|Alexander Mogilny (Photo: Getty Images) |
As it turned out, Gerry Meehan would get the last laugh.
When the Buffalo Sabres General Manager took a chance on drafting Alexander Mogilny in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, he faced some skepticism from his peers – and a political impasse from the Soviet Union.
At the time, the Cold War was not yet resolved, and tension between Mogilny’s homeland and the United States were still high.
Making the situation more implausible was the fact that Mogilny was currently playing for the Soviet national team – the Central Red Army. Being a part of the squad was regarded as not only a privilege, but as a showpiece in the country’s military. Therefore, with the exception of the World Championships and the Olympics, players in the USSR were not permitted to compete in hockey overseas.
Some veterans were eventually granted consent to play in the United States and Canada, after the government was satisfied that the individuals had completed their service with the military team.
But for a player like Mogilny, who joined the Central Red Army at the age of 17, it would be years before his tenure was up.
For that reason, Russian players were rarely taken into the National Hockey League. In fact, when Meehan drafted Mogilny 89th overall, it was the highest a Soviet player had ever been selected.
Mogilny, however, was unwilling to wait and less than a year later took matters into his own hands.
Following the 1989 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, he found his opportunity to leave. He contrived a plan with Meehan and Don Luce (Buffalo's Director of Amateur Evaluation and Development) to get him out of the country and secretly fly into Buffalo to sign a contract with Sabres.
In doing so he officially became the first Soviet player to defect from his country for the United States.
It was a bittersweet time for Mogilny, who finally found the freedom he sought in America, but feared the aftermath from his homeland.
He was nervous, but eager to begin his new career in the NHL. The Khabarovsk native was widely regarded as one of the best European players around, with his skating and stick-handling abilities renowned world-wide. At 20 years old he had competed in 20 WJC games from 1987-89 registering 19 goals and 16 assists, and now had the world at his feet.