Rambler's Top100

11 2007 . 
Slava Kozlov: Thrashers hidden weapon.

When I was a kid, I had no idea what the Stanley Cup was. There was only the Russian National Team. There were no Russians in the NHL.Slava Kozlov on growing up in communist Russia

By Earle McDonald

On May 3, 1972, at the height of the Cold War, Vyacheslav (or Slava) Kozlov was born. At that time, it was almost inconceivable that lifes road would lead him all the way from Voskresensk, Russia to Atlanta.  
When I was a kid, I had no idea what the Stanley Cup was, he says of growing up in communist Russia. We could not think about the NHL. There was only the Russian National Team. There were no Russians in the NHL.

Then, when Kozlov was a teenager, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. And while were all familiar with his contributions to world peace and politics, he also had a huge impact on Russias best athletesespecially hockey players.

When we got the new presidentGorbachevhe opened up some opportunities for us to go wherever we want, Kozlov says.  

Considering the options before Gorbachev, this was a big change.

There are only two things you can do in Voskresenskyou could play hockey, or go to work at the chemical plant, Kozlov says of his hometown. My father Anatoly was a hockey player and a coach. He put me on the skates early.

Anatoly Kozlov clearly wanted his son to do anything but work in the plant, and hockey was the obvious option. Anatoly loved it, and taught his son to love it, too.

When my father could get tickets to a game, he would take me, Kozlov says, smiling at the memory. My dad was an idol to me. He brought me to some games and I loved it. I play now as No. 13. That was his number when he played.

By 1989, Kozlovs other childhood idolthe Russian Rocket Sergei Makarovjoined the NHLs Calgary Flames after 11 successful seasons playing for the Russian National team. The following year, in 1990, the Detroit Red Wings drafted Kozlov with the 45th overall pick. Before his 20th birthday, he was playing in the NHL among the best players in the worldincluding Sergei Makarov.

Two Stanley Cups later, hes been a Thrasher since 2002. As one of the teams assistant captains and a prolific offensive player, he is a key to Atlantas current success and playoff aspirations.

Hes certainly one of the smartest hockey players in the NHL, Thrashers coach Bob Hartley says. Hes a great two-way hockey player, a great passer. He sees the ice like not too many players in the league do. His vision in the game is unbelievable.

The stats back that up. Kozlov could very well tie or break his career high for points in a season (73). Three other milestones are also in sight: Before the years out, he could score his 300th career goal, his 400th career assist and his 700th career point.

In a season where all the fans seem to know the names Kovalchuk, Hossa and Lehtonen, its Kozlov who leads the team in game-winning goals at five. If you asked a Detroit Red Wings fan who holds their franchise record for post-season game-winning goals, few would think to guess Kozlov. But its in the playoffs that Kozlov takes his game to an even higher level, having recorded 12yes, 12game-winning goals.

Itd be nice to see him get a few more with Thrasher blue on his back. And if he does, Atlanta fans will be indebted in no small part to Sergei Makarov, Mikhail Gorbachev and Anatoly Kozlov. SP

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