Another Hockey Hall of Fame class has been called and Alexander Mogilny is not part of it. Taking apart the committee’s selections is, at this point, its very own sport within the hockey world and we all know the choices come down to 18 votes. It only takes a few dissenters to capsize a bid and once again this year, Mogilny did not pass.
The resume for the splendid right winger is strong, of course. Mogilny is a member of the famed Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, World Championship gold), which has just 29 members in the history of professional hockey. He also had the incredible high of a 76-goal season back in 1992-93 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres, the fifth-most tallies ever in one campaign. He was also a two-time second-team all-star and winner of the Lady Byng.
But there’s another aspect of Mogilny’s campaign that doesn’t get explored enough when it comes to his Hall of Fame bona fides: his journey to the NHL.
According to the Hall of Fame’s own criterion (as highlighted by The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek, himself a former member of the selection committee), a player should be judged on “playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her team and to the game of hockey in general.”
Let’s zero in on the last part of that sentence: contributions to the game of hockey in general.
In 1989, Mogilny became the first hockey player to defect from the Soviet Union when he took off from the gold-medal world championship Soviet national team after their tournament victory in Stockholm. The story itself is harrowing, with Mogilny and Sabres exec Don Luce hiding from the KGB in Sweden, jumping from hotel to hotel as they waited for the American consulate to grant the supremely talented Russian youngster access to the United States.
After several days, Mogilny got the necessary clearance and flew to New York City, where he applied for political asylum. Oh, and he was 20 years old at the time.
Mogilny showed incredible courage in his escape from a crumbling regime and it wasn’t easy for him for a long time. But he was a trailblazer and part of a wave of Russian superstars who made a tremendous impact on the NHL in the early 90s and beyond. Leaving the Soviet Union – and then Russia, once the Cold War ended – has still been difficult for some players, even up to Pittsburgh Penguins phenom Evgeni Malkin just 13 years ago, but Mogilny showed that it was possible to leave on your own terms and carve out a successful career in the NHL. Heck, it wasn’t even ultimately the end of Mogilny’s relationship with the national team; he played for Russia at the World Championship in 1996. He’s even been a KHL exec for the past decade for Amur Khaborovsk and Admiral Vladivostok.
If this has been Mogilny’s only contribution to the NHL, it would still be a huge one. But he also happened to be an incredibly talented player who was one of the best goal-scorers of his time. Men with much flimsier resumes reside in the Hall of Fame. It makes no sense why Mogilny is still on the outside looking in.