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Russian Hockey Skates Full Circle


Vyacheslav Fetisov on the ice again

Vyacheslav Fetisov on the ice again

As a defenseman for the Soviet Union's vaunted Red Army team in the 1970s and '80s, hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov won two Olympic golds, seven world championships, 11 Soviet championships, and one Canada Cup.

His disagreements with his Soviet coach and superior army officer Viktor Tikhonov, who was known to cut players he suspected were eying a jump to North America, are well-documented. Challenging coach and system, Fetisov was a pioneer in breaking the barriers preventing Soviet players from joining the National Hockey League.

Upon joining the NHL's New Jersey Devils in 1989, Fetisov built on his success, eventually linking up with other former Soviet players to form the "Russian Five" that won two Stanley Cups in Detroit before he hung up his skates.

That is until tonight, when Fetisov, at the age of 51, donned his old No. 2 CSKA Moscow jersey and returned to the ice in a regulation Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game against SKA St. Petersburg.

Fetisov's career has now gone full circle.

His road to redemption began in St. Petersburg in 2000, when President Vladimir Putin described Team Russia's dismal performance -- including losses to the United States, Latvia, Belarus, and Switzerland -- as a "national embarrassment."

Putin turned to Fetisov, who was asked to coach Team Russia for the Salt Lake Games in 2002. At the time, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee stated flatly that "the higher powers of Russia are not at peace with the hockey situation in the county."

Following a bronze-medal showing, Fetisov moved up to take roles as unofficial "sports minister" and as parliament member. Today, as Russia regularly posts huge victories in soccer, tennis, hockey, and numerous other sports, Fetisov serves as president of CSKA Moscow and as a member of the board of the KHL.

The KHL, meanwhile, is increasingly using the lure of national pride and big money to lure NHL talent -- foreigners and Russians alike, and including the grandson of Fetisov's fiercest rival, coach Tikhonov.

-- Michael Scollon

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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