TORONTO – Sergei Fedorov sat in a chair under the colored glass cathedral ceiling of the Hockey Hall of Fame, having just received his Class of 2015 ring.
In the back of the room was an older man, looking down at his shoes while Fedorov and two other Hall of Famers – Nicklas Lidstrom and Phil Housley – explained how he impacted their lives.
“I had trouble off-ice. With my love life and stuff,” said Fedorov. “One moment I really cherish is when he let me off the team for three days.”
In the late 1990s, Fedorov was in a relationship with tennis sensation Anna Kournikova – a sensation in the sense that she was one of the most photographed female athletes of all-time. Fedorov met her when she was 15 years old, as their families were friends. They forged a friendship, understanding each other as star athletes. They later briefly married, although Kournikova has denied that happened through the years.
Later, that friendship became a romance. Lidstrom recently reminisced about hearing Fedorov calling Kournikova when the two Hall of Famers were Red Wings teammates. "You know, waking up to hearing a voice in the room, you can't see anyone, but finally I see the cord going underneath the blanket and it's Sergei speaking Russian,” he said. “That kind of freaked me out.”
But it wasn’t easy maintaining that relationship. Bowman said one season, he allowed Fedorov to leave the Red Wings to work on things with Kournikova.
“They were pretty serious. He wanted a couple of days, and we were going to Los Angeles. I said, ‘Why don’t you go there first and then rejoin the team. He could miss a practice. I never worried about his skating or conditioning,” said Bowman on Friday at the Hall of Fame.
“I knew he wanted to do it. I talked with his agent, Mike Barnett, and I often talked to Mike. He suggested if he could miss a practice, and I said ‘absolutely.’”
In a roundabout way, this sacrifice to work on a romantic relationship did wonders for Fedorov’s relationship with Bowman. The veteran coach wasn’t always the warmest guy, while Fedorov wore his heart on his sleeve. But in that moment, the Russian star said they understood each other more than ever.
“I really, truly, finally figured out who Scotty Bowman was,” said Fedorov. “After that, I played even harder for that gentleman."
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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.