Viacheslav Fetisov formed one of the best defence pairings in hockey when he was teamed with Alexei Kasatonov with the Soviet National Team in the 1980s. The duo was part of the "Big Five" for the Soviets along with the KLM line of Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov, and Igor Larionov. Fetisov was well respected by his teammates for his strength of character both as a player and as a person, and he served as captain of both the National Team and of the Central Army squad.
Fetisov possessed exceptional mobility and instinctively knew when to pinch in from the blueline to create a scoring chance in the offensive zone. As a defenceman in the 1980s he had few rivals, not just at home but worldwide. He was named as the top defenceman at the European Junior Hockey Championships in 1976 and achieved the same honour at the 1978 World Junior Championships along with a berth on the tournament All-Star team. He was a nine-time All-Star and five-time winner of the best defenceman award at the senior World Championships and played on a total of nine Olympic and World Championship teams during his international hockey career.
Fetisov was originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1978 but re-entered the draft and was selected by the New Jersey Devils in 1983. The Soviet Union's political climate was changing in the late 1980s and Fetisov made a stand against the establishment by signing with the Devils in the spring of 1988. He applied for his release from the army after the conclusion of the 1988 Soviet hockey season, but his release was rejected by authorities. Soviet club teams toured North America in 1989 for a series of exhibition games against NHL opponents. One of the dates on the schedule was a game on January 2, 1989, in New Jersey between the Devils and Fetisov's Red Army club. Fetisov scored a goal in the Red Army's 5-0 win that evening and was cheered by the Devils fans throughout the game. He said afterwards, "I'm ready now. I want to play in New Jersey."
Returning home from the tour, he announced that he was quitting the Red Army team. However, as a member of the armed forces he was required to report to army headquarters every day, even though he wasn't playing hockey. However, he did little more than move papers around at his desk. When it was announced that he would not be allowed to play with the National Team during the upcoming World Championships, his teammates rose in solidarity to have him reinstated by stating that if Fetisov would not be allowed to play then they would not play either. He was soon reinstated and the players wasted no time in electing him as their captain.
By this time it was more than obvious that there would be no way to keep Fetisov from heading to the NHL. After the 1989 Worlds the Soviet Union hockey powers announced that they would be going into a rebuilding phase and veteran players such as Fetisov were free to join the NHL. In 1989, at age 31, Fetisov finally began his NHL career as a member of the New Jersey Devils.
He would go on to play for nine years in the NHL, including his final three in Detroit. While with the Red Wings, Fetisov participated in the 1997 and 1998 All-Star games, and earned two Stanley Cup rings in 1997 and 1998. After that first title, he organized the Cup's first visit to Russia. He retired to accept a position with the Devils as an assistant coach and earned his third Cup ring following New Jersey's championship in 2000. Viacheslav Fetisov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.