BY RICH CHERE
The world has changed drastically in the 111/2 years since
Alexander Mogilny became the first hockey star to defect
from the former Soviet Union.
For the young Russians now being drafted by NHL clubs, it
is difficult even to remember what it was like when Mogilny,
just 20, mysteriously disappeared after the Soviet national
team captured the gold medal at the 1989 world
championships in Stockholm. Two days later, he was in
Buffalo with members of the Sabres' front office, his life
Mogilny, now 31 and an American citizen since July, has
been a star in the NHL for more than a decade. Last
spring, he came to the Devils in a trade with the Vancouver
Canucks and won his first Stanley Cup. Ironically, he has
been reunited with Viacheslav Fetisov, who was the
captain of the Soviet national team that Mogilny deserted
in May of '89. Fetisov is now a Devils assistant coach.
Although he has never revealed the details of his defection
and those secretive days in Stockholm, Mogilny spoke to
The Star-Ledger about a part of his life that he will
someday put into his autobiography.
"It was one of those times I'll never forget. It was exciting,
actually. Very exciting," he said. "Was I scared? Not at all.
There was a lot out there for me to learn and to explore."
Mogilny grew up in Khabarovsk, which is south of Siberia
and northwest of Japan, and dreamed of playing for the
powerful Central Red Army in Moscow.
"I had a great childhood. It was hockey all the time and I
had a great family. When you don't know any better, it's
fantastic," he recalled. "My family did everything they could
to provide me with clothes, food and a pair of skates. The
skates weren't that great, but they were good enough to go
skating. We got groceries and we didn't suffer. A lot of
His skills did not go unnoticed. Mogilny became a top
junior player, joined the Red Army at 17 and, in 1988,
became the youngest Soviet player to win an Olympic gold
When the famed KLM Line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov
and Sergei Makarov began to age, Soviet coach Viktor
Tikhonov saw Mogilny, Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov as
the next great line.
But Mogilny, already regarded as a free spirit, didn't see it
"I wasn't interested in that stuff. Look how people live here,
what they get for their talent. Look at the lifestyle. I was
sick and tired of sitting locked up 11 months a year,"
Mogilny said of the Soviet system in which he was
permitted to visit his parents only 20 days a year.
Mogilny, who once said of Tikhonov, "Only his wife and his
dog like him," has softened a bit.
"I never really had any close relationship with him. He was
my boss, my coach," Mogilny said. "I don't hold any regret
against him personally. Now that I'm older, I understand
why he did those things."
It has been said that a broken promise of a larger
apartment triggered Mogilny's defection, but he won't talk
about it. He was first approached by Sabres official Don
Luce in Anchorage, Alaska, during the December 1988
junior world championships. Luce told Mogilny the Sabres
had drafted him that previous June and handed him a
"Back then I wasn't thinking about (defecting)," Mogilny
Five months later, it happened. After the Soviets won in
Stockholm, the team had two days for shopping and
sightseeing before returning to Moscow.
Luce received a mysterious phone call saying Mogilny was
prepared to defect. He and Sabres' GM Gerry Meehan flew
to Stockholm, where they met Mogilny secluded in a hotel.
"I can't tell you about that. I don't tell those things. I never
talk about it," Mogilny said politely. "It was pretty much
spur of the moment. There was a little thought involved, but
it didn't take me long to decide."
When the Soviets were set to fly home, Mogilny never
showed up. Two days later, he was in Buffalo.
"I was captain of the team. I was kind of shocked," Fetisov
recalled. "Even the KGB didn't know about it. I was trying
to find a legal way to open things up (to play in the NHL)
and all of a sudden somebody finds a different way.
"I had been fighting already for a few months and I'm proud
of the way I did it. I had many chances to defect, but I had
a big name. It would have hurt so many people -- my
teammates, family, the government and the fans. So I did it
the legal way," said Fetisov, who joined the Devils on June
26, 1989, after waiting for all the necessary clearances.
"That's why I still have respect from the people. I can be
proud of myself.
"Some people were scared to have contact with him, but I
talked to him right away. He called me every week when
he got here. You could tell he was lonely and his family got
Mogilny, a former officer in the Soviet army, was tried in
absentia in Moscow and found guilty of desertion. His
parents were forced to attend the trial.
He was called a traitor, but Mogilny shrugs it off.
"It didn't bother me at all. Why would it? I knew I wasn't
going to go back there. That is life in the past. I moved on.
I knew I could never go back."
In the interim, the world changed. Mogilny has returned to
Russia three times, including a three-month stay during
the 1994 lockout.
"My decision changed a lot of people's lives. I was very
worried about my family," he said. "At the same time, if I
didn't take that chance, I couldn't see myself growing as a
person and as a hockey player in Russia at that time. I
didn't see any different way to do it."