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Injured Wing shines at Fox show.
BY MATT FIORITO
Free Press Sports Writer
The white van backed up over the curb near the south corner of the Fox Theatre on Wednesday evening and crept along the sidewalk before stopping near the main entrance.
The attendant opened the back door and soon the wheelchair carrying Sergei Mnatsakanov -- the Red Wings' masseur who was injured in a limo accident last June -- was lowered to the sidewalk.
He was well-bundled against the cold and wore a bulky Russian-style fur hat with the big ear flaps.
"Hey, nice hat," Wings trainer John Wharton said.
Mnatsakanov smiled and nodded.
Once inside the Fox, he was the unquestioned star of the show.
The coming-out party was thrown by GQ magazine to honor the Russian Red Wings who were featured in the February issue. GQ presented a $10,000 check to the trust fund for Mnatsakanov's family on behalf of players Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov. The Wings also announced that more than $180,000 had been raised through the sale of the "believe" patches, player appearances and a $25,000 donation from the Easter Seal Society.
It's hard to outshine the ornate Fox, but Mnatsakanov did.
Cameras flashed, and Red Wings players and news media crowded around him.
It was his first public appearance since the accident left him paralyzed in both legs and one arm, and with speech, vision and memory problems.
And he appeared to be enjoying it.
"He's very excited to be out with lots of people," said his wife, Ylena. "This is something different for Sergei and it's good for him. He's been home for two weeks now and he's more OK. He goes three times a week to therapy."
She seemed excited and proud. "He asks me more questions now," she said. " 'Why? Where? Who?' Sometimes he's not very sure, sometimes he's not really here, but most of the time he is.
"Yesterday, he watched the game by himself," she said, referring to the Wings' 6-3 loss to Boston. "I asked him what the score was and he said three. I thought he was wrong, but he was right.
"His speech is improving," Ylena Mnatsakanov said, "but talking to Americans makes him nervous.
"It takes lots of concentration for him to talk. But he's very humorous.... It makes me very happy."
His appearance also made Wharton and the players happy.
"I think he looks great," Wharton said. "I saw him two weeks ago at the hospital before we left town. He wasn't eating or drinking and he didn't look good. Now he's home and he's eating and drinking all the time and his spirits are so much better. It makes us feel great."
The Mnatsakanovs live in Grosse Pointe Woods.
Forward Doug Brown, who hadn't seen Mnatsakanov for a couple of months, said he really noticed a difference.
"We had a nice little chat," Brown said. "It's difficult for him to speak, but you know he comprehends by his expression. You just have to keep things simple.
"I asked him if GQ threw this party because of the beautiful dress coat he was wearing, and he just chuckled and said 'No.' "
Mnatsakanov looked up and nodded when GQ editor-in-chief Art Cooper mentioned his name at a news conference about the article, which detailed the impact Russian emigres have had on the National Hockey League. At his table, Mnatsakanov watched and nodded as Kozlov paged through the article, showing him the pictures.
After Kozlov left, a moment elapsed before someone else slid into the chair beside Mnatsakanov.
Mnatsakanov reached tentatively for the magazine lying in front of him. He flipped a few pages of the article and looked at the pictures.
And when someone across the table caught his eye, he rolled his head back, smiled and nodded.
He had indeed turned another page.