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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Emigre Hockey Stars Raise Cup to Russia

The greatest hockey players in the world have sipped champagne from it, showered with it, taken it fishing, even slept with it. On Saturday, the most tradition-laden object in professional hockey, the Stanley Cup, is due to arrive in Moscow.

The 106-year-old cup's five-day visit shows how Russia has become an indelible part of what was once an exclusively North American hockey tradition.

Five Russians -- an entire on-ice shift minus the goaltender -- played for the U.S. team that won the cup this spring during the National Hockey League's playoffs. Forming the largest Russian contingent ever on a North American team, and they gained much of the credit for the championship, bringing with them the distinctive Russian style of play based on speed and deft passing.

Each player gets the cup for a couple of days, and three of the Russians -- Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vyacheslav Fetisov of the champion Detroit Red Wings -- decided to bring it to their homeland.

Larionov, a former star of the great Central Red Army team, said he was able to grasp the full significance of their achievement only several days after the victory.

"I was sitting in my room, looking at the cup and thinking of all that history which is written on it," Larionov said. "There so many stories, famous players, teams, and now we're part of it as well."

The trophy, which is coming to Russia for the first time, will receive treatment similar to that afforded a head of state. It will be taken by motorcade to the Central Red Army sport complex, where Fetisov played for 10 years, at 1 p.m. Saturday and paraded on Red Square at 11 a.m. Sunday. Then it will be whisked off to a private Most of Russia's better players have gone to NHL teams in the United States and Canada seeking six- and seven-figure salaries. Their migration depleted a once-great hockey system that won Olympic gold and world championships with clocklike regularity, and deprived Russia's devoted, knowledgeable hockey fans of the chance to see their stars play.

Larionov said many previous generations of players and fans in this country could only read about the Stanley Cup or watch it on television."Now for the first time, most of our fans will see the cup in person," he said. "Nothing unites people more than the game of hockey. Slava [Fetisov] and I have won all imaginable titles in our careers -- world and Olympic championships, the Canada Cup and many others -- but the Stanley Cup is the most precious to us because it's the hardest to win."

"You go through the marathon of 82 regular season games, then you must win 16 playoff matches, where each game is tougher than the previous one."

"Even champagne tastes differently when you sip from the cup," said Fetisov.

Many Russian fans have adopted the Red Wings' victory as their own.

"It was just great," said Vadim, a young fan wearing a Red Wings jersey as he stood outside the Sokolniki Ice Palace on Wednesday, where Russian NHL stars were practicing for the Spartak Cup tournament. "I used to root for Spartak. Now my favorite team is the Red Wings."

"Look even the colors are the same," he said, pointing at the red and white outfit.

The cup is the oldest professional sporting trophy in North America, and is revered, especially by Canadian hockey fans and players, with a near-religious fervor. It was purchased by Sir Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, for 10 guineas, or about $50, in London in 1893. He gave it to the Montreal AAA club as a prize for the amateur hockey championship of Canada. It has been played for by NHL teams since 1926.

Every player from the team that wins it gets his name engraved on it, and the cup has grown from the original silver bowl as successive bands with new names are added.

One of the Detroit champions, Vladimir Konstantinov, a Murmansk native, suffered severe head injuries in an auto accident days after winning the cup and is in a U.S. hospital. The team's trainer, Sergei Mnatsakanov, was also badly hurt. A fifth member of Detroit's Russian five, Sergei Fyodorov, had another commitment.