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Brendan Shanahan talks with with The Players’ Tribune about The Russian Five, Avalanche rivalry

Red Wings V Flyers

Former Red Wing great, and now Maple Leaf mastermind Brendan Shanahan graced the hockey world with a mailbag article on The Players’ Tribune Tuesday afternoon. Shanahan weighed in on many things, but most interesting to us, The Russian Five, and the storied rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche.

A reader asked Shanahan about the role the Red Wings played in making the NHL a “global game:”

I feel like the push to make hockey a global game occurred well before Detroit. Slava is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. He’s a good friend. And when I think about him, and really the immersion of Russian hockey into the mainstream, I think about our time together earlier in our careers when we both played in New Jersey. So, to me at least, what was significant about watching the Russian Five play and succeed was seeing the vision Slava had when he first came over to North America finally come to fruition. They really represented a different interpretation of the sport. The idea of cycling back with the puck, rather than just going north. They utilized every inch of the ice in a way that had never been considered before.

Shanahan continued to talk about playing with the Russian Five, and how head coach Scotty Bowman deployed a lineup chocked with so much skill from top-to-bottom.

As you could imagine, the rivalry between the Avalanche and the Red Wings was thoroughly covered as well, seeing that the height of it was during Shanahan’s tenure as a Red Wing. Another reader asked Shanahan for his take on the rivalry, and how they feel about one another:

We had a lot of respect for them, but we also felt a lot of animosity. I can tell you, it was very real. There were enough hotheaded people in both lineups for there to be some real dirtiness on the ice.

When I look back on that rivalry, I think about all the stuff that was said or done that was never caught on camera or by the referees. Just the stuff said between the benches and the coaches. Yeah, it was real. It was very real.

As far as the dive tackle, it all happened pretty quickly. I was locked up with Adam Foote, and I was watching Darren go after Lemieux. And then, all of the sudden, I saw that Roy was skating full speed at Darren. He was gunning it. I managed to shake off Foote, and then I took off. The only thing I was thinking was, I got to get to him before he gets to Darren. And then, what’s funny is that I think Roy saw me coming and realized I would get to him before he could get to the scrum. I don’t know how I knew it, but I could tell he was going to jump. I just knew it. So we both just kind of coiled and jumped in the air at the same time.

It’s funny to read about the rivalry now. I was so young when it was at it’s height, and while I vividly remember “Fight Night” like it was yesterday, I often forget how vicious the rivalry between these two teams used to be. I really couldn’t help but laugh at Shanahan’s take when speaking about Roy when they were playing with Team Canada at the Olympics. Roy had told Shanahan that he hurt his shoulder in the fight, and while Shanny gave him sympathy, in his head he was really thinking “good.”

Shanahan’s article goes on to talk about other issues in the NHL, as well as his new venture with the Toronto Maple Leafs, in which he is taking part in a complete “scorched earth” rebuild. Really a great read from a great man, and a magnificent athlete. He’s a Leaf now, but Shanny will always be a Red Wing in my book.

Stick-tap to The Players’ Tribune for putting this article together.