Red Wings great Vladimir Konstantinov to make triumphant return

DETROIT – After being off the ice for nearly three decades, Red Wings alum Vladimir Konstantinov is set to make a return to hockey, playing in a charity game in late April.

In the annals of Detroit hockey history, the name Vladimir Konstantinov resonates with a particular ferocity. A key player in the celebrated Russian Five, Konstantinov earned monikers like “The Vladinator” and “The Red Shark” for his aggressive style on the ice. He was instrumental in leading the Detroit Red Wings to their 1997 Stanley Cup Championship, electrifying the city with their triumph after more than four decades of waiting.

However, just six days after hoisting the Stanley Cup, a devastating limousine crash left Konstantinov with severe brain injuries, partial paralysis, and in a coma for weeks. His promising career was abruptly halted, leaving fans heartbroken and the city in mourning.

For nearly 30 years, Konstantinov has battled to reclaim his life, facing immense physical and emotional challenges. Yet, against the odds, he has now achieved a remarkable milestone: returning to the ice.

Konstantinov has joined the Belle Tire Sled Hockey Team, and Local 4 cameras were there capturing his first practices. Albeit in a different form, Konstantinov’s natural instincts immediately kicked in.

“It was absolutely incredible,” said Belle Tire Sled Hockey coach Derek Donet. “You could tell he didn’t forget how to play hockey. As soon as he got out there, as soon as he saw the puck, he smashed it away. He’s shooting backhand and forehand; he’s out there stick handling through people. He’s still got it for sure.”

Speaking through a caretaker fluent in Russian, Konstantinov expressed his understanding of the significance of his return. He acknowledged the profound impact his journey has had on the community and expressed hope his comeback could serve as a source of healing for others.

Konstantinov’s upcoming charity game is on April 27 at Big Boy Arena in Fraser. It’s a double header, with the Belle Tire Sled Hockey team taking the ice at 12:15 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. alumni game between Red Wings and New York Rangers alums.

The Wings roster has big names, including Dino Ciccarelli, Red Berenson, Derian Hatcher Mickey Redmond, Danny DeKeyser, Drew Miller, Darren McCarty, Darren Helm and Mathieu Dandenault.

Current sled hockey team members can’t wait to see how crowds will welcome Konstantinov back onto the ice.

“It’ll be very emotional,” said player Jason Jacobs. “I guarantee that whole place is going to be packed and they’re gonna go nuts for it and I know he’s going to feel it.”

“I think the standing ovation is gonna rival the noise at LCA,” added Coach Denet. “You’re gonna have tears in the crowd, you’re gonna have lots of clapping, lots of yelling, it’s gonna be huge.”

And even though Konstantinov’s Russian is still far better than English, when asked if he ever thought he’d be able to play again, with a smile he said “no.” That smile was universal in all languages.

Original Six Alumni Matchup flyer. (Detroit Red Wings)

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