(Ed. Note: Once again, we've partnered with Puck Daddy's official comrade Dmitry Chesnokov to produce a rather revealing interview with a Russian NHL standout. This time, it's Viktor Kozlov, the veteran forward currently playing for the Washington Capitals. Please note this is a lengthy conversation -- conducting in Russian and translated into English by Dmitry -- to the point where we've broken it down into subheadings. But take your time, print it out, study it on the train ... it's one hell of a read. Here's Dmitry ...)
Since then, Kozlov's travels through the NHL have been thorough and captivating: playing with Pavel Bure on the Florida Panthers; witnessing the transition from the Scott Stevens era with the New Jersey Devils; experiencing the Charles Wang era with the New York Islanders; and, now, playing with Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov and the Washington Capitals.
In our interview, conducted after the Capitals' game in Toronto recently, Kozlov discusses this storied career along with dozens of other topics -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Semin's infamous comments about Crosby; the Stanley Cup vs. Olympic gold for Russian players; what it's like to be Ovechkin's linemate; the Capitals' chances this season, and the struggled of goalie Jose Theodore; and, of course, beer and fast cars.
Q. There was some interesting officiating when you played in Toronto. For example, Ovechkin tripped when skating one on one and did not get the call ...
KOZLOV: "You know, I think that officiating in games against Toronto is very often biased. This is the only place where you can see that ... it's not really biased, but helpful. When Brooksy [Brooks Laich] scored the goal that was waived off, he wasn't doing anything wrong, there was no kicking motion. But there is nothing you can do."
Only in Toronto? I thought that maybe it happens in every Canadian city, like Montreal, for example.
"No, no. I don't even know why. Maybe because the NHL has an office in Toronto? They have all video reviews done there. Maybe it is somehow connected."
Well, the Capitals somehow very often get very spotty officiating. For example, the non-call on goalie interference in Game 7 of last year's playoff series against Philadelphia.
"Well, you see, that's why they say not to argue with referees; otherwise you'll make the ‘black list. Anyway, the favorites will get the help, and if you start yelling and arguing, it's going to get nowhere."
Interesting ... there is some kind of a referees' "black list"?
"I don't really think it exists, I just call it that. But still, if you have a good relationship with a referee, then he will be more loyal. But if you constantly argue, yell and whine, of course he'll tell you where to go."
Well, Sidney Crosby is often accused of yelling and complaining to referees.
"I don't know. He is forgiven [for] a lot of things. But when I started playing for New Jersey, I was told right away to keep my mouth shut when I was on the ice. The coach said that only he and the captain are allowed to speak with the refs. I think this is the right way to go. What's the point of yelling at a ref? You won't change anything anyway. Sure, you can let your emotions go, but the next thing you know is you have offended that referee, and God knows at what key moment of the game he may remember that."
So, it looks like there are players who are allowed to do it, and others are not?
"Well, of course. Like superstars are allowed to do all that. But for us, common people, it is not recommended."
Well, you are a star.
"No ... You see, not every player yells. Crosby yells. So let him yell. When Gretzky was playing, he could yell once in a while. Mario? I am not really sure."
Crosby, Semin and Stardom
You could be Ovechkin, Lecavalier, Iginla, Jagr, if you are with the puck next to the boards, you'll be checked and hit. No one seems to play physical against Crosby. Why?
"You know, I will tell you why. Crosby plays really well in corners and next to the boards. That's why you cannot just charge against him to make a hit. He has very special skating. He puts his skates in such a way that if you try to push him, it will just give him a momentum to steer out of that corner. And then he will get around you in six seconds. He is an exceptional skater. Just look out for him do that next time you watch him play. You push him to the right, he'll go left. And now you can't hook at all. And then you'll get two minutes if you do. When you are facing a big player, yes, you can come up and push a little bit. And when the player is small, if you touch him a little bit, you can get two minutes for that. So you just have to play careful and smart against him. That's the way most guys think."
Surely you have read Alexander Semin's interview not long ago, when he said...
"Yeah, I read it," - Kozlov said with a smile. "I also heard about the reaction. It made international news."
After it made international news, people are still discussing it.
"Of course, because there must be something to discuss, especially when Crosby is involved. I don't think it's because there was a boiling point, it's just no one had ever said anything like that. And then some thought 'Wow! What's happening? It turns out Crosby is not the player [we thought]?' Maybe that's why you had the reaction that followed. And Crosby is really the best player, an elite player, you can say."
"You see, it is very difficult to say. If you compare him, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk as well as Semin this year and last year, they are unique in their own way. That's why it is very difficult to compare Crosby and Ovechkin, for example."
You are right, they are unique in the own way. And there are a lot of absolutely great players in the NHL. But the reaction that interview received was because something was said about Crosby and not any other player in the league.
"That's because Crosby is considered an icon of modern NHL here. Gretzky is gone, Lemieux has retired. Now what? Of course it is Sidney Crosby."
True, but the League made him a star even before he entered the league, before he played his first game.
"I agree. But to make hockey popular in North America you need a player that children can look up to, that people go to arenas to see, to be the face of the NHL. So Sidney Crosby was picked. Then, of course, if someone says something negative about the face of the league, there is a lot of commotion."
Agreed. But let's look at other sports like basketball, football, baseball, for example. In football the NFL promote Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Terrell Owens, a lot of others ...
"You see, if you look at it from a different perspective, in my opinion, there are a lot of great players in the NHL, but at least half of them are Europeans. But this is NHL. So, if there are a lot of Europeans [being promoted] kids in Canada might think ‘What's going on?'"
But still, NHL has Iginla, Lecavalier ...
"I agree, there are a lot of great players. But I don't know why they do it. I can only guess the reasoning. But I agree that there are a lot of great players like Heatley, Spezza, Iginla as you mentioned, Lecavalier plays well, you can also mention Thornton. You can go on. But they decided it was going to be Sidney Crosby. If they decided on that, they decided on that."
But don't you think NHL is putting all eggs in one basket and that decision might backfire in the future? For example, NHL is trying to promote itself in Europe. They played a game in Sweden. It would have made more sense to have Zetterberg, Lidstrom there because they are heroes in Sweden.
"Well, it wasn't only Pittsburgh that went to Europe. There were four teams there. But if you think logically, of course it should have been the Detroit Red Wings playing in Sweden. It made sense for the Rangers to play in the Czech Republic, because of Jagr. It didn't quite work out [because Jagr left for Russia], but it was logical."
Did anyone talk to Semin after the interview? Did anyone tell him not to say anything anymore?
"No, no one said anything, everything is alright. And if you read the entire interview there was nothing criminal in it, the guy just gave his opinion. He likes someone more, someone less. As far as someone telling him 'Say this and don't say that?' I don't think there is a reason for someone to explain things to him."
Did you personally speak with him about the interview?
"No, we were actually having dinner in Buffalo [when the interview came out], Alex Ovechkin wasn't with us. We just talked a little bit, but there was nothing terrible."
So he just told you the same thing that he just gave his opinion?
"Yes, he just gave his opinion." Then Kozlov paused and added with laughter: "Just maybe next time keep your opinion to yourself."
But then every single interview will consist of "we gave 110%, the team played well." Won't it be too "dry?"
"Yes. But if you want to have interviews like football or basketball players... It's just hockey players, if you have noticed, have a slightly different understanding, slightly different culture."
Well, there are also "characters" in the NHL, like Sean Avery.
"Well, he is different. He does what he wants."
Do you think the league was right to suspend him for six games?
"You know, I don't want to get involved in this. If the league suspended him, if they thought it was the right thing to do, then alright. I didn't see the interview; I only heard that he called TV cameras over... It's just not nice to say something like what he said. I don't know if he deserved to be suspended, but [saying what he said] wasn't a nice thing to do. It just wasn't "hockey-ish. [It was] showtime."
The Joys and Frustrations of the 2008-09 Capitals
Right now you're in Washington. What do you think about the season so far?
"We started well and then all these injuries started raining down on us. It is difficult without half of your team. It is difficult in a way that we developed chemistry, played well together, there was understanding, and then guys started breaking down, all lines are shuffled. But what can you do?"
It has been difficult for me personally sitting in the press box trying to follow the team with a lot of numbers on jerseys I don't know.
"You see it a lot with injuries, some people are recalled, others are sent down, and it is virtually every day. But you cannot exclude injuries from the game."
Let's be honest, Jose Theodore is not showing the game he was brought over to Washington to play.
"Listen, you know, Jose plays well... I honestly cannot tell you anything. He is a good goaltender, but there are moments when, perhaps, we don't help him out."
I am not a player. But if I were and I knew that my backup goaltender is playing better, at least now, than my starter I might have some confidence issues. In my opinion it was evident with Washington the difference in the team when Olaf Kolzig was in goal and when Cristobal Huet played. With Huet in goal you produced one of the best victory sprints to clinch the Southeast.
"Let me answer your question this way: We have what we have. Last year maybe the coach, maybe the team itself, maybe the goaltender... But it was something truly special. This feeling of elation will remain for the rest of my life, when we had 13 games left with no margin for error, and in the very last game of the season we clinch the division title and a playoff spot, of course it astounded me. And this year, as they say, the cards were dealt, and to say you don't like a certain card or something like that... We just need to go out there and play. And it would be wrong to say that goalies don't catch the pucks, forwards don't score the goals, and defensemen don't play the game."
Last season, I read that Scotty Bowman predicted that Washington will not come out of the first round simply because of the fatigue of the final month of the regular season.
"This great man's opinion must be respected. Maybe it was true. A person with as much experience as Bowman has won't lie, as they say. Maybe it was true that we didn't have enough emotions. But the experience we gained is invaluable."
Master of the Shootout?
Do you have any rituals before games?
"Of course, everyone has them. But we won't talk about them. No one ever talks about them. Everyone knows about them, everyone sees each other's rituals, but no one will admit what they are."
Do you have a goalie against whom it is more difficult to play?
"[Martin] Brodeur. He is truly unique. I would go as far as saying that he is the best goaltender I have ever seen. And when I was with New Jersey, I thought maybe a player with his status would train a little less. But his work ethic is amazing, every practice he would work as if it was a real game, every routine, every play. I was really impressed."
Why do you think you are so good in shootouts?
"This year, to be honest, I am not that good. I didn't score a couple. The only good season that I had when I was with New Jersey. And don't forget, that season when I played for New Jersey, shootouts was something new for goaltenders. Never before had goaltenders trained for shootouts. Penalty shots were very rare. The very next year goaltenders started watching videos and train for penalty shots and became more difficult to score. And this year goaltenders apart from knowing what to do, they know other players' moves. A colossal amount of work has been done with goaltenders by goalie coaches. So it's not that easy to score now."
Ovechkin usually struggles on penalty shots. Have you taught him something?
"Alex Ovechkin? He can teach anyone himself! A penalty shot is difficult to make is because it is pure psychology, a psychological battle between you and the opposing goaltender. He thinks he knows what you are going to do, and you think you know what he is going to do. And here you are skating down and fans are loud and this weight of scoring or not, tying the game or not, it is very difficult. But when you break away one on one during a game, you don't have time to think about it, and it comes out a lot easier. Also during a game a goaltender might not leave his net, and in shootouts they always do concentrating on the puck. And during a game you can pass, or not, shoot. So a penalty shot is much harder than a one on one during a game."
Playing with Alex Ovechkin
What's the most difficult about playing with Ovechkin?
"Ovechkin? There is absolutely nothing difficult about it. Just pass to him and move forward. When you are playing with Alex it is actually easier to play, because he draws a lot of attention from defensemen, so Nicky [Backstrom] or another partner has more time and space to create chances."
Playing with Ovechkin on the same line. Is this the reason you started putting up points lately? Or maybe because you have recovered from your injury?
"Of course it is more difficult to play with injuries. Also you get a lot of pleasure playing with guys who give you the puck and create chances. I enjoy playing on any line in Washington. It's just the injuries."
You have played with both Ovechkin and Pavel Bure. What are the differences between them?
"The difference is that they are both great high scoring forwards, both love winning, but Ovechkin is amongst the league leaders in hits. That's the difference. You saw that game in Toronto when he was hitting people left and right. Every game he hits people. That's the whole difference."
Maybe you should tell him to be a little more careful throwing hits because he might get injured.
"Look, he is such a big guy. A hog!"
Lindros was also a big guy.
"No, that's different. Eric was a more 'straightforward' kind of player. A really big guy. He could move opponents away with one hand. And Eric didn't really see the ice that well. Just remember that Scott Stevens' hit on him. That's because he started skating towards the center ice with his head down. But Alex sees everything very well. Not only can he get away from being hit, he can also hit the guy coming towards him. A lot of guys don't expect that. They think ‘I am coming to get you.' And Alex has that very good feeling, an extra strain in his body, he moves his body forward a little bit and just kills the guy coming to hit him."
Why does he always hit Malkin?
"He does? Really? I don't even know. It looks like Alex doesn't have any friend when he's on the ice. So I wouldn't want to play against Ovechkin."
Kasparaitis used to enjoy hitting people.
"Yes, he really did. And then sometimes he'd laugh after the hit. But everyone thought of him as a nice guy. But on the ice you'd hear ‘You this and that,' hit him with a stick. And he is happy. What can you do?"
Ovechkin opened his own clothing line recently. Did he give you a present?
"I have a hat. He didn't sign it, but I have a picture with him as proof that we have met."
When you're on the road, who are you sharing your room with?
"I live alone in accordance with my status. It is written in the CBA: 600 games or 10 years in the league. After we gave up 24% of our salaries and instituted the salary cap, we were given this."
A little hefty price to pay for a single hotel room. So Ovechkin cannot get a single room?
"I think Alex can, but he has a lot of fun with Semin."
Semin told me about the pillow fights.
"Yeah, they have fun. Sometimes I stop by, enter their room, see what's going on and run so that nothing will hit me. I move pretty quick dodging flying feathers."
Semin also said it was difficult to be without Ovechkin because you and Fedorov played pranks on him, and that only together with Ovechkin they can handle you.
"Yes, these guys should be kept apart. Otherwise they are too dangerous together. Especially because they cheer on each other. It was a little difficult for me to handle them last year until Sergei came over to Washington, when our chances became equal."
How would you rate Ovechkin, Fedorov, Mogilny and Bure in your own chart?
"You cannot really say who is the number one. They are all great, they are all unique. I cannot really pick one. They are a group of truly elite players."
It is interesting. When I asked Alexander Semin who his favorite player growing up was, he told me it was Bure. And you actually played alongside both of them. An interesting bridge of generations.
"And when I was growing up Krutov was my idol. I had a huge poster with Krutov, Makarov and Larionov when I moved to the NHL. You may remember it. I had it on my wall. And when I came to San Jose I saw them right in front of me. They tell me ‘Hi, Vityok!', and I reply [as to someone much older] ‘Hello, sir.' They'd say ‘What's wrong with you? Sir?' And what can you say? Each generation has their idols and leaders. You cannot say who was better."
Did your knees shake when you were on the ice with Makarov?
"Honestly, I had a lot of adrenaline and blood pumping through my body. Yesterday I looked up to him, learned from him. And today ‘Boom!' and you're playing alongside him."
In the Beginning and the Russian Sharks
Before we talk any further, why don't you tell us how you started playing hockey in the first place?
"Well, my father was an athlete. He played football, hockey other sports for his factory team. And I liked hockey a lot. When I was four my dad put me on skates for the first time, and when I was six he took me to a hockey school for children with Torpedo Togliatti. Nikolay Nikolaevich Nikolaev was my first coach who worked with me from when I was 6 to 16. Then I played a year for the Togliatti team and when I turned 17 I moved to Dynamo Moscow. There I played for two years and went to San Jose when I was 19."
So how did you feel over here in North America when you were 19? You were really young.
"Yes, it was tough. Everything was so different. Looking back and analyzing it now, I see how difficult it was because I didn't know about the psychology here, what was expected of a young player, how to do certain things, how to train, and the language barrier. But it was a good ‘life schooling' that I received."
But when you came over Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov played for the San Jose Sharks.
"Yes, Larionov was there, as well as Makarov, Ozolinsh, Irbe, and Andrei Nazarov was in between the first team and the farm club. There were quite a few of Russians on that team. And it helped in a lot of ways but didn't help me with my English. When there are Russians around you, you can come up to them and ask questions, and they will translate, explain, show you everything. My English improved dramatically when I was traded to Florida and became the only Russian there."
You were 19 when you came to the NHL. I spoke with Sergei Fedorov a month or so ago, and he said that back then in the early 90s such young players could come to the NHL because in a lot of ways they were ready. Fedorov, for example, played for CSKA, the Soviet National Team with a lot of very experienced players where he soaked everything like a sponge in terms of experience and readiness for the NHL. Were you ready for the NHL when you were 19?
"You know, yes I had a great experience learning at Dynamo Moscow for two years where we won the championship the first year and lost in the finals in the second. We had a great team and a lot of guys from that team came to the NHL. We even still keep in touch. So, I think I did everything right when I came here when I was 19. I don't regret anything."
But now in Russia the foundation for young players is not the same. There are no so-called "base clubs" like CSKA or Dynamo Moscow were at the time where young players learned a lot from the best. Now young Russian players coming over here are just not ready and are sent to the AHL most of the time.
"You see, they don't spend time in the AHL, because most go back. It is difficult for me to compare then and now. Because when I was 17 there was still this old school Russian hockey, Soviet hockey, a lot of great veteran players played in Russia and I could learn from them. I didn't get to play with as many fantastic veterans in Russia as Sergei Fedorov did when he was at CSKA. But I still learned and understood what type of hockey I should play. But now I don't know how strong the Russian league is when compared to the old times."
Moving on to the KHL?
Fedorov told me right away that players should know which teams pick them and for what position before deciding to come over. Because most of the young players are simply not ready.
"Well, I think if you are playing in Russia for a great club under a great coach, then it makes sense to come. Like, for example, Alex Ovechkin, who played for Dynamo Moscow and they became the Superleague champions the year before he left. Or Evgeni Malkin with Metallurg Magnitogorst, which is a great club. And if you a re player playing for an average team, then maybe it won't make sense to move. However, Alex Radulov left to play in juniors here. So it is very individual. Like Radulov, who started playing great here. And someone maybe stayed in Russia and now we don't know what kind of player he is going to turn out to be."
Are you following the KHL?
"Honestly, not really. Only when I call my friends and ask what's going on there, what the news is and so on."
The reason I am asking is because it is the final year of your contract here. Have you considered going back?
"We'll wait and see. I read some news that there is a team that is not paying its players. This is the only thing that concerns me. Although it is very tempting to play back home again. But this instability..."
How about playing for SKA St Petersburg, for example? They have Gazprom money behind them.
"Well, I am also hearing that player salaries could be slashed [Ed Note: It has actually been dismissed by the KHL a couple of days ago, according to Dmitry]. So all these nuances are not really helping when considering a move to Russia, because it is still unstable. Someone said ‘Let's slash salaries.' And what if they really do it? And here whatever is put in your contract you're going to receive"
Not really. After the lockout player salaries came down even on existing contracts. The current CBA is going to run out soon. And in the current economic crisis no one knows what's going to happen.
"Of course everything is possible. That's why there is no such certainty, anything can happen. Maybe that's the interesting part of our lives, speaking philosophically. There is not stability."
So, you haven't thought about the future?
"Why not? I have been thinking about my future for the past three years. Every summer I receive offers from clubs in Russia, I also see guys going back. A lot of them are happy, they say that it's not that bad. They say arenas are getting better, hardly anyone now lives away from their families. So, why not? I have only very good memories from playing there during the lockout. I liked it."
Life and Family in the Sunshine State
Let's go back in time once again. When you were traded to Florida you were 21, young, lots of money, beautiful girls, Miami. Was it difficult to concentrate on hockey in south Florida?
"To be honest with you I had absolutely no problems concentrating on hockey. The problem was that once you have lived in a great place you don't appreciate it enough, don't appreciate living there. It is a great place for vacations, but you live there constantly, and you get more than enough of this ocean, this weather, and you start thinking ‘Enough already, I want cold!' I am telling you! No lies! Someone might think ‘This guy is unappreciative.' But this is truly so that when you live somewhere at one point you stop comprehending that you live in such a great place. I had a great apartment on the ocean, I would come out to my balcony and see the beach, people sunbathing, I looked at it, ate my cereal, got out to my car and left for practice. Then I came back, had dinner and slept. I didn't care about the ocean during the season, I didn't even swim in it. And when the season was over it was still difficult to relax. Because it is difficult to vacation where you live and work, because still all your thoughts and energy are about work, you constantly think about it. And you can't even relax, even though you live in one of the greatest places. This was the situation."
But your family still lives in Florida.
"Yes, my family has been living there for the last three years. They come over a lot though. It is all because of school for my daughter. Her name is Sasha [Alexandra], she's 6 years old. But this is the life of a hockey player. You can be traded at anytime. So we decided not to move. I had a year contract with the Islanders, and we thought it didn't make sense to move. When I came to Washington it was the same thing because I was only offered a two year deal. But my child adopted in Florida, learned the language, started interacting with other children, all friends were there, and it was just easier for my family to stay."
Is it difficult for you to be away from your family?
"It is very difficult, honestly. But you get used to it. And they also come over to see me, I go over to see them. But it actually is better for my family life, more romance. Your wife comes over and it's like the first time, you know, dates."
You probably use Skype a lot to talk to your family.
"Skype? No, not really. I am old school. I like the phone. No social sites either. You need time for those, and I'd rather talk to my friends on the phone."
And how did you meet your wife?
"Our mutual friend introduced us to each other, when I was with San Jose. We came to play in New York, and that's where we met."
Inside the Islanders' Circus Tent
About New York. When you were with the Islanders and played under Ted Nolan, all of a sudden you were in a situation when your backup goalie became the GM. From the outside it looked pretty bizarre.
"You know what, I liked the words of the Islanders' owner that he said at a dinner with our sponsors after a golf tournament: 'A lot of people are asking me about the non-standard way I run my business. But I am too rich and too old to listen to what others tell me. I do what I want and how I want it.' But it is really true. He is the owner. If he wanted that person, he got that person."
But how about the atmosphere within the team? One day you're sitting next to him in the locker room, the next day he is the GM?
"There were absolutely no problems, all the guys felt good about him. Everyone respected him as the GM right away. He never put up any fences or anything like that, he never scared the guys, never yelled at anyone. He said ‘If you have a problem, come to me and say.' Everything was good."
What cities do you like the most when it comes to playing?
"Every city. Every city has a special atmosphere inside their arenas. It is difficult to point out something really special. Of course it is more enjoyable to play when the arena is full."
When you came to Washington there weren't a lot of people in the stands.
"Yes, it's true. But it all depends on the way the team is playing. I had the same situation with the Islanders. Everywhere people like when their team is winning. Winning brings people to the games."
Some say that Washington is not a hockey town. Edmonton always sells out regardless of how the team is playing.
"Any city is a hockey town if the team is winning. There are places like San Jose, when I came there every game was sold out regardless of how we were playing."
The Gold Medal versus the Stanley Cup
Last spring you missed the World Championships in Canada where Russia won gold. Did you not go because of an injury?
"No. It was because of my family. I didn't see them the entire year and didn't want to spend three more weeks away from them. I felt I didn't have the right to do so because of my daughter. I talked to the head coach of the National Team, and he understood."
Did you regret not going?
"Not at all. I was really happy for the guys. I worried about the guys, supported them, watched the game online, because it was not shown on TV. There was not a hint of jealousy, I was sincerely happy."
How about the upcoming Olympics? Do you want to go?
"Yes, if they take me, I will go."
What's more important for you to win: the Stanley Cup or the Olympic gold?
"It is very difficult to say. Winning both would be an honor. In Russia, the Olympic gold is valued much more than the Cup. But these are both equally important trophies. It is difficult to say."
A lot of people argue as to which is more difficult to win. Most think it is the Cup because of the intensity of the playoffs.
"Yes, yes. Because of this marathon, these battles. I don't have a lot of playoff experience. I went to the second round with New Jersey, that's as far as I got. But when you watch it on TV, you see how difficult it is. A couple of years ago I watched the Ottawa Anaheim series, I saw these guys flying cross country every other day, I saw how tired they looked. Just like squeezed lemons. And the Olympics, even though it is played every four years, it is a quick tournament: you have a group stage, a quarterfinal, a semifinal and the final. That's it. Three important games. You can motivate yourself for these three games. But the Stanley Cup finals is a marathon and not a sprint."
Has Fedorov ever come to the dressing room with his three Cup rings? To motivate?
"No, he never has. He never showed them off. I have to actually ask him to show me. Trust me, here you don't need a motivation, because all the guys playing in the NHL want to win the Cup."
Kozlov on Christmas, Beer, Speeding and Cops
Christmas and New Years' are almost here. Maybe you can tell us a hockey holiday story?
"A New Years' story? Listen, I haven't celebrated this holiday in 15 years. We always seem to have games on January 1. Do you want to hear home Christmas spirit from me? It doesn't exist! That's because we have games every other day. Especially this time of the year when people are on holiday. I am actually used to it. It started when I was 15 when I started participating in junior and other hockey tournaments that usually take place around this time. So I haven't had a proper celebration in years."
What's your favorite beer or other adult beverage of choice?
"Beer? I like beer. I like Spaten. Have you heard of it? The best is fresh draught beer. There is a lot of European draughts in Russia, not so much here. I only drink it in the summer."
Don't you have a brewery right below Kettler? They may have draughts.
"Yes, I know about that brewery. But what will it look like? I work right above it [laughing]. I don't do it during the season, because it is difficult with beer. It is heavy. It gets very difficult to practice and play after beer. It's OK in the summer though."
And what's your favorite cuisine? Maybe favorite restaurants here in DC?
"I eat everything. I am not picky. I like every cuisine but French. Because they have big plates and small portions. I like everything else, I am not spoiled. As far as restaurants, we are very conservative. We go to Morton's, Café Milano, the Russia House has good food. We all go together usually."
And when you go out and sit at a table, do people recognize you?
"If we go together with Ovechkin or Fedorov, then yes. And people usually think of me as their agent or a bodyguard or something. But no one bothers us. Even if anyone asks for an autograph it is always very polite. No problems."
What car are you driving these days? And what's your dream car?
"I had a BMW X5, but I sold it. Now I own a black Mercedes, it is my dream car. An S 63 AMG. It has a little less than Ovechkin's 65, but enough for me. Police are happy when they see me."
"Because they caught me a couple of times. I don't know where Ovechkin and Semin can race, because here police hide behind every bush."
And when cops stop you, do they recognize you?
"Sometimes. They let me go a couple of times. But once I got pulled over and the cop game me four points. I decided to go to court. I talked to my lawyer, who told me that he couldn't guarantee anything but wanted to take my money for his work. And I told him ‘What do I need you for if you can't guarantee anything?' So I am not stuck with four points."
Maybe that cop was a Pittsburgh fan?
"I don't know. Although once I owned a bulldog and had to transport him from Florida to New York. And in the summer it is not allowed to transport bull breeds in airplane cargo spaces, because of fears of suffocation. Airlines don't take the responsibility for transporting bull breeds. So every summer I had to take my bulldog to New Jersey to my in-laws before my family and I traveled to Russia for the summer. For seven years, I had no problems driving up I-95. And last year I relaxed a little bit and was caught doing 100 miles per hour in North Carolina. It was an undercover cop, and I wasn't paying attention, thought of something, and passed him in an unmarked car. He then caught up with me and asked why I was in such a hurry. I told him of being very tired, wanting to get home soon. He was very nice and only gave me a fine that I had to pay."
What do you enjoy the most when playing hockey?
"Honestly, I love everything. I like to pass, I like to score, I like to deke, I like to run, I like to jump."
Maybe you don't like taking penalties?
"Who likes that?"
"Oh, that's his job."
Why isn't he fighting lately?
"Because everyone is scared of him. There are very few heavyweights like him in the NHL. Otherwise it will be a 'bloody murder.'"
Dmitry Chesnokov is a writer for Sovietsky Sport, where potions of this interview were schedule to publish today.
- Sidney Crosby