’ve seen the games on TV and I’m looking forward to watching that game and lacing them up to play in front of 40,000 (fans) at Comerica Park. That will be nice.”
Though the Wings and Leafs haven’t had much of an on-ice rivalry since they faced in the playoffs in the late-80s, Larionov said that Wings’ players of his era typically don’t have memories of playing the Leafs.
“I wasn’t in Detroit when they played those (playoff) series with Toronto, when I came to Detroit they moved to a different division,” Larionov said. “I never had a chance to play against them in the playoffs with the Wings. I played against them in the playoffs when I was in San Jose, but in Detroit we only played them in one game a year, or maybe two games.”
The Leafs eliminated Larionov’s Sharks in a seven-game conference semifinal in 1994.
The Wings already have commitments from 15 players, including forwards Kris Draper, Mickey Redmond, Luc Robitaille, Dino Ciccarelli, John Ogrodnick, Joe Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty; defensemen Chris Chelios, Mark Howe and Larry Murphy; and goalies Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood.
Draper has vowed to hold a training camp prior to the alumni game.
“That will be nice because Drapes just finished playing hockey a year ago and he’s still in good shape,” Larionov said. “You need some of the young guys who can skate. I’ll be 52 in December, Drapes is what, 40? So he’s still young.”
The Leafs also announced today that six more alumni players have committed: forwards Gary Leeman, Russ Courtnall, Vincent Damphousse, Bill Derlago, and defensemen Dave Ellett and Bob McGill.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
CLICK HERE TO VIEW ALUMNI ROSTER CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTO GALLERY