Vladimir Nikolaevich Konstantinov (born March 19, 1967) is aRussian–American retired professional ice hockey player who played his entire National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Detroit Red Wings. Previously, he had played for Soviet club CSKA Moscow. His career was ended in a tragic limousine accident just six days after the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup victory.
Vladimir Konstantinov, known also as “Vladdie” and “Vlad The Impaler” (for his vicious hits), was drafted 221st overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, after impressing a Red Wings scout at the 1987 World Junior Championships, where a brawl broke out in the Russia/Canada game. Scout Neil Smith remembers, “He was the only one of the Russians who fought back.” Probably the most notable aspect of his hockey career was his aggressive style, specializing in getting opponents off their game. “For my game,” he explained, “I don’t need to score the goal. I need someone to start thinking about me and forgetting about scoring goals.” Konstantinov’s aggressive style of play also earned him the nickname “Vladinator”.
Konstantinov was more than a pest, as some[who?] had taken to calling him; he was a skilled player. He earned the NHL Plus/Minus Award in 1995–96, with a plus/minus difference of plus-60. The +60 has been the highest rating a player has finished with in the past 20 seasons, since Wayne Gretzky finished with a +70 in the 1986–87 NHL season.
In 1996–97, Konstantinov helped his team to win the Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers coach Terry Murray expected that his top line of centerEric Lindros, left winger John LeClair and right winger Mikael Renberg, known as the “Legion of Doom” for its scoring and toughness, would be facing Konstantinov. However Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman surprised the Flyers by instead opting for the finesse-oriented defense pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy to neutralize the Lindros line’s forechecking.
Following a private party on June 13, 1997 celebrating the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup triumph, Konstantinov, along with Russian hockey legend Viacheslav Fetisov, and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov hired a limousine to drive them home. The driver, Richard Gnida, whose license was suspended at the time for drunk driving, lost control of the limousine and hit a tree on the median of Woodward Avenue, in Birmingham, Michigan. Konstantinov spent several weeks in a coma before finally pulling through. He also suffered from serious head injuries and paralysis while Fetisov escaped with relatively minor injuries and was able to play the following season. Mnatsakanov sustained heavy head injuries and also spent some time in a coma; he has had a considerably more difficult recovery.
After the Red Wings successfully retained the Stanley Cup in 1998, Konstantinov was wheeled onto the ice, surrounded by his teammates, to celebrate the win. Throughout the playoffs the Red Wings’ catchphrase was the single word, “Believe,” and throughout the 1997–98 season the Red Wings wore a patch, with the initials of Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov featured prominently, with the word “Believe” written in both English and Russian.
Although Vladimir was never able to play hockey again due to the car crash, the Detroit Red Wings still recognized him as part of their team. The Red Wings had his name engraved on their 1998 Stanley Cup. During the celebration ceremonies after winning the Stanley Cup Vladimir was pushed around the ice in his wheelchair with the Cup on his lap.
Konstantinov’s jersey #16 has not been officially retired by the Red Wings; however, out of respect for Konstantinov, no player has been given the number since. In 2001, the Red Wings signed Brett Hull, who had worn #16 for the bulk of his career with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars; Hull switched to #17.
Konstantinov’s condition has improved considerably since his accident. While he still has trouble speaking and walking, he is seen several times a season watching Red Wings games from a private box at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings keep his locker set up for him, although he will never be capable of playing hockey again. The locker is also equipped with a rock that says “Believe”.
Konstantinov lives in the Detroit area, requires full-time nursing care, and struggles to get around without the aid of a walker. His wife, Irina, now lives in West Orange, New Jersey with their daughter, Anastasia Konstantinov.
Awards and achievements
|Men’s ice hockey|
|Competitor for Soviet Union|
|Gold||1986 Soviet Union||Ice hockey|
|Gold||1989 Sweden||Ice hockey|
|Gold||1990 Switzerland||Ice hockey|
|Bronze||1991 Finland||Ice hockey|
|World Junior Championship|
|Gold||1986 Canada||Ice hockey|
- (IIHF) 1986 World Junior Hockey Championships: Gold medal (USSR)
- (IIHF) 1989 World Ice Hockey Championships: Gold medal (USSR)
- (IIHF) 1990 World Ice Hockey Championships: Gold medal (USSR)
- NHL All-Rookie Team – 1992
- NHL Second All-Star Team – 1996
- NHL Plus/Minus Award – 1996 (+60)
- Norris Trophy – (finalist) 1996 (4th), 1997 (2nd)
- 2-time Presidents’ Trophy Award Winner: 1995, 1996, all with the Detroit Red Wings
- 2-time NHL Stanley Cup Champion: 1997, 1998, all with the Detroit Red Wings