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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

The First One: The Soviets are Coming

The first six cards in the set are dedicated to Soviets Stars; players that had all been drafted into the NHL but had not necessarily come over to play for the NHL clubs (with one major exception). The 1991-92 season was roughly 20 years after the famous Summit Series in 1972 and there had been many clashes between the mysterious Soviet ‘amateurs’ and North American NHL superstars since:

  • nine Super Series exhibition series’ (between 1976 and 1991), where Soviet club teams would take on NHL teams in exhibition games;

  • five Canada Cups (between 1976 and 1991), with Canada winning four and the Soviets one;

  • the annual World Hockey Championships (8 Soviets golds to zero for Canada);

  • the annual World Junior Championships (8 Soviets golds to 5 for Canada), which were dominated by the Soviet men.

Throw in Rendez-Vous ’87, which replaced the NHL All-Star game in the 1986-87 season, with the NHL All-Stars and the Soviets splitting two games in Quebec City.

The early 90's was when Soviet players were starting to come to the NHL, although not by any ‘legal means’. Victor Nechayev and Sergei Pryakhin had both appeared in the NHL in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it was the defection of superstar Alexander Mogilny in May 1989 that represented the started of the wave of players emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. Others would soon follow suit, including a couple of players featured in the first six card set.

This initial subset is a unique way to kick off the set. After staring at these cards for too long, I figured out that the pictures were taken during the 1991 Canada Cup; rather than include the Soviet team in the upcoming Canada Cup subset, Upper Deck created the Soviet Stars subset. It's hard to believe in our globalized world now, but in the 1990s Soviet players were still a mystery. You get a sense of that culture shock through the inclusion of Cyrillic script on the front and back of the cards (a literal translation of 'Soviet Stars') as well as the logo-less jerseys. All of the featured players went on to decent NHL careers, excepting Filimonov, with Sergei Fedorov becoming one of the biggest superstars in the game in the mid-1990s. All of these cards (with the exception of Fedorov) are also considered rookie cards, with the associated extra collecting value.

For players that do not have cards elsewhere in the base set, I have provided a summary of their entire career. Both Kozlov and Fedorov have cards later in the set, which is where more details on their careers will be provided.

Card # 1 Vladimir Malakhov

Malakhov was a 22 year old defenceman playing for the Central Red Army (now known as CSKA Moscow). The Red Army was the pre-eminent Soviet club team, reserved for the best of the best. Malakhov had played three Soviet league seasons with the Red Army, had been a part of three Super Series and would play in both the 1991 Canada Cup and 1992 Olympics, scoring three goals as part of the ‘Unified Team’ that won gold.

Malakhov was a 10th round pick of the NY Islanders, and would go on to make his NHL debut in 1992-93, scoring 14 goals and 52 points, finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting. His sophomore season he would record 10 goals and a career-high 57 points.

In April 1995, Malakhov would be traded to Montreal in a blockbuster deal alongside Pierre Turgeon for Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby. He would play parts of six seasons for the Habs, suffering a serious knee injury in the 1999 pre-season before being traded to New Jersey for Sheldon Souray. He would end up winning the Cup in his first season with the Devils (2000) and leave the following season signing a massive free agent deal with the NY Rangers (who handed those out like candy in the early 2000s). After four seasons in New York he would be dealt to Philadelphia and then re-sign in New Jersey in 2005.

Malakhov’s career would end on an odd note. He would be suspended by the Devils after claiming to take a leave of absence to deal with ‘internal, personal medical issues'. The Devils GM at the time, Lou Lamoriello, rejected the request and instead suspended Malakhov. His career totals stand at 712 games played, 86 goals and 346 points. He is currently a development coach with the New York Islanders.

It is alleged that in the late 1990s Malakhov had some issues with the Russian mob. You can read in more detail here, but it turns out he wrote a $ 350,000 cheque for deposit into a trust account, but the money never showed up in the account. Accused of cashing the cheque – Michael Cohen, former lawyer of at-time-of-writing US President Donald Trump.

Card # 2 Alexei Zhamnov

Zhamnov was a 20-year old centre with Dynamo Moscow, another premier Soviet league team. 1991-92 would be his third year with Dynamo, and he had established himself as a top scorer on the club, recording 36 points in 39 games. He appeared in the 1991 Canada Cup (scoring 3 goals) and also won gold with the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics.

Zhamnov was drafted in the 4th round (1990) by the Winnipeg Jets, and much like Malakhov would start his NHL career in 1992-93. Zhamnov’s career starts with a bang in Winnipeg, scoring 25 goals and 47 assists in his rookie season. Two seasons later, in the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, Zhamnov would score 30 goals and 65 points in only 48 games, finishing third in league scoring, earning a second team all-star selection and finishing third in Lady Byng Trophy voting.

The summer before the Jets are to move to Phoenix, Zhamnov is traded to Chicago in a package that sees Jeremy Roenick go to the desert. He has seven consistent seasons with the Hawks, scoring around 20 goals and 60 points each year. Zhamnov would be traded to Philadelphia in 2004, playing one season with the Flyers, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. After the 2004-05 lockout, he would play one final season in Boston before being forced to retire in 2006 due to shoulder and ankle injuries.

Since retirement, Zhamnov has held a variety of management and coaching position in the KHL. He is currently the general manager of Spartak Moskva, as well as an assistant coach with the Russian international team.

Card # 3 Dmitri Filimonov

Filimonov is the second youngest player to be featured in this six-card series, at the tender age of 19. 1991-92 was his second full season patrolling the blue line with Dynamo, but at this young age he was still a veteran of a Super Series and a Canada Cup.

Filimonov, much like his teammate Zhamnov, was drafted by Winnipeg, going in the 3rd round of the 1991 draft. He would never suit up for the Jets, but would play 40 games as an Ottawa Senator in the 1993-94 season before returning to Russia in 1996-97 for a 10-year career.

Card # 4 – Alexander Semak

The third and final Dynamo Moscow player to be featured, Semak was a relatively-veteran 24-year old centre. He had played in two Canada Cups, two Super Series and Rendez-Vous 87. Established as a top scorer, having played four seasons for Dynamo, he would make a mark in North America during the 1990-91 Super Series, recording 7 points in 7 games.

Semak was drafted in the 10th round in 1988 by the New Jersey Devils, and would play 25 games in the 1991-92 season, scoring five goals and 11 points. His sophomore season would be far and away his best, recording 37 goals and 79 points (over half his career totals). Semak would be traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in March 1995, and later that year would be traded to the New York Islanders. After spending the 1995-96 season on Long Island, he would be claimed by the Vancouver Canucks in the waiver draft, playing 18 games in 1996-97 in what would be his final NHL season.

He would play two seasons in the IHL (winning a league title and playoff MVP in 1997-98) before returning to Europe, playing the 1999-00 season in Germany and from 2000-2005 in various Russian leagues. Upon retirement, Semak would take on coaching duties in the Russian junior league (the MHL) and is current the manager of Agidel Ufa, a team in the Russian women's hockey league.

Card # 5 – Viacheslav Kozlov

The youngest player in this series, the 18-year old Kozlov was a left winger with Khimik Voskresensk, another premier team in the Soviet league. Kozlov had been appearing in games with Khimik since he was 15, but was relatively inexperienced at the senior international level, the 1991 Canada Cup being his only taste at the time (he did score 3 points in 5 games).

Kozlov would be drafted as part of the ‘Russian Five’ of Detroit in 1990, going in third round. He would make his NHL debut in the 1991-92 season.

Card # 6 – Sergei Fedorov

The 21-year old centre for the Central Red Army club was arguably the most well-known in North America of the six players featured in this set. Averaging over a point a game in both the 1988 and 1989 World Junior Championships and appear in the 1991 Canada Cup (scoring 4 points in 5 games) will do that.

Fedorov was drafted by Detroit one year earlier than Kozlov , going in the 4th round in 1989. He is the only player in this subset to have made his NHL debut prior to 1991-92, scoring 79 points in 77 games in 1990-91 and finishing second to Ed Belfour in Calder Trophy voting for rookie-of-the-year. Spoiler alert: Sergei has a grand total of five cards in this set, so you'll be seeing a lot more from him.

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