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Vladimir Konstantinov

Vladimir Nikolaevich Konstantinov (Russian: Владимир Николаевич Константинов; born March 19, 1967) is a Russian-American retired professional ice hockey player who played his entire National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Detroit Red Wings. Previously, he had played for Soviet club CSKA Moscow. His career was ended in a limousine crash just six days after the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup victory.

Vladimir Konstantinov
Born (1967-03-19) March 19, 1967 (age 52)
Murmansk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Height 5 ft 11 in (180 cm)
Weight 176 lb (80 kg; 12 st 8 lb)
Position Defense
Shot Right
Played for USSR
CSKA Moscow
NHL
Detroit Red Wings
National team  Soviet Union
NHL Draft 221st overall, 1989
Detroit Red Wings
Playing career 1984–1997

Playing careerEdit

Vladimir Konstantinov, known also as "Vladdie" and "Vlad the Impaler" (for his vicious hits), was drafted 221st overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, after impressing a Red Wings scout at the 1987 World Junior Championships, where a brawl broke out in the Soviet Union–Canada game. Scout Neil Smith remembers, "He was the only one of the Russians who fought back." Probably the most notable aspect of his hockey career was his aggressive style, specializing in getting opponents off their game. "For my game," he explained, "I don’t need to score the goal. I need someone to start thinking about me and forgetting about scoring goals." Konstantinov's aggressive style of play also earned him the nickname "Vladinator".

In the 1993–94 regular season, he scored three short-handed goals to tie Raymond Bourque, Jyrki Lumme and Richard Šmehlík for the NHL lead among defensemen.[1]

Konstantinov was also part of the unit known as "The Russian Five", which consisted of him and fellow defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov, and forwards Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov and Vyacheslav Kozlov.

Konstantinov earned the NHL Plus/Minus Award in 1995–96, with a plus/minus difference of +60. The +60 has been the highest rating a player has finished with in the past 20 seasons, since Wayne Gretzky finished with a +70 in the 1986–87 season.

In 1996–97, Konstantinov helped his team to win the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers head coach Terry Murray expected his top line of centre Eric Lindros, left winger John LeClair and right winger Mikael Renberg—known as the "Legion of Doom" for its scoring and toughness—to face Konstantinov. However, Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman surprised the Flyers by instead opting for the finesse-oriented defense pairing of Nicklas Lidström and Larry Murphy to neutralize the Lindros line's forechecking.[2] In that same year, Konstantinov was runner-up to Brian Leetch for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, given to the NHL's best defenseman. This would turn out to be Konstantinov's final season.

Limousine crashEdit

Following a golf outing with the Stanley Cup on June 13, 1997, celebrating the Red Wings' Stanley Cup triumph, Konstantinov, along with Russian hockey legend Viacheslav Fetisov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, hired a limousine to drive them home. The driver, Richard Gnida, whose license was suspended at the time for drunk driving, lost control of the limousine and hit a tree on the median of Woodward Avenue, in Birmingham, Michigan. Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma. As a result of the limousine crash, Konstantinov suffered from serious head injuries and paralysis while Fetisov escaped with relatively minor injuries and was able to play the following season. Mnatsakanov sustained significant head injuries as well, and spent some time in a coma; he has had a considerably more difficult recovery.

After the Red Wings successfully reclaimed the Stanley Cup in 1998, Konstantinov was brought onto the ice in a wheelchair, surrounded by his teammates, to celebrate the win. Throughout the playoffs the Red Wings' catchphrase was the single word, "Believe", and throughout the 1997–98 season the Red Wings wore a patch, with the initials of Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov featured prominently, with the word "Believe" written in both English and Russian.[3]

Although Konstantinov was never able to play hockey again due to the limousine crash, the Detroit Red Wings still recognized him as part of their team. The Red Wings sought and received special dispensation from the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup after they won the 1998 title. During the celebration ceremonies after winning the Stanley Cup, Konstantinov was pushed around the ice in his wheelchair with the Cup on his lap.

RetirementEdit

Konstantinov's jersey #16 has not been officially retired by the Red Wings. However, out of respect for Konstantinov, no player has been given the number since. In 1999, newly acquired Pat Verbeek, who had worn #16 for much of his career, switched to #15. A similar situation occurred in 2001 when the Red Wings signed Brett Hull, who had worn #16 for the bulk of his career with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars; Hull switched to #17. Drafted Prospect Xavier Ouellet, who had worn #16 as a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins, switched to #61 for the Red Wings.

Konstantinov's condition has improved considerably since his accident. While he still has trouble speaking and walking, he is seen several times a season watching Red Wings games from a private box in Detroit.

The Red Wings keep his locker set up for him, although he will never be capable of playing hockey again. The locker is also equipped with a rock that says "Believe".[4]

Konstantinov returned to the ice at Joe Louis Arena, helped by a walker, for the pre-game number retirement ceremony for Steve Yzerman on January 2, 2007.

At the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, Konstantinov was helped onto the ice for a rare Russian Five reunion with his former teammates Sergei Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Igor Larionov.[5]

On March 6, 2014, he was in attendance at the retirement of former teammate Nicklas Lidström's number.

On December 27, 2016, he was in attendance along with 29 other members of the 1997 Stanley Cup winning Red Wings team and former coach Scotty Bowman to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Stanley Cup championship team.

International playEdit

Medal record
Representing   Soviet Union
Men's ice hockey
World Championships
  1986 Soviet Union
  1989 Sweden
  1990 Switzerland
  1991 Finland
World Junior Championships
  1986 Canada

Konstantinov has participated in six international tournaments for the Soviet Union:

During the final game of the 1987 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships between Canada and the Soviet Union, a bench-clearing brawl known as the Punch-up in Piestany took place. The fight is famous for officials having turned off the arena lights in a desperate attempt at ending the 20 minute melee. During the fight Konstantinov leveled a head-butt that broke Greg Hawgood's nose. As a result of the brawl, both teams were disqualified from the tournament.

Personal lifeEdit

Konstantinov lives in the Detroit area. His wife, Irina, now lives in New Jersey with their daughter, Anastasia Konstantinova.[6]

Awards and achievementsEdit

Career statisticsEdit

Regular season and playoffsEdit

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1984–85 CSKA Moscow USSR 40 1 4 5 10
1985–86 CSKA Moscow USSR 26 4 3 7 12
1986–87 CSKA Moscow USSR 35 2 2 4 19
1987–88 CSKA Moscow USSR 50 3 6 9 32
1988–89 CSKA Moscow USSR 37 7 8 15 20
1989–90 CSKA Moscow USSR 47 14 13 27 44
1990–91 CSKA Moscow USSR 45 5 12 17 42
1991–92 Detroit Red Wings NHL 79 8 25 33 172 11 0 1 1 16
1992–93 Detroit Red Wings NHL 82 5 17 22 137 7 0 1 1 8
1993–94 Detroit Red Wings NHL 80 12 21 33 138 7 0 2 2 4
1994–95 ESC Wedemark GER-2 15 17 13 30 51
1994–95 Detroit Red Wings NHL 47 3 11 14 101 18 1 1 2 22
1995–96 Detroit Red Wings NHL 81 14 20 34 139 19 4 5 9 28
1996–97 Detroit Red Wings NHL 77 5 33 38 151 20 0 4 4 29
USSR totals 280 36 48 84 179
NHL totals 446 47 127 174 838 82 5 14 19 107

InternationalEdit

Year Team Event Result   GP G A Pts PIM
1985 Soviet Union EJC   5 1 0 1 8
1986 Soviet Union WJC   7 2 4 6 4
1986 Soviet Union WC   10 1 1 2 8
1987 Soviet Union WJC DQ 6 1 4 5 8
1989 Soviet Union WC   8 2 1 3 2
1990 Soviet Union WC   10 2 2 4 12
1991 Soviet Union WC   10 0 2 2 37
Junior totals 18 4 8 12 20
Senior totals 38 5 6 11 59

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ 1993-94 NHL Season Skater Statistics
  2. ^ Farber, Michael (1997-06-16). "SI Flashback: Stanley Cup 1997". CNN/Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  3. ^ "From celebration to devastation: Red Wings recall accident that changed Vladimir Konstantinov's life". mlive.com. June 13, 2017. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  4. ^ Elliott, Helene (October 22, 1997). "Injured Konstantinov Not in Red Wings' Locker Room, but He's Never Far From Their Thoughts". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  5. ^ Winter Classic Alumni Showdown provides memories that will last a lifetime for all involved
  6. ^ La Canfora, Jason (December 13, 2009). "A Wing and a Prayer". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2018.

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Ron Francis
Winner of the NHL Plus/Minus Award
1996
Succeeded by
John LeClair