Fedorov, Sergei

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Sergei Fedorov

1969-

Russian hockey player

The first Russian player to win the National Hockey League's (NHL) Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player in 1994, Sergei Fedorov exemplifies the growing presence of European players in one of North America's favorite sports. In doing so he helped the Detroit Red Wings shake off a decades-long slump to return to Stanley Cup championship viability. The team won back-to-back victories in 1997 and 1998 in significant part due to Fedorov's efforts. After prolonged contract talks

sparked a bidding war for his services in 1998, Fedorov renewed his contract with the Red Wings, who won another Stanley Cup in 2002. A popular figure off the ice for his extensive philanthropic efforts, Fedorov has also attracted considerable tabloid attention for his relationship with professional tennis player Anna Kournikova .

Plays for Soviet Army Team

Sergei Fedorov was born on December 13, 1969, in the city of Pskov in the western Soviet Union near the border with Estonia, which was under Soviet occupation at that time. His father, Viktor Alexandrovich Fedorov, worked as a hockey and soccer coach and moved the family to Apatity, a city in the extreme northwest of the Soviet Union near the border with Finland, when his son was nine years old. In the near-Arctic climate, Fedorov could practice his hockey skills under his father's guidance for most of the year. The youngster became an excellent skater with speed and agility and also learned how to handle the puck well. By the time he reached his teens, Fedorov was asked to join the elite squad of the Central Red Army hockey team.

Joining the team meant that Fedorov had to move to Moscow, but his love of hockey outweighed any hesitation to leave home. A standout player from the start, Fedorov helped the Soviet national team win the Silver Medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 1988 and take the Gold Medal at the senior-level World Hockey Championships the following year. In 1989 and 1990 the Soviet Red Army team played a series of exhibition games in North America coordinated by the NHL. The series brought Federov to the attention of many NHL scouts and players and the Detroit Red Wings selected the young Soviet player in the fourth round of the 1989 draft. Unfortunately, Soviet officials refused to allow Fedorov or any other player to leave the country freely. At that time NHL players were ineligible to play on Olympic teams; thus, if top-level players left the Soviet Union to play in the NHL, the country's future medal-winning chances would be dimmed.

Intriguing Start to NHL Career

The Soviet national team repeated as world champions in 1990 and traveled to Portland, Oregon for the international Goodwill Games in July of that year. Just before a team dinner on July 22, 1990, Fedorov slipped away from the hotel where the Soviets were staying and jumped on an airplane headed to Detroit. The Red Wings immediately announced on his behalf that Fedorov had defected; the event touched off a storm of protests by Soviet officials, who threatened to boycott an upcoming series of exhibition games unless a large payment were delivered to them by the Red Wings. The team complied and Fedorov was free to begin his NHL career.

Only a handful of European players had made a significant impact on the NHL's ranks, in part because of the more physical style of play practiced on the smaller ice rinks of North America. Fedorov adapted immediately to the new style and he worked to overcome language and cultural barriers by taking intensive English lessons. At the end of the 1990-91 season Fedorov had the most points of any rookie player with thirty-one goals and forty-eight assists. He narrowly missed being named NHL Rookie of the Year, an honor that went to goaltender Ed Belfour .

Fedorov slowly improved on his numbers the following two seasons; the 1993-94 season, in contrast, represented a major step forward for the six-foot, one-inch, two-hundred-pound center. Finishing the season with fifty-six goals and sixty-four assists, Fedorov won the Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player and the Frank J. Selke Trophy as Best Defensive Forward. He also received the Lester B. Pearson Award as Player of the Year from the NHL Players Association.

Renews Contract with Red Wings in 1998

Although the Red Wings had drafted Fedorov and a few other Russians in the hope that they would immediately lead the team to its first Stanley Cup victory since 1955, it was several years before the team achieved that goal. Under Coach Scotty Bowman , who sometimes clashed with Fedorov over his erratic playing, the Red Wings finally returned to championship status with a sweep in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals over the Philadelphia Flyers. Just months later, however, Fedorov refused to report to the team's training camp in a salary dispute. Both sides dug their heels in and contract talks dragged out for several months, causing Fedorov to miss most of the 1997-98 season. After the Carolina Hurricanes weighed in with a $38 million offer, the Red Wings finally caved in to Fedorov's demands and met that figure with a six-year contract. After rejoining the team, Fedorov helped the Red Wings win another Stanley Cup victory, this time over the Washington Capitals.

Some Red Wings fans were angered by Fedorov's stubborn negotiating stance; others were titallated by rumors of his romance with teenage tennis star Anna Kournikova. Widely reported to be dating in 1997, when she was sixteen years old, the two were reported to be engaged in 2001. Both Fedorov and Kournikova refused to discuss the matter in public. He received more positive attention for his announcement in 1999 that he would donate his entire salary that year to establish the Sergei Fedorov Foundation, an organization devoted to helping disadvantaged children in the Detroit area and in Russia. The first Fedorov Scholarships were awarded in December 1999. Fedorov also helped to transport medical and sports supplies to Moscow-area children.

Chronology

1969 Born December 13 in Pskov, Soviet Union
1985 Plays for Soviet Central Red Army hockey team
1990 Defects from Soviet Union to the United States; begins playing for Detroit Red Wings
1994 Wins Hart Trophy as most valuable player in NHL and Frank J. Selke Trophy as Best Defensive Forward in NHL
1995 Wins Frank J. Selke Trophy as Best Defensive Forward in NHL
1997-98 Detroit Red Wings win two consecutive Stanley Cup championships
2002 Detroit Red Wings win Stanley Cup

Awards and Accomplishments

1988 Silver Medal, World Junior Hockey Championships (Russia)
1989-90 Gold Medal, World Hockey Championships (Russia)
1994 Hart Trophy as most valuable player in NHL
1994 Lester B. Pearson Award as player of the year, National Hockey League Players Association
1994-95 Frank J. Selke Trophy as Best Defensive Forward in NHL
1997-98, 2002 Stanley Cup as NHL champion (Detroit Red Wings)
1998 Olympic Silver Medal in hockey (Russia)
2002 Olympic Bronze Medal in hockey (Russia)

Now settled into a multi-year contract with the Red Wings, Fedorov helped the team return to another Stanley Cup victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in 2002. With three championships in six years, the success of the Red Wings dispelled once and for all the notion that European players could not adapt successfully to the ranks of the NHL. Although he brought his father to live in the United States, Fedorov retained many ties to his homeland. After the eligibility rules were changed, he played on two medal-winning Russian hockey teams in the 1998 and 2002 Olympic Games. After the controversy over his 1998 contract dispute, Fedorov regained his status as one of the sport's most popular players, in part because of his thoughtfulness off the ice. As he described his career to David Brennan in an interview for the Institute for International Sport in 2001, "You've got to have fun. It's part of the way I've been brought up. I think it's fun. I never thought I'd be a professional hockey player. I didn't even care. Because I did not know, first of all, anything about that. Second of all, I just love the sport. I have been fortunate and lucky enough to work with good coaches, great teammates, and I've been fortunate enough to have muscles and bones that can provide me with that particular physical force."

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP G AST PTS PIM
Red Wings: Detroit Red Wings (NHL).
1990-91 Red Wings 77 31 48 79 66
1991-92 Red Wings 80 32 54 86 72
1992-93 Red Wings 73 34 53 87 72
1993-94 Red Wings 82 56 64 120 34
1994-95 Red Wings 42 20 30 50 24
1995-96 Red Wings 78 39 68 107 48
1996-97 Red Wings 74 30 33 63 30
1997-98 Red Wings 21 6 11 17 25
1998-99 Red Wings 77 26 37 63 66
1999-00 Red Wings 68 27 35 62 22
2000-01 Red Wings 75 32 37 69 40
2001-02 Red Wings 53 15 25 40 20
TOTAL 800 348 495 843 519

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Anna Kournikova." Newsmakers. Volume 3. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.

Diamond, Dan, ed. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998.

McFarlane, Brian. The Red Wings. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1998.

Schabner, Dean. Sergei Fedorov. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

Periodicals

Barkholz, David. "Fight Over Fedorov Renews Rivalry." Crain's Detroit Business (March 2, 1998).

Farber, Michael. "Wing Leader." Sports Illustrated (April 23, 2001).

Henning, Lynn. "Vlady Remains a Part of Wings." Detroit News (June 13, 2002).

Other

"Sergei Fedorov Foundation." Sergei Federov Official Web site. http://www.sergeifedorov.com/foundation/indexfoundation.htm (November 4, 2002).

"Sergei Fedorov." CNN-Sports Illustrated Web site. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/players/33/(November 5, 2002).

"Sportsmanship Interview." Institute for International Sport Web site. http://www.internationalsport.com/nsd/sergei.cfm (November 4, 2002).

"Vladimir Konstantinov." Internet Hockey Database Web site. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=2780 (November 13, 2002).

Sketch by Timothy Borden