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Alex Kovalev Jersey

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Where to begin on a player whose illustrious NHL career is only part of the story?

Sergei Zubov entered the league by storm, leading the New York Rangers in points during the 1993-94 season and playing a key role in the team’s 1994 Stanley Cup championship — ending a 54-year drought. He would go on to hoist the Cup a second time with the Dallas Stars in 1999.

But it wasn’t always clear whether the Hockey Hall of Famer would even journey across the Atlantic to play on North American ice. A Moscow native, Zubov was a member of the vaunted Red Army prior to being drafted in the fifth round by the Rangers in 1990.

2019 HHOF class: Carbonneau | Nedomansky | Wickenheiser | Rutherford | York | Brown | Hughson

“I just think it’s much more commonplace now and they know that they’ll get the players,” Neil Smith, general manager of the New York Rangers from 1989 to 2000, told Sporting News. “It’s not a case of ‘if,’ it’s a case of ‘when.’ There was still an Iron Curtain when we drafted Sergei and Alex Kovalev and you’re taking a chance that you might never get the player.”

Zubov had played 118 games with CSKA Moscow in Russia prior to being drafted by Smith. He would stay in Russia for another season (36 games), winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics with the Unified Team before finally deciding to head to the Big Apple.

“He certainly had proven that he could play very, very well at that elite level in Russia so we knew the time was right to convert him over,” Smith said. “We thought he would be a good player when we drafted him and then watching him in tournaments and things the next few years, we knew that he was ready to play.”

Boy, was he ever.

New York Rangers

Congratulations to #NYR Stanley Cup Champion and leading scorer in the 93-94 season, Sergei Zubov on your induction into the @HockeyHallFame! #HHOF2019

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3:45 AM – Jun 26, 2019
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MSG Networks

John Davidson called Sergei Zubov today to tell him he was selected to the @HockeyHallFame …

And in 1994, JD called this huge Zubov goal for the @NYRangers in the Stanley Cup Final. #NYR #HHOF2019

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5:15 AM – Jun 26, 2019
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In his first 49 NHL games Zubov scored 31 points, but it was in the Rangers’ Stanley Cup season the following year that Zubov broke out — leading the team in points and averaging more than a point per game with 89 (12 goals, 77 assists) in 78 games.

“Sergei was more of a puck mover than a puck carrier,” Smith noted. “I think the instinct that he had, you either have or you don’t have, which is to see the ice the way he did. I think that he just saw everything very quickly and he could slow things down. Also, we used to say he had ice in his veins because he would take chances that you had to be very, very confident in yourself to do.”

Smith did trade Zubov to Pittsburgh after the defenseman’s third year in the NHL. Following what the former Rangers GM called “a not very happy year in Pittsburgh,” Zubov found himself down south in Dallas. The fifth-year player was less than thrilled about his new assignment, according to Smith; in fact, it took some convincing before Zubov was fully on-board with the Stars and eventually, head coach Ken Hitchcock was able to win him over.

“He had to get talked into it,” Smith said of Zubov’s move to Dallas. “I think the fact that Ken Hitchcock put a lot of confidence into him and gave him a big role on the team, probably really helped him.”

Mike Modano

Thank you Guy for teaching me what it took to win. And Zubie the most talented guy I’ve ever played with congrats to you both on the 2019 @HockeyHallFame induction.

4:10 AM – Jun 26, 2019
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Dallas Stars

One of the best trades in Stars history, our next Defining Moment is the move that brought Sergei Zubov to Dallas.

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11:17 PM – May 30, 2017
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Zubov went on to play more than 11 seasons with the Stars, including the 1998-99 Stanley Cup season where he scored 13 points — 12 of which were assists — in 23 postseason games.

If you look at the stats — two Stanley Cups, 1,068 games played, third in Stars’ history for assists (438) and 16th in NHL history for assists by a defenseman (619) — Zubov should have been a shoo-in for the HHOF.

So why, then, did it take him seven tries to crack the ballot?

“There’s so many players that go into the mix every year that get talked about and you really have to have an advocate,” Smith explained. “I’m not sure who it was that was on that committee that advocated for him but you look at his numbers and also the playoff success that he had and that was really astounding.

“I think probably one of the reasons why was because he never won the Norris Trophy and I think that when you’re thought of as an offensive defenseman and you don’t win the Norris Trophy, then your name doesn’t come to light quickly.”

MORE: Dallas Stars’ Winter Classic jerseys showcase tradition of Texas hockey

Although he never won the Norris, Zubov did receive votes in 12 out of the more than 15 seasons he played in the NHL with his highest finish in 2006 when he came in third. It probably didn’t help the smooth-skating defenseman that he played in the era of Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis, former teammate Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom (who won the award in 2006).

Regardless of how he got there, he’s there now. His name is already etched on Stanley Cup bands and now his legacy will live forever in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Terry W. Ruskowski Jersey

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erry Ruskowski remembers the first time he met Gordie Howe.

The Quad-City Mallards head coach was just a rookie back in 1974, with the Houston Aeros of the now-defunct World Hockey Association. The Aeros were preparing for an exhibition game against the Michigan Stags while Howe and his sons were returning from Russia after playing in the Summit Series.

“We’re going up for a pregame meal and all of a sudden the doors came open and there was our coach Bill Dineen and Gordie and I didn’t know what to say,” Ruskowski said. “My roommate and linemate Don Larway and I went up there and were like, ‘Give me a pinch, am I dreaming here? Who’s in front of me? Gordie Howe? Are you kidding me?”

After introductions were made, the hockey legend offered his response to the gawking of the youngsters.

“‘Welcome to the team boys,’” Ruskowski remembered. “‘Let’s go and get something to eat, have fun tonight, win a hockey game and go home happy.’”

Howe passed away Friday in Ohio at the age of 88. The man nicknamed “Mr. Hockey” held many of the sport’s scoring records until they were broken by Wayne Gretzky, but still holds the record for most games and seasons played, with a career spanning from 1946-1980, including three seasons in Houston with Ruskowski.

“I always thought he would endure everything; that he was infamous and he could endure everything,” Ruskowski said. “He was untouchable and he’d live forever, it seemed like, in my eyes. Obviously it’s not true but he’s a great man and I’m honored to know him as a friend and a teammate.”

Growing Russell Construction settling into new corporate headquarters

Howe is regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. The Floral, Saskatchewan, native spent his first 25 professional seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, and ranked among the top 10 in league scoring for 21 consecutive years. Howe won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings four times, won six Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player, and won six Art Ross Trophies as the leading scorer.

After retiring in 1971 and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, Howe returned to the ice, joining his sons Mark and Marty on the Aeros in 1973. Howe put up 100 points twice in his four years with the Aeros and won two Avco Cups, the WHA championship.

In his 32-year career, including playoffs, Howe played in 2,421 games and scored 1,071 goals with 1,518 assists and 2,589 points. Not recorded in those stats are the blocked shots, nor the smile that Ruskowski remembered as always on Howe’s face.

“Somebody asked me one day, ‘How would you explain Gordie Howe?’” Ruskowski said. “When you call him a superstar, I still think you’re degrading him because there’s got to be a place higher than a superstar for Gordie Howe to be in because he was in a class by himself.”

One of Ruskowski’s early memories of Howe came in his rookie season, while the Aeros were preparing to defend their Avco Cup. Ruskowski pulled off a deke through the legs of Howe, a feat he soon wished he hadn’t accomplished.

“The second time I tried that, I got just about halfway through before a stick caught me over the eye,” he said. “The trainer came out, covered my eye up and Howe said, ‘Oops, sorry kid,’ but as I was coming off, he told me, ‘Don’t ever make me look bad.’

“I said, ‘Gordie, trust me, from here on in, I’m going to make you look great.’”

Along with his scoring ability, Howe was also known for his physical play. Howe became the namesake of the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” which is when a player records a goal, assist and a fight in the same game. But Ruskowski also remembers all the time Howe spent on the ice, skating in practices that the 43-year-old legend could have easily avoided.

“He loved the game so much, I don’t think I ever saw him in a bad mood,” Ruskowski said. “He didn’t have to work hard in practice, but he did. He did that for the team and the betterment of him and that’s something I’ll admire about him.”

The Aeros went 156-76-6 in the three years Ruskowski and Howe played together, before Howe left to play for the New England Whalers. In a game against each other, a picture was snapped of Ruskowski putting a check on Howe, which Howe later signed with the added sentiment of, ‘Get off my back, pal, I’m Gordie Howe.’

Though their paths crossed infrequently after that, the lasting bond between teammates never left. Some years later, Ruskowski’s daughter, Jill, went to a signing in Las Vegas and mentioned to Howe that her father was Terry Ruskowski.

“He came around the table to give her a big hug and a kiss and told her, ‘Please tell your dad hello for me.’” Ruskowski said. “It made my daughter feel very special. That’s just who he was, he was a first-class guy.”

That character is something Ruskowski — the only player ever to captain four different professional teams — tried to emulate in his pro career, and it started with Howe helping him learn the way to handle himself as a professional.

“I always wanted to hang around him because I always wanted to learn from him, I wanted to learn from the best and he was the best,” Ruskowski said. “I wanted to learn how he handled himself, how he conducted himself, in the limelight, out of the limelight, in airports, in dressing rooms and all that.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to have played with him.”

Terry Ruskowski 2014-15

Same team
Quad-City Mallards coach Terry Ruskowski played for three seasons on the Houston Aeros with ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe, who died Friday. Here is a look at how they fared:

1974-75 (53-25-0)



1975-76 (53-27-0)



1976-77 (50-24-6)