Flyers Ponder Strategies For Detroit's 'Russian 5'

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Detroit Red Wings employ their Russian Five "it's like having five Gretzkys on the ice,'' Paul Coffey said.

Coffey knows about playing with the Russian Five. He was with the Red Wings at the start of the year before being traded to Hartford and, eventually, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Neutralizing the speed and savvy of Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov will be a key for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals, which start Saturday.

The Flyers have seen the Russians dazzle with their intricate skating patterns and puck movement, and know they will present a big problem if allowed to skate freely.

"They play a different style,'' said the Flyers' Trent Klatt. "They like to control the puck. ... I'm sure they'll play tic-tac-toe with it when they have it.''

Klatt said the Flyers will try to use the same tactic that has worked in the past against the Russians: hit and hit often.

To counter the Russian Five, the Flyers will have to "get on them, and not give them the ice and the space that they need,'' said Klatt.

North American players discovered this approach in the 1970s in competitions with the Soviet Union, which dominated amateur hockey at the time. One of the guys who employed it to much success was Bobby Clarke, now the Flyers general manager.

Clarke, playing for Team Canada, smashed the ankle of Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov with a vicious slash during the 1972 Summit Series.

And Clarke, as leader of the Broad Street Bullies, spearheaded a particularly vicious Flyers assault on a touring Soviet team in 1976.

The Russians were so angry about the chippy play that they left the ice during that game and only came back out to play when Flyers owner Ed Snider threatened not to pay them.

Clarke said the bitter battles between North American players and the Soviets was a reflection of the Cold War politics of the time.

"There was a lot of animosity between the countries and that translated onto the ice,'' he said. "I don't think they liked us too much, either. But all that's changed now.''