Steve Garagiola: 'The Russian Five' -- Everything we never knew

The 1997 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings celebrate their 20 year reunion prior to a game between the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena on December 27, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

DETROIT – I went with my wife and daughter the other night to see "The Russian Five." The documentary tells the story of everything we never knew about the Russian quintet that transformed a team known to its fans as the Dead Things to eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, maybe the greatest collection of hockey talent ever assembled on one team. I share this because many of you, I suspect, are not sports fans and might pass on the chance to see a sports film. I promise you, "The Russian Five" is so much more than that. It’s a story of friendship and family, loyalty and honor, espionage and political intrigue, pure joy and crippling grief. 

RELATED: Red Wings 'Russian Five' documentary goes to big screen

I remember interviewing Red Wings’ General Manager Jimmy Devellano many times. He was a quiet, unassuming character. No one would have guessed he was a mastermind of political intrigue and espionage who orchestrated cloak-and-dagger schemes putting his agents in back stairways and dark alleys toting satchels filled with cash. Truth is stranger than fiction. 

I remember when Sergei Fedorov arrived, but I had forgotten the international stir it caused when he defected from Russia to join the Red Wings. We knew so little of the enormous professional and personal trials he faced both on and off the ice. He was targeted by opposing players and shunned by teammates. He represented an invasion by America’s long time enemy, the Evil Empire that threatened to change the very essence of the sport. Eventually joined by Kozlov, Konstantinov, Larionov and Fetisov; players around the league came to respect them. Detroit teammates and fans came to embrace them as family.

Then we have the Colorado Avalanche, the catastrophic injury inflicted on Kris Draper by Claude Lemieux, and the genuine hate at the heart of the bitterest rivalry in any sport from any era. Spoiler Alert: quite a cheer in the theater when Lemieux got his.

If you were a fan in 1997, you’ll remember the joy of that Stanley Cup championship that scratched a 42-year itch. You’ll relive the heartbreak of the limo crash that nearly took the life of Vladimir Konstantinov. 

They were a team that reflected the gritty work ethic that has driven our city through dark days to a rebirth. You will laugh a little, cry a little, and I know you’ll enjoy the ride.

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