Had the Red Wings' joy at winning the Stanley Cup last June not
been dampened by a near-fatal automobile accident a week later
involving two Detroit players and a team masseur, the Wings
could answer the usual questions about repeating their feat with
a twinkle in their eyes and a lilt in their voices.
Detroit's stunning sweep of the Flyers in the finals marked the
end of a 42-year wait for a championship. But the memories of
the roof-raising cheers at Joe Louis Arena the night the Cup was
won are overshadowed by the fact that defenseman Vladimir
Konstantinov and massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov remain in
a suburban Detroit hospital recovering from injuries sustained
in the accident. Both men suffered severe head trauma and were
in comas for several weeks. The third team member in the crash,
defenseman Slava Fetisov, suffered only minor injuries and was
released two days after the accident.
Konstantinov can now sit up, shake hands and understand sounds,
but he still has difficulty recognizing people. Some teammates
say that he seems to stare right through them. The left side of
Mnatsakanov's body remains weak, and he can't open his right
eye. Red Wings visit the two often, sometimes en masse. Trainer
John Wharton took a ring sizer to the hospital and measured each
for a championship ring, and the Cup was brought in for both to
Despite the absence of Konstantinov, who provided high intensity
and bone-rattling hits, the Wings feel good about their chances
of successfully defending their title. The back line will be led
by 27-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, whose all-around skill makes
him a Norris Trophy candidate. Goalie Mike Vernon, the playoff
MVP, was traded to the Sharks, but 24-year-old Chris Osgood has
proved that he's worthy of the No. 1 job.
On offense the Wings have four topflight lines and game-breaking
individual talent that pulls out matches that Detroit has no
business winning. Coach Scotty Bowman, who returns in hopes of
getting his eighth Stanley Cup, says he will allow Sergei
Fedorov, an unsigned, restricted free agent who missed training
camp, to be restored as a top-line center after playing part of
last season on defense and part as a checking forward. Says
Bowman, "There aren't many guys in this league whom you would
pay to go see. He's one of them."
To some, Konstantinov was too. As he heals, so will the Wings.