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Vladimir Konstantinov ( ; born March 19, 1967, in Murmanskmarker, USSRmarker) is a former professional hockey player who played his entire NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings. Previously, he had played for Soviet club HC CSKA Moscow. His career was ended in a limousine accident just six days after the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup victory.

Playing career

Vladimir Konstantinov, "Vladdie," was drafted 221st overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, after impressing a Red Wings scout at the 1987 World Junior Championships, where a brawl broke out in the Russia/Canada game. Scout Neil Smith remembers, "He was the only one of the Russians who fought back." Probably the most notable aspect of his hockey career was his aggressive style, specializing in getting opponents off their game. "For my game," he explained, "I don’t need to score the goal. I need someone to start thinking about me and forgetting about scoring goals." Konstantinov's aggressive style of play also earned him the nickname "The Vladiator". He was also part of the unit known as "The Russian Five," which consisted of defensemen Vladimir Konstntinov and Vyacheslav Fetisov, and forwards Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov, and Vyacheslav Kozlov.

Konstantinov was more than a pest, as some had taken to calling him; he was a skilled player. He earned the NHL Plus/Minus Award in 1995–96, with a plus/minus difference of plus-60. The +60 has been the highest rating a player has finished with in the past 20 seasons, since Wayne Gretzky finished with a +70 in the 1986–87 NHL season. In 1996–97, his final season, Konstantinov was runner-up (to Brian Leetch) for the Norris Trophy, given to the league's best defenceman. However, Konstantinov's career is not remembered so much outside Detroit for what happened on the ice as for how it ended.
1998 Patch


Limousine accident

Following a private party on June 13, 1997 celebrating the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup triumph, Konstantinov, along with Russian hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov, and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov hired a limousine to drive them home. The driver, Richard Gnida, whose license was suspended at the time for drunk driving, lost control of the limousine and hit a tree on the median of Woodward Avenue, in the city of Birmingham in Oakland Countymarker. Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma before finally pulling through. He also suffered from serious head injuries and paralysis while Fetisov escaped with relatively minor injuries and was able to play the following season. Mnatsakanov sustained heavy head injuries and also spent some time in a coma; he has had a considerably more difficult recovery.

It was an emotional scene one year later as the Red Wings successfully retained the Stanley Cup. Konstantinov was wheeled onto the ice, surrounded by his teammates, to celebrate the win. Throughout the playoffs the Red Wings' catchphrase was the single word, "Believe," and throughout the 1997–98 season the Red Wings wore a patch, with the initials of Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov featured prominently, with the word "Believe" written in both English and Russian.

Although Vladimir was never able to play hockey again due to the car crash, the Detroit Red Wings still recognized him as part of their team. The Red Wings had his name engraved on their 1998 Stanley Cup. During the celebration ceremonies after winning the Stanley Cup Vladimir was pushed around the ice in his wheelchair with the Cup on his lap.

Konstantinov's jersey #16 has not been officially retired by the Red Wings; however, out of respect for Konstantinov, no player has been given the number since. In 2001, the Red Wings signed Brett Hull, who had worn #16 for the bulk of his stellar career with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars; Hull switched to #17.

Konstantinov's condition has improved considerably since his accident. While he still has trouble speaking and walking, he is seen several times a season watching Red Wings games from a private box at Joe Louis Arenamarker.

The Red Wings keep his locker set up for him, although he will never be capable of playing hockey again. The locker is also equipped with a rock that says "Believe".

Konstantinov returned to the ice at Joe Louis Arena, helped by a walker, for the pre-game number retirement ceremony for Steve Yzerman on January 2, 2007.

Konstantinov lives in the Detroit area but requires full-time nursing care and struggles to get around with the aid of a walker. His wife, Irina, now lives in West Orangemarker, New Jerseymarker with their daughter.

Achievements



Career statistics

    Regular season   Playoffs
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1984–85 CSKA Moscow USSR 40 1 4 5 10
1985–86 CSKA Moscow USSR 26 4 3 7 12
1986–87 CSKA Moscow USSR 35 2 2 4 19
1987–88 CSKA Moscow USSR 50 3 6 9 32
1988–89 CSKA Moscow USSR 37 7 8 15 20
1989–90 CSKA Moscow USSR 47 14 13 27 44
1990–91 CSKA Moscow USSR 45 5 12 17 42
1991–92 Detroit Red Wings NHL 79 8 25 33 172 11 0 1 1 16
1992–93 Detroit Red Wings NHL 82 5 17 22 137 7 0 1 1 8
1993–94 Detroit Red Wings NHL 80 12 21 33 138 7 0 2 2 4
1994–95 ESC Wedemark GER-2 15 17 13 30 51
1994–95 Detroit Red Wings NHL 47 3 11 14 101 18 1 1 2 22
1995–96 Detroit Red Wings NHL 81 14 20 34 139 19 4 5 9 28
1996–97 Detroit Red Wings NHL 77 5 33 38 151 20 0 4 4 29
USSR totals 280 36 48 84 179
NHL totals 446 47 127 174 838 82 5 14 19 107

International statistics

Year Team Event Place   GP G A Pts PIM
1986 Soviet Union WJC 7 2 4 6 4
1986 Soviet Union WC 10 1 1 2 8
1987 Soviet Union WJC Disqualified
1989 Soviet Union WC 8 2 1 3 2
1990 Soviet Union WC 10 2 2 4 12
1991 Soviet Union WC 10 0 2 2 37
Senior Int'l Totals 38 5 6 11 59


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