On Wednesday, June 24th, the NHL will announce its 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame induction class at 4:30 PM EST. When it comes to whom will be included, almost everyone in the hockey world believes Jerome Iginla will be a no-brainer in his first year of eligibility. There is one player who has been passed over 10 times before that is long overdue to be inducted, though. His name is Alexander Mogilny.
Alexander Mogilny, Defector and Superstar
The Buffalo Sabres star who shined for several seasons on a line with Pat Lafontaine in the early 90’s has the stats to get in. Not too many players score 50 goals in the NHL, Mogilny did that twice including a staggering 76 goals in 77 games during the 1992-93 season. Numbers aside, it blows my mind that he hasn’t been already inducted because he is the trailblazer for all Russians now playing in the NHL today.
No Soviet hockey player was on an NHL roster in 1988. Although Viacheslav Fetisov is recognized as the first Russian player in the league, he was granted permission at the age of 31. Fetisov was actually drafted twice. Once by the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 and then again in 1983 for the New Jersey Devils. It wasn’t until 1989 that he’d play for NJ, and he did so with a threat of being sent to Siberia.
At the time, the Soviet Union frowned on the idea of their best athletes leaving. That is why when the Sabres picked Mogilny with their fifth-round selection in 1988 it was considered a wasted pick. The story of the young Russian snipers journey to the NHL happened under the cover of darkness in Sweden with the KGB on his tail.
The Hunt for Red October
Let’s be clear, no Russian submarines were involved in the defection but if I can slip in one of my all-time favorite films into an article I’m going to do it. The story of Mogilny’s defection started with a business card handed to him by Don Luce at the World Junior Championships in Alaska. From there it was clandestine conversations and jumping into a car with the KGB running after him. It ends with him landing at NY’s LaGuardia airport requesting political asylum.
“Mogilny was the first Soviet player to defect and the KGB was doing everything they could to try and prevent that. Even so, Luce says that the 20 year old did not come across as worried. “Alex wasn’t worried at all, he was very confident, he knew what he wanted to do from the get-go and he was going to do it. He was probably the most calm of all of us.” Luce says that they were aware that Mogilny was not the only one taking a big risk. “We were warned the first time Gerry went to the consulate that we were in serious danger.”WGRZ
Let that story settle in and then think of all the great young Russian players that were allowed to come afterwards like Sergei Federov. That doesn’t happen without a 20-year-old Alexander Mogilny defecting and the Soviets wanting to save face by not having many more do the same. For that alone, Mogilny deserves to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
One last note, Mogilny had a fear of flying. It was so bad that there were times he simply got off the plane if the pilot warned of turbulence before take off. According to Randy Moller a former teammate in Buffalo, “He did that a number of times. He was petrified of flying.”
With 473 goals, and 1032 points later, what are you waiting for NHL? It’s long overdue. Put Alexander Mogilny into the Hall of Fame.