Russian ice hockey legend Viacheslav Fetisov turns 60

Russian ice hockey legend Viacheslav Fetisov turns 60
Legendary Russian and Soviet ice hockey player Viacheslav Fetisov, who spent more than 10 years in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, celebrates his 60th birthday on Friday.

One of the most recognizable players on both sides of the Atlantic, Fetisov was born in Moscow in 1958. His family of five lived in a small barrack room which was separated by curtains to make isolated living space for all inhabitants.

As with many of the strongest Soviet players of his era, Fetisov played for CSKA hockey club, which he joined in 1976, aged 16. Remembering his first years in the Red Army club, Fetisov said that the pride of wearing a CSKA jersey was insurmountable, and he even slept in the club's kit for two months.

Having played several seasons with the country's best hockey team, Fetisov established himself as one of the most talented defensemen in the Soviet Union, not only destroying the attacks of his rivals, but also possessing fantastic scoring potential.

In 113 official matches for the USSR, Fetisov netted 42 goals, posting an outstanding record for a defenseman.

In the 1980s, the newly emerged Larionov-Makarov-Krutov-Kasatanov-Fetisov line shone on the international stage, helping the Soviet squad win back-to-back Olympic golds in 1984 and 1988.

In 1982, he met his future wife, Lada, who back then was married to a famous Soviet football player, Vagiz Khidiyatullin. Lada's marital status didn't prevent Fetisov from winning the heart of his future wife, and soon they started living together, despite protests from Lada's family.

The couple couldn't tie the knot for almost seven years, constantly seeing their marriage postponed due to various reasons. First, USSR team head coach Viktor Tikhonov didn't allow Fetisov to leave the training camp, even though the wedding rings had already been bought. Then their nuptials were cancelled after Fetisov's grandmother died. All the preparations for the event were halted again after a tragedy turned Fetisov's life upside down.

On a summer’s evening in 1985, Fetisov was driving home together with his young brother Anatoly, a promising athlete who was named among the best players at the 1985 European ice hockey championships. A car that attempted to pass Fetisov's "Zhiguli" lost control on the wet road and hit the vehicle with the players inside, sending their car directly into a street lamp.

Fetisov, who was behind the wheel, managed to survive, but his brother passed away in the crash, aged just 17.

The player blamed himself for the incident, and said he didn't want to live after the tragedy that shattered the life of his family. But his wife helped him overcome the difficult period and make a return to the ice.

In 1989, ignoring protests from Soviet hockey bosses, Fetisov and his decorated CSKA linemates traveled to North America to enter the world's best hockey league – the NHL.

He made his debut for the New Jersey Devils in 1989, recording eight goals and collecting 42 points during his first NHL season. After six years with the Devils, in April 1995, Fetisov was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. He went on to win two back-to-back Stanley Cups with the team, in 1997 and 1998.

Winning the Stanley Cup also allowed him to join so-called "Triple Gold Club," for players who have won the Stanley Cup, Winter Olympics and World Championship during their careers.

However, tragedy struck again right after the 1995 Stanley Cup victory, when yet another car crash marred Fetisov’s life. The player, together with his linemate Vladimir Konstantinov and the team's massage therapist Sergei Mnatsakanov, were heading home in a limousine after the Stanley Cup victory celebration party. The limousine driver, whose license was suspended at the time for drunk driving, lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree.

Fetisov was unhurt in the crash, while his Russian friends remained confined to wheelchairs following the tragedy. In the upcoming season, the Red Wings decided to dedicate their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory to their teammates.

Konstantinov, who was brought on the ice in a wheelchair, lifted the prestigious cup together with his former teammates to celebrate their triumph.

Having won all the major titles in ice hockey, Fetisov announced his retirement in 1998, but he still recreationally plays his favorite sport with the legends of Soviet hockey.

Eleven years later after his retirement from professional hockey, Fetisov once again laced up a pair of skates, to play for CSKA Moscow during their KHL game on December 11, 2009, at the age of 51.

Fetisov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, in 2001 and was selected into in the International Centennial All-Star Team by the IIHF as one of the most talented hockey defenseman of the 20th century.

During his illustrious sporting career he claimed two Olympic gold medals, two Stanley Cups and seven world titles – becoming one of the most decorated hockey players of all time.