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Crowds gather to pray for injured Red Wings

June 20, 1997

DETROIT (AP) _ More than 300 people gathered to say prayers, sign get-well cards and light red and white candles in support of two critically injured members of the 1997 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

A little more than a week ago, Andrea Kinnelly was among a million people who flocked downtown for a parade honoring the NHL champions. On Thursday, she was among the group of well-wishers.

``It’s only right to be here,″ said Kinnelly, 23. ``They’ve given us so much. This is a way to show our support.″

The crowd gathered at Hart Plaza to pray, listen to music and light candles for Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov, who were injured in a crash last week.

Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov remained comatose and in critical condition at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak on Thursday night. Mnatsakanov was undergoing surgery late Thursday night to stabilize his spine, which was injured in the accident, hospital spokeswoman Colette Stimmell said.

Beaumont administrative supervisor Sally Furey said Mnatsakanov was out of surgery at 11:30 p.m. Thursday and returned to his unit. She would not comment on the outcome of the operation.

Defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov, also injured in the accident, was released from the hospital on Wednesday.

For many who came to Hart Plaza it was a way to show support once again to the team members who were an important part in securing the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1955.

One banner in the crowd read, ``God please mend our broken wings.″ Prayers were read and fans signed get-well cards for the men.

The candlelight vigil was organized by Rodney Parrish, who paid the $400 rental fee to the city.

``I felt helpless when I heard about the accident,″ Parrish said. ``It seemed like a good way to show out support.″

Rich Edmunds said his prayers are with Konstantinov’s family.

``It’s not really about him returning to hockey,″ he said. ``It’s about him returning as a father and a husband.″

Konstantinov, Mnatsakanov and Fetisov were returning from a golf outing celebrating the team’s championship in a limousine, driven by an unlicensed driver. The auto crossed over two lanes, jumped a curb, careened off a pole and slammed head-on into a tree.

None of the passengers was wearing a seat belt. The car had a driver’s-side airbag.

Witnesses said the limousine brakes were never used. Police suspect the driver, Richard Gnida, may have dozed off at the wheel. Gnida was released from the hospital Sunday.

Jason Pernick, Oakland County acting chief of warrants division, said possible charges against Gnida were pending.

``We are awaiting a presentation from the Birmingham Police department,″ he said. ``It’s not the kind of thing you want to rush.″

The injured Wings also were on the minds of those attending the NHL Awards ceremony in Toronto, with most mentioning Konstantinov and Mnatsakanov in their speeches.

The New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, ahead of Colorado’s Sandis Ozolinsh and Konstantinov.

``I certainly echo the sentiments that have been expressed tonight about Vladimir to his family and Sergei to his family and the Red Wings organization,″ Leetch said. ``Obviously, we wish them a speedy and full recovery so we can see them once again where we’d all love to see them _ around the skating rink.″

Also Thursday, U.S. Congressman Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Township, along with WJR-AM’s Paul W. Smith, Franklin Bank and Southeast Michigan Dodge Dealers announced an effort for fans to show their support.

The campaign, entitled ``The Wind Beneath Our Wings″ enlists fans to donate Red Wings T-shirts, jerseys, hats and flags to be shipped to Konstantinov’s hometown if Murmansk, Russia. The items would then be distributed to the children of Murmansk.

``There is so much support in this community for Vlady,″ Knollenberg said. ``We thought this would be a great way to channel people’s thoughts, prayers, support and generosity into a good cause that will help children who are less fortunate.″

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