WASHINGTON -- Detroit Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, who is recovering from serious injuries sustained in a limousine accident six days after the team won the Stanley Cup last June, joined his teammates Friday as they were honored at the White House.
President Clinton, flanked by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman and the Stanley Cup, singled out Konstantinov, who nodded and received an emotional standing ovation from teammates and supporters.
Bowman presented a souvenir replica of the Stanley Cup to Clinton, who noted the coach has won the trophy so many times it should be called the "Stanley Bowman Cup."
Team captain Steve Yzerman, who joked that the Red Wings even had 'a couple of Americans' on the team, presented Clinton with a Detroit jersey emblazoned with the president's name and the No. 1. Actually, winger Doug Brown is the only American-born player currently on the Red Wings.
Yzerman also pointed out the last time the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup was 1955, when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
"I don't think he was much of a hockey fan so I don't think Gordie (Howe) and the boys got an invite to the White House," said Yzerman.
Clinton said he was 'thrilled' Konstantinov was able to attend the ceremony, and praised the Russian defenseman for having 'the heart of a champion.'
"Vladie, we know how hard you've been working and how far you've come," the president said.
Deviating from his prepared text, Clinton said he posed for photographs with Konstantinov prior to the ceremony and joked it would heighten his popularity in Russia.
Konstantinov, who is undergoing a long rehabilitation process in Florida, had not joined his teammates since October, when the players received their Stanley Cup rings in a private ceremony. The team will gather Monday for a dinner with Konstantinov in the Fort Lauderdale area, where the Red Wings will stay while preparing for Tuesday's game with the Florida Panthers.
Following the June 13 accident, Konstantinov spent some five weeks in a coma in a Royal Oaks, Mich., hospital. He was transferred to a private rehabilitation clinic in Florida.
Konstantinov, fellow Detroit defenseman Slava Fetisov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov were passengers in the limousine that crashed in Birmingham, Mich. The accident occurred six days after the Red Wings completed a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, ending a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.
Nicknamed 'The Vladinator' for his punishing physical style, Konstantinov was a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL's top defenseman.
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