Today in Hockey History: July 7

July 7 is a very important date in National Hockey League history as a pair of signings made it easier for players from Europe to come over, forever changing the game. There were also a handful of coaching moves and the birth of a Hall of Famer who is beloved in the Mile High City.

Devils Pave the Way

On July 7, 1989, the New Jersey Devils held a press conference to introduce their two newest additions; defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Sergei Starikov, both from the Soviet Union. These signings were instrumental for the influx of players from Russia and all over Europe into the NHL.

Before Fetisov came over, a Russian player would have to defect from the Soviet Union in order to play in the NHL. That meant they could no longer play for the international team, which was the ultimate goal for every player in the Soviet Union. Fetisov is able to broker a deal, after years of negotiations, the allowed him to leave to come to North America, but not defect so he can still play in international events.

Fetisov, who spent 13 seasons playing for CSKA Moscow before coming to the NHL, was originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1978. He re-entered the draft in 1983 as was taken by the Devils in the eighth round. He finally made his North American debut at the age of 31.

He played 341 games for the Devils before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings late in the 1995 season. The veteran played another 205 games for the Red Wings and was part of their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998.

His post-hockey career was just as impressive. After retiring in 1998, he returned to New Jersey as an assistant coach, helping them win the 2000 Stanley Cup. From there, he was the general manager of the 2002 Russian Olympic team that won the bronze medal. In 2009, he became the president of CSKA Moscow. When his team was ravaged with injuries, he played the final handful of games of the 2009-10 season at the age of 51.

Starikov was drafted by the Devils in the eighth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He was not originally targeted to bring over, but once he expressed his interest, the Devils worked out a deal to sign him as well. Starikov only played in NHL games for the Devils, but he spent time in both the American Hockey League (AHL) and International Hockey League (IHL) before retiring after the 1992-93 season.

New Coaches Hired

Veteran goalie Gerry Cheevers announced his retirement, on July 7, 1980, and was named as the new head coach of the Boston Bruins. He replaced general manager Harry Sinden, who coached the final seven games of the previous regular season and their playoff run after firing Fred Creighton.

Goalie Gerry Cheevers
Cheevers went from the crease to behind the bench in 1980. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Cheevers had quite a bit of regular-season success with the Bruins and led the team to the best record in the league during the 1982-83 season. He made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs in all four of his full seasons but only made it as far as the conference final just once. He was let go 56 games into the 1984-85 season, with Sinden once again taking over. His 204 wins are the fifth-most in franchise history.

On July 7, 1983, Jack Evans was named the new head coach of the Hartford Whalers, replacing John Cuniff. He went 163-174-37 in his four and a half seasons behind the bench. Only Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette have won more games than Evans in franchise history.

The Colorado Avalanche hired Joel Quenneville as their new head coach on July 7, 2004. He replaced Tony Granato, who remained as a member of Quenneville’s staff. He finishes each of his three seasons as coach with exactly 95 points, but never makes past the second round of the playoffs.

Joel Quenneville Florida Panthers
Quenneville landed his second head coaching gig on this date in 2004. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

He was not retained following the conclusion of their 2008 postseason run. Quenneville joined the Chicago Blackhawks as a scout the following September. Just over a month later, he replaced Denis Savard as head coach and eventually led them to three Stanley Cups wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Odds & Ends

The Blackhawks named Tommy Ivan general manager, on July 7, 1954, replacing Bill Tobin. He had spent the previous seven seasons as the head coach of the Red Wings, winning three Stanley Cups. Ivan remained on the job for the next 25 years before also serving as vice-president and alternate governor. The Blackhawks won the 1961 Stanley Cup and made trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 1962, 1965, 1971, and 1973 under his guidance.

Future Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe signed with the Red Wings on July 7, 1992. Mark, of course, was the son of the legendary Gordie Howe, who was the franchise’s greatest player. Howe was recognized as one of the best two-way defensemen of his era.

He played in 122 games over his three seasons in Detroit before retiring after a trip to the 1995 Stanley Cup Final. While he wasn’t nearly as productive as he was earlier in his career, he was a positive influence on sone of the Red Wings’ younger blueliners, like Nicklas Lidstrom.

Happy Birthday to You

The greatest player in Quebec Nordiques/Avalanche history, Joe Sakic, was born on July 7, 1969. His long working relationship with the franchise began when he was drafted by the Nordiques in the first round (15th overall) of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.

Sakic scored 234 goals and 626 points during his first 508 NHL games in Quebec before the team relocated to Colorado. Once in Denver, he scored another 391 goals and 1015 in 870 games for the Avalanche. He captained two Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1996 and 2001. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the most valuable player of the 1996 postseason. He was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player for the 2000-01 season.

Joe Sakic, Quebec Nordiques
Sakic started his career in Quebec. (THW Archives)

In 2011, two years after retiring as a player, Sakic returned to work for the Avalanche. He was originally brought on as an executive advisor and alternate governor. He was promoted to Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations in May of 2013. He was officially named general manager on Sept. 19, 2014, a job he currently still holds.

Other notable players also born on this date include Ed Staniowski (65), Tony Hrkac (54) and Patrick Lalime (46).