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The Malik Report

Sixteen years seems like only yesterday for Red Wings fans and Vladimir Konstantinov

Yahoo Sports' Eric Adelson reports that yesterday marked the 15th 16th anniversary of the limousine crash that all but paralyzed Red Wings trainer Sergei Mnatsakanov and yielded a severe brain injury for Vladimir Konstantinov, just as Vladdie was establishing himself as a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman. He spoke to Konstantinov's wife about Konstatinov's continued slow recovery and his "what if..." hockey legacy:

"His beautiful life and his beautiful career are not the same," said his wife, Irina, reached by phone Tuesday. "Everything else fades compared to that."

For those who never watched him play, Konstantinov was a rare blend of skill and toughness. He was the Russian who wouldn't back down from anyone; in fact, he was the Russian who regularly threatened. He punished people, but not in a way that undermined his team. He could enforce with his body, his stickhandling, and his mind. Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber called him "the nastiest blueliner in the NHL."

While Lidstrom has been a given on the Detroit defense for all these years, the Wings have strived for the better part of a generation to find a replacement for Konstantinov, who survived for weeks in a coma after the 1997 accident but never regained full mobility or mental faculties. There was Jiri Fischer, who met a tragic but safe end to his career when doctors discovered a heart ailment. There was Chris Chelios, a two-way terror in his heyday but who arrived in Detroit as a (somewhat) mellowed 36-year-old. There's Niklas Kronwall today, a dangerous bodychecker and capable point-producer. All have been vital as Red Wings, but none had quite the spark of Konstantinov.

Konstantinov still lives in Michigan. He requires around-the-clock care. But over time, he's picked up new activities, such as painting. He recently auctioned off some of his artwork for charity.

"He's never going to have a full recovery," said Irina. "But he is in a good place. He's not depressed. He's not unhappy. And yet he's not a fully functioning member of society where he can make his own decisions. Sometimes we have him travel, but never to a really crowded place."

Konstantinov does have some recollection of his playing career. He remembers most of his teammates, including Lidstrom. "He was one of Vlady's favorite players," Irina said. "He thought they were similar. He really loved him so much."

Then she paused. "You know," she laughed, "he never said Lidstrom was any better than him."

Adelson continues, and he offers something of a post-script:

"He wants to be invited places where the participation would not exceed his ability," she said. "We've kept it so private and for a long time we didn't want anyone to be sad for him. He's not a vegetable. He can be places. He won't remember all the people he meets but he enjoys the time he has. We would be thrilled if people would call in and say, 'Hey, we'd like to have him and accommodate his visit.' We're running out of ideas sometimes."

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Comments

SYF's avatar

Konstantinov does have some recollection of his playing career. He remembers most of his teammates, including Lidstrom. “He was one of Vlady’s favorite players,” Irina said. “He thought they were similar. He really loved him so much.”

I weep.

Posted by SYF from the team that re-signed KFQ and DFC by KFH on 06/13/13 at 04:28 PM ET

Down River Dan's avatar

Boy I sure miss watching Vladimir play. I recall some nasty games against the hawks. If I remember vlad and chelios had some nasty battles back in the day. Man he was a tough son of a gun.

Posted by Down River Dan on 06/13/13 at 05:08 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

When I’m reminded of Konstantinov’s condition I get really mad and really sad at the same time. He was a warrior in the truest sense and also was the rare player that had hockey smarts, dive, physicality to the highest level and high skill. He was one of my favorite players and even though I didn’t play hockey I looked up to him as an athlete in my “career” in football and rugby: Play hard and give it your all every single moment you’re on the field.

Feck! Now I fell like kicking the $hit out of a limo driver.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 06/13/13 at 09:03 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Feck! Now I fell like kicking the $hit out of a limo driver.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 06/13/13 at 09:03 PM ET

Richard Gnida and Gambino Limosine.  I will never forget the names.

Posted by SYF from the team that re-signed KFQ and DFC by KFH on 06/13/13 at 10:38 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

*drive….not dive confused

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 06/14/13 at 08:25 AM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.