Red Menace Thanks to extraordinary role players such as Slava Kozlov, defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit remained the team to beat

May 24, 1998

The biggest financial story in Chrysler-and-Daimler Detroit on
Sunday was another merger and acquisition: The St. Louis Blues'
shock troops merged with an acrobatic goaltender, Grant Fuhr, to
acquire a victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals
and put the business of a $12 million bonus to Red Wings star
center Sergei Fedorov on hold for at least two more days. For
those of you too busy scraping together a mortgage payment to
notice, Wings owner Mike Ilitch, the pizza magnate, will owe
Fedorov $12 million on July 1 if Detroit reaches the conference
finals. That's a lot of pepperoni. The Red Wings held a 3-2 lead
over the Blues in this fiercely played series, so Fedorov was a
good bet to collect soon. (If Detroit doesn't advance, he will
be paid the $12 million over the next four years of his
contract.) Meanwhile, his hometown had joined in the spirit of
financial planning. The cheeky Detroit Free Press suggested that
Fedorov give Anna Kournikova, his 16-year-old tennis-star pal, a
raise in her allowance. Fedorov, however, said the fate of his
money will be up to his brokers. On Sunday the big board, the
one hanging over center ice at Joe Louis Arena, read BLUES 3,
WINGS 1.

St. Louis, a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup, offered up some
money players of its own: surprising names such as center Mike
Eastwood, who scored a goal and won nine of 13 face-offs in Game
5; buzzing wingers Scott Pellerin and Terry Yake; and hard-nosed
defenseman Marc Bergevin, who cleared a shot off the goal line
early in the third period to help Fuhr. "Their grinders really
stole the show," Detroit forward Brendan Shanahan said. "Now
it's time for our four lines to get rolling, the thing that
brought us success."

The Red Wings might have been hurt by both teams' constant
parade to the penalty box (there were 24 minutes of power-play
time) which prevented Detroit from getting the usual flow from
its four relentless lines. "The depth guys could be the key to
the rest of the series," Red Wings associate coach Dave Lewis
said. "As coaches you always prepare to stop the top offensive
players, or maybe you key on their best defenseman, but it's the
other guys--I hate the term role players--who can make the
difference."

Defending champion Detroit has an advantage because it has the
best role players left in the tournament. In the press box
during Game 5, Craig Button, director of scouting for the Dallas
Stars, who will meet the winner of the Detroit-St. Louis series
in the conference finals beginning this Sunday, shook his head
and marveled, "The Wings just have so many horses." Of the 14
Detroit forwards who had played in the postseason through
Sunday, each had at least one point, and 12 had at least two.
The Wings' scoring distribution is linked to ice time, usually
more than 20 minutes for Fedorov and captain Steve Yzerman but
rarely less than 10 for every other forward except enforcer Joe
Kocur. "We can do it because our top guys have accepted it,"
says Barry Smith, Scott Bowman's other associate coach. "You
can't have star players upset because so-and-so's playing and
taking some of their ice time."

This is a team that can repeat. Certainly Slava Kozlov can. When
a phone number is bellowed during a TV commercial, Kozlov, one
of those role players who make Detroit dangerous, shouts it back
at the screen. When teammates make loud dressing-room
conversation, he parrots their dialogue. The otherwise quiet
Kozlov, who has earned the nickname the Echo, says this is
simply a learning tool, a way to further his slow but sure
education in English. Probably. The technique is favored by
annoying third-graders everywhere.

"I think the word for him is smart-ass," Shanahan says. "He's
got this sarcastic wit. You do something stupid on the ice,
suddenly he's giving it to you out of the corner of his mouth.
The guys will say, 'Hey, when did you learn English? Whoever
taught you should be punished.'"

Of course Kozlov, a left wing, also keeps repeating himself in
the playoffs. Although obscured by Fedorov, Yzerman and
Shanahan, he has a sniper's swagger, a dagger of a wrist shot
and some sweet one-on-one moves. He has become one of the most
dependable playoff scorers of his generation. His 27 postseason
goals through Sunday ranked fourth in Stanley Cup scoring during
the past five years, trailing only Claude Lemieux (41 goals),
Joe Sakic (32) and Jaromir Jagr (31).

Kozlov is one of only six players to twice score the winning
goal in games that reached a second overtime. After Bowman
watched him one-time the game-winner from the left circle early
in the third period of the Wings' 5-2 win in Game 4, he said
that Kozlov scores big goals because he rarely kills penalties
or does heavy lifting on the power play. That keeps him fresh.
Slava Fetisov, the 40-year-old Detroit defenseman, puts it more
eloquently. "Slava," he says, "has a great feeling for goals."

Still, Kozlov has been considered the Fifth Russian, only
slightly more memorable than the Fifth Beatle. On the Wings'
original Russian Five, Kozlov paled in comparison to legends
Fetisov and center Igor Larionov and was overshadowed by
punishing defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov (who was severely
injured in a limousine accident last spring) and Fedorov (whose
dates get more coverage than Kozlov's goals). If Fedorov is the
poster boy for the NHL's Russian Revolution--all dollars and
glamour and swoosh--the 26-year-old Kozlov is the most
traditional of the young Russians. He clings to his culture and
to the legacy of Russian hockey handed down by his father,
Anatoli, a coach and former elite player in the Soviet Union.
Kozlov still reads only Russian newspapers and magazines, and he
watches Russian television on a satellite dish.

"Kozlov has great respect for what Igor and Slava went through,
for their honor, for the way things used to be, for what's
right," says Shanahan. "When players refer to young Russians who
have no respect for their countrymen who opened NHL doors for
them, well, Kozlov is the opposite of that."

Not that Kozlov has had an easy road. He tried to take a
shortcut on the way from his hometown of Voskresensk to a rink
in Moscow in November 1991 and crashed his new Lada head-on into
a bus. His passenger, a promising 17-year-old defenseman named
Kirile Tarasov, was killed instantly. Kozlov was thrown through
the windshield and suffered massive head injuries. The prognosis
wasn't bad at first, but he took a sudden turn for the worse
when the Red Wings, who had drafted him 45th in '90, intervened.
Detroit, which had bribed Russian doctors to diagnose a rare
form of cancer in Konstantinov to get him out of the country in
'91, dropped a reported $25,000 and a new Chevrolet Caprice on
Red Army doctors, who concluded that Kozlov had suffered
permanent brain damage. Kozlov was released from the Red Army,
and he went to Detroit for "treatment" three months later.

The 5'10", 185-pound Kozlov is also a head-on driver on the ice.
He cuts across the middle and gets to places from which he can
score even if the journey is potentially unpleasant, and he
takes as much abuse as any NHL forward. "That stuff doesn't get
him off his game," Smith says. "You nail him, he won't go away.
He'll be there. And he'll be there the next game too."

Kozlov had better be there against St. Louis, which, as
Fedorov's brokers know, can't be sold short. But Detroit has
better forwards and a secret weapon: With a $12 million lump-sum
payment looming, you know the IRS is rooting for the Wings.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT WEBSTER/WINDSOR STAR HEAD CASE The Blues' Scott Pellerin ended up on his noggin after colliding with the Red Wings' Martin Lapointe (20) during one of the three wins that gave Detroit the edge in the teams' Western Conference semifinal series (page 74). [Leading Off] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO CHOKE HOLD As Detroit forward Martin Lapointe (20) found out, Fuhr's crease was well protected by the Blues in Game 5. [Grant Fuhr, Martin Lapointe and others in game] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO MR. CLUTCH Kozlov is one of only six players to have twice scored the winning goal in games that reached a second overtime. [Slava Kozlov]

Kozlov was considered the Fifth Russian, only slightly more
memorable than the Fifth Beatle.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)