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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Star Makes Hockey's Hall of Fame

APHockey Hall of Fame inductee Russian Viacheslav Fetisov being helped into his jacket at a ceremony in Toronto on Monday.
NEW YORK -- Vyacheslav Fetisov achieved every goal he ever dreamed of as a young hockey player growing up in the Soviet Union.

On Monday, he received an honor that never crept into his boyhood dreams when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"The phone call telling me about my election was probably the last thing I could accomplish as a player," the defenseman, now an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, said during a teleconference last week.

"What I dreamed of as a kid in my country, I have achieved. I got in the same category with all the great players who ever played for the Soviet national team," said Fetisov, who won seven world championships, two Olympic golds and one Canada Cup as captain of the Soviet big red machine of the late 1970s and '80s.

Fetisov, who went on to win two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, said landing in the Hall of Fame was never on his radar screen when he was playing for his country.

"I didn't know anything about the players who were inducted already," said the 43-year-old Fetisov, who will coach the Russian Olympic team in Salt Lake City next year.

"I've learned a lot about Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, those guys, Maurice Richard. To be mentioned in the same category as them, it's a great, great achievement for me and a great honor," said Fetisov, who was inducted along with Dale Hawerchuk, Jari Kurri and Mike Gartner in the class of 2001.

The irony of being permanently enshrined in Toronto, where former Communist-hating Maple Leafs owner, the late Harold Ballard, once refused to let Russian players into Maple Leaf Gardens, was not lost on Fetisov.

"Toronto was kind of a prohibited area back in the 1970s when the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn't even let Soviet players skate on their ice, and I am in the Hall of Fame located in Toronto," he said with a chuckle.

"I am so proud to be elected; Russian-born, Russian-developed, a Russian guy who was proud to play for his national team, was captain of the national team for eight years. I know people still remember those golden years of Russian hockey, and I hope they could be celebrating with me," he said.

While he is being celebrated for his feats on the ice, Fetisov, once considered the world's greatest defenseman, could just as easily be honored as a pioneer.

In 1989, Fetisov became the first Soviet player to break free and join the National Hockey League, paving the way for his teammates and for all the Russian players who have followed him to the NHL since.

"That was probably my biggest accomplishment," he said. "I was very proud to sign the first contract with any foreign companies, in my case it was the New Jersey Devils.

"It was a really big thing, not only for hockey players but for the people of the Soviet Union at those times to go and make their own choice, make their own mistakes," said Fetisov.

"It was the most powerful communist system in the world. They didn't allow people to think freely or do whatever they wanted. They wanted control of people.

"The most frustrating thing was that you were not born free ... people never got a taste of freedom," Fetisov said.

Fetisov remembers several high points in his long career, including a victory at the Montreal Forum over a Wayne Gretzky-led Canada team.

"Our Soviet team was so strong that every national team tried to create some defensive system to stop us. It was fun to break all these systems," he recalled.

"I'll remember my first Stanley Cup forever because it took me a lot longer than I thought," added Fetisov, who finally got his name on the cherished chalice in 1997 and again in 1998.

Ironically, it is a defeat, however, that he is asked about most often -- the 1980 loss by the powerful Soviet Olympic team to a rag-tag bunch of American college players at Lake Placid.

When Fetisov takes over the reins of the Russian Olympic team, he will find himself in a very different position to his former coach, the stone-faced, tyrannical Viktor Tikhonov.

"You are dealing with talented people, independent, rich, and you have to find the key to get them together in the hockey game," he said of coaching NHL professionals.

Fetisov won a power struggle with the entrenched Russian Federation to gain control of the Olympic side, basically because he had overwhelming support from the NHL talent that would comprise the team. He expects little support from officials back in Russia.

"But at least they are not staying in my way any more," he said. "I didn't expect any help. I am doing my job and if they are going to help somehow, fine, if not, it is fine also."

"I think we have a good chance to win the gold medal," he added. "I like my team, I like their spirit."