This interview between Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin and Sports.ru was published last week — in other words, before the Jaromir Jagr decision — but it's filled with the kind of candid comments we love to hear from Geno.
Here's Malkin on everything from books to the Russian Mafia to cigarettes to Alex Ovechkin to his first fight to Matt Cooke. These are excerpts; the full interview is here.
In a recent interview to PROsport magazine you said that you started dedicating more time to education. Which of the books you recently read made the biggest impression on you?
I will tell you about the latest one — right now I am reading Andre Agassi's book "Open." He talks about his life, what he did right and what he did wrong. It is all very interesting and educating. He is a great tennis player and a great person. I suggest [the book] to everyone. I laid my eyes on this book at a bookstore and I just bought it.
Did you get to the point where Agassi gets addicted to drugs?
No, I have made it to the middle so far. But in my chapter he already smokes "grass."
What can you say about the book of the most famous Magnitogorsk writer Dave King ["The King of Russia"]?
Of course it was interesting but he has a different point of view, a different mindset. For example, when stray dogs run after him during his jogs. To me it's nothing new. We have a lot of stray animals on the streets, this is Russia, everyone understands. And for him it was shocking, and he describes it. In Pittsburgh everything is different. You wouldn't see a stray dog or a cat on the street.
Is coming back from injuries the most difficult thing in hockey?
Of course! The pain is not only physical. You also hurt from the fact that you cannot help the team. There are always worries regarding the shape you will be in after the injury. You feel pressure: you have to get out there, you have to help the team, and you are not able to. That's why I advise everyone not to get injured. Take care of yourself.
When you got injured a lot of people were asking whether Malkin would be able to resume his career at all. When you read about it, what kind of thoughts did you have in your head?
It's unpleasant when something like that is written. Just as with Crosby, for example. There can't be a talk about it at all. Kovalev, Kasparaitis and a lot of other players had the same injury I had. And everyone played after that. Why should quit hockey, to take care of my health? It's understood that hockey is the type of a sport where it is impossible to avoid an injury. But if you rehab right then everything heals.
Does this hysteria around the 2014 Olympics annoy you?
Perhaps it does. I think the whole frenzy started early. The Olympics are in three years. If we create a plan of how to get ready we will have time to do it. If we do everything right we will approach the Olympics prepared. There's no need to be fussy and yell at each other. We just need to get together, to unite. Critics need to understand that they annoy people who are not at fault. Players do their job, and it isn't always the way fans and coaches want to see it. We are people also and we also make mistakes.
Why are there so many scandals around Team Russia?
You're the ones to be asked about it.
Is it the media's fault?
I don't know whose fault it is. But I think that both the mainstream media and the "yellow" media are to blame, the ones who show all these scandalous videos of [players with] cigarettes, a glass of wine or beer. Everything stems from that. After that there is a lost game — and from nothing a big deal is made. Everyone reacts differently. I read it all with a laugh, I don't care who drank what, who smoked. It is everyone's personal life. If someone is jealous, let them be jealous quietly.
How old were you when you tried your first cigarette?
I have never smoked in my life. Honestly. I smoked hookahs, cigars a couple of time, but I have never tried a cigarette. Nowadays the tendency is such that there are more girls who smoke and not guys. When I go out with a girl one of my very first conditions, it may not be a very serious one for some, is for her not to smoke. I think that when a girl smokes it doesn't look nice at all.
Who is the most unpredictable referee you have met?
I don't remember [his name], but when we played in Philadelphia about three years ago, someone passed a puck to me from the boards, and I hit a one-timer and scored. We were skating to the bench. And here comes the ref and says that the goal didn't count because the net was dislodged. I was very surprised because there had been no whistle, the game kept on going. They made a mistake, but it happens. It's a human factor. I also remember Bill McCreary of course. He's a famous referee. Everyone knows him. He is the most experienced and communicative referee. He always smiles to everyone. He is the most smiling ref, probably.
You talked about critics. How long did it take you to get used to the famous Mister in jackets Don Cherry?
I don't know him personally and have never met him. I saw him on TV a few times. It's funny how Don Cherry criticizes Russians, like Ovechkin. I think he doesn't love Russians much, he always supports his own. But it is his show. Don Cherry is popular in Canada as a showman. I think he is not as strong in hockey as some other critics, he just promotes himself with his jackets, candid interviews. Could I imagine myself wearing a jacket like that? No, I couldn't.
What NHL team did you support as a child?
I think my favorite team, just like a lot of others', was Detroit. I watched their games against Colorado, and it left an impression. I had two favorite teams: Colorado and Detroit. Detroit, first of all, because of the Russians. It was nice to watch Fedorov, Fetisov.
What's the most beautiful goal you have seen scored by someone other than yourself?
Ovechkin's goal against Phoenix while falling down. No one will repeat it in the foreseeable future. It just so happened that he fell down and the puck was on the end of his stick. But someone else wouldn't even try, but Alex tried and it did it. I have never seen a more beautiful goal.
What is the most unexpected or stupid question that you have ever been asked in North America?
The most stupid is 'When will you learn English?'
Why is it stupid?
Because I don't know the answer to that question.
What are your thoughts that Jagr may come back to the NHL? (Ed. Note: Again, this was asked before Jagr signed with the Flyers.)
"If he returns to Pittsburgh of course it will be nice. And if he goes to Montreal or Detroit… Detroit is a strong team as it is and if they sign Jagr it will be twice as difficult to play against them. And I don't like it one bit. Jagr was one of the best players at the World Championships, so it's a bit too early to say that he is a pensioner.
Of the retired players, who would you have liked to play on the same line?
I was unlucky that I came to Pittsburgh too late and Mario [Lemieux] had already retired. First of all I would have loved to play with him. I heard a lot of good things about Lemieux. Usually we talk about hockey. But he also asks about everyday things like did I find a house. It's nice.
Ovechkin said the following about his house in Washington: You're getting some rest in the evening, and then there's a doorbell ring — there's a guy in a Capitals' T-shirt asking for an autograph. Have you encountered similar problems?
Ovechkin told me this story, because of it he wants to sell his house. I got lucky that I live in a closed territory [gated community] about 20 minutes from the city center. He has a house, as I understand, in the city. So I haven't had and I hope I won't have something similar.
Which NHL club plays interesting hockey apart from Pittsburgh, of course?
Detroit, they have a lot of Europeans: Swedes, Pasha [Datsyuk] are there. They play a fluid game, very dynamic. It's difficult to play against Detroit because they have quick players who move the puck very quickly. But it's enjoyable to watch this kind of hockey.
What's more important for you — to win the Stanley Cup or to win the Olympics?
Right now when I have already won a Stanley Cup the Olympics are more important for me. I hope to make it to Sochi, we'll try to win there. And another Stanley Cup will be nice.
What do you think about [Russian] Pens' fans who watch your games late at night or early in the morning? Are we nuts?
Yes… I have friends who watch hockey at 4am and at 9am they have to be at work. They try to sleep in the evening to get at least a bit of sleep. I think of them with respect — not everyone is given to be a fan like that. Taking a bow.
Russian soccer players playing in Europe say that the most discussed topic amongst teammates are salaries in Russia. What do NHL players talk about when Russia becomes a topic of the conversation?
They still ask if there is Mafia in Russia. This is the most interesting topic for them. Do people walk around with handguns on the streets? Do they shoot each other? Of course I don't tell them everything, but I tell them that it happens on the road, for example, if someone cuts in front of another one. They are most interested in Mafia quarrels, which have been talked about since the 90s and people there [in North America] think that everything stayed the same.
What are you most surprised about when you come back to Russia?
I don't know if drivers notice it, but here people now treat each other better on the roads — at least that's my impression. When you leave a parking lot, people will let you through, they will help you. It's a surprise to me. When I used to drive myself about four years ago everything was different: there were shots, cussing. And it's good that it's different.
Do you remember your first fight on the ice?
I haven't had long fights, each lasted about 10-20 seconds. Adrenalin hits you in the head and you don't notice anything, don't feel the pain, just throwing your fists and want the opponent to fall. My first fight in the NHL was with Zetterberg, and in Russia I only fought ones or twice, but we were pulled apart pretty quickly.
Who gets you the most on the ice in the NHL, who would you hit between the eyes with a stick?
First of all the refs when you think they [make every] call against you. And there are players like Avery and [Jarkko] Ruutu, who try to get under your skin the entire game. You want to hit them too.
What do you think about Matt Cooke?
We are lucky that he plays for Pittsburgh. If he played for another team, he would provoke us. He uses what he can do: get a person angry. He brings us power plays and we score goals. When Cooke came to our team we won the Stanley Cup. That's why I'd vote with both hands for him to stay in Pittsburgh. Of course, it happens sometimes when Cooke goes overboard — I don't know if this is psychological or some kind of anger — he is overcome with emotions on the ice. I hope there won't be any more episodes like the last one. If we've won the Stanley Cup with him, that means that he's a good player.
What's the best line and a goaltender in modern hockey?
Tim Thomas is the best goaltender, he had a fantastic season. Lidstrom and Chara on defense. Niklas, what can you say, won the Norris Trophy for the seventh time, Chara improved the last few years, plays 30 minutes and doesn't get tired. And up front — Ovechkin, Crosby and Datsyuk. Pasha and Sidney are both center forwards, but someone in this case, I think, will take a place on the wing.
What defensive pairing is it the most difficult to play against in the NHL?
Same, Chara. It doesn't matter who he is paired with — when he is playing personally against you it is very difficult. It could seem that you're going past him but his long stick helps him. Or he can put you down on your knees with one hand near the boards. Lidstrom's style of play is different, he picks his position very well. As soon as you receive the puck he takes it away from you right away.