Now, Fedorov elicits ooohs, not boos

January 12, 1994|By Mark Whicker | Mark Whicker,Orange County Register

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The game is always long enough for the great ones, as Sergei Fedorov showed the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Monday night.

For two periods, the Ducks kept the NHL's scoring leader shackled to the boards. They dodged Fedorov's bullets when Detroit had a two-man advantage for 59 seconds. They led 3-2. They were going to pass Winnipeg for eighth place in the West -- they were going to boast victories over every Western team except the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

They were.

But then the Red Wings tied it on Steve Chiasson's lovely feed to a breaking Sheldon Kennedy. And somebody finally took his eyes off Fedorov. He ambushed Bill Houlder, kicked the puck free, and watched Dino Ciccarelli's 501th career goal, with 11:17 left, put Detroit ahead.

The Wings won, 6-4.

Then again, Fedorov does this to everybody, everywhere.

It's only been a few yesterdays since North American hockey fans cringed at the sight of the Soviets. The touring Red Army and Dynamo teams used to bring out the goon in every NHL team. Tight-lipped, with cheeks turned and skates flying, they usually won.

Now -- do you believe in miracles? -- Fedorov has a great chance to become the first Russian to lead an American franchise to any sort of championship. And to win the sporting heart of a big city, too.

The Red Wings are 17-5-2 since Nov. 13, when Scotty Bowman put Fedorov and Slava Kozlov together, and the flying tire on Detroit's uniform sprouted another wing.

Detroit hasn't lost a home game since. It again leads the NHL in goals. In four games, the Wings have scored eight or more. And Fedorov, just barely 24, leads the NHL in points (70) and plus-minus (plus-33).

"I never expected I would put up numbers like that," Fedorov said. Nobody did. Fedorov had 32 goals and 86 points last year, but he also finished second (to Montreal's Guy Carbonneau) in the balloting for best defensive forward.

He has not forgotten that aspect. He matched up with Wayne Gretzky Saturday night at The Forum and was plus-3 to Gretzky's minus-3.

But the Russian Revolution goes deeper than Fedorov. Four other Soviets -- Alexei Kasatonov (Mighty Ducks), Pavel Bure (Vancouver), Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo) and Sandis Ozolinsh (San Jose) -- will be in the All-Star Game Jan. 22.

Another, Alexei Yashin of Ottawa, leads NHL rookies in six categories, including scoring.

The hardest part was getting here. Fedorov and the Soviets came to Seattle for the 1990 Goodwill Games. They left. He stayed.

"But we didn't announce it to anybody," Fedorov said with a grin. "One day the Soviet team was supposed to get on the bus to go to the arena," said Michael Barnett, Fedorov's agent. "Sergei never came down. The Red Wings took him to the airport. Sergei was very aware of what it meant. Jim Lites [then a Red Wings vice president] told me Sergei saw him in the hotel that day and said, 'Are you ready?' "

"Nobody on the team knew what I was going to do," Fedorov said. "After I left, nobody on the team could call out of the hotel, for the rest of the games."

Last fall, Fedorov's parents came to live in Detroit. Then Fedorov signed an $11.7 million, four-year contract. He doesn't comment on reports that the newly aggressive Russian Mafia has been known to put the arm on parents of the expatriates.

With the Red Army team, Fedorov centered a line with Bure and Mogilny. Back there, the games were infrequent, and the boards were far away. Not everybody makes the switch. Why did Fedorov?

"I think you can chalk it up to the great personal qualities he has," Barnett said. "Even though he had a great year last year, he wasn't satisfied. He put on 12 pounds of muscle in the off-season."

"I've told a lot of people he's the best skater I ever played with," said defenseman Mark Howe, who's in his 21st pro season.

"Fast. Powerful. Quick. He fits every criterion of a Most Valuable Player, the way I thought [Toronto's] Doug Gilmour did last year. When he plays well, we generally win. When he doesn't, we probably lose more than half the time."

Howe is old enough to remember the general league-wide denial that a better game lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain. He watched the Soviets win over each American city, one red light at a time.

"In Russia, they'd take their teams away from everything for 11 months and just work on their skating and skills," Howe said, laughing. "So you can see why none of them wanted to come over here.

"I think you can safely say 95 percent of the good players in the world are in the NHL today. I'd rather watch Fedorov skate than a bunch of guys clutching and grabbing. No question it's a better game."

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