By Igor Kleyner
With Fedor Fedin concentrating full-time on Prospect Watch, RMNB needed a new translator. After a few months of searching, RMNB is finally happy to introduce Igor Kleyner. Igor is a native of St Petersburg, Russia, who transplanted himself to the Washington D.C. area around the same time Peter Bondra came to town in the early nineties. He currently works at Nasa and designs electronics for their spacecraft. Yes, another member of the team that can now beat Peter at Words with Friends.
In Igor’s first translation, he has chosen to share with us a long, revealing interview with Caps 2010 First Round Pick Evgeny Kuznetsov, which was first published by Sports.ru this past Monday and authored by another Igor, Igor Zhukov. The story is entitled “A Hero of our Time,” which apparently is a reference to a novel all Russian Middle Schoolers are forced to read. (These are the details we love knowing.) Anyways, check out Igor’s first translation below!
Traktor-centric, the Sports.ru blog dedicated to the KHL’s Traktor Chelyabinsk, recently spoke with the top forward of the team, Evgeny Kuznetsov, whose nine goals this season make him the team’s second leading goal scorer. Fantastic North American defenseman Deron Quint, leads the Black-and-Whites with 13.
Our conversation occurred just before Zhenya’s departure for Russia’s WJC camp and it touched on a variety of subjects: Traktor’s recent string of bad luck, what it’s like to be coached by Valery Belousov, Evgeny’s post-game showmanship, and the upcoming U-20 World Junior Championships tournament in the United States.
Igor Zhukov – The club’s business is left behind. The World Championship is now ahead of you. Nevertheless, is it possible to analyze Traktor’s trajectory in the standings so far this season?
Evgeny Kuznetsov – We are definitely not where we should be. It seems like we aren’t playing badly at all, but we are constantly coming up just a little bit short. Bad luck.
IZ – Are you happy with your game and scoring? It appears you aren’t doing bad at all. Not every 18 year old manages to score 9 goals in the KHL.
EK – I don’t want to separate myself from the team. If I am doing well – but there is no result for the team – who needs that? I am working the same way I always have. I just happened to score a few more goals than last year, and am having a bit better luck. This is, after all, already my second season playing among adults.
IZ – What is your best goal this season?
EK – Probably the first one. The one I scored in Magnitka. You remember the first one for a long time. And, we beat Metallurg at their arena for the first time in 16 years. So, that would be the one.
IZ – You know, everybody says that your game is becoming more and more mature, and that you have progressed a lot this year. Do you feel that way?
EK – Yes, of course, I feel this. Most importantly, I’ve gained confidence. Also, Belousov trusts me. It’s very important. When you score the team benefits and you feel good and you become more confident. You feel much better.
IZ – Traktor is forced to play catch-up against the competition. Obviously, this is more difficult than to maintain an advantage.
EK – Honestly, I don’t really think about that. No particular psychology here. At least, not for me. We have a goal – to win every game, get the points.
IZ – For the first time in Traktor’s recent history, a new head coach was appointed during the season: Valery Belousov. How difficult are such changes for the players, since you need to adapt to the new coach’s methods and demands?
EK – It is not a problem for me at all. You simply have to accept the change and work in the new system. This is my first experience working with Belousov, and I am very happy to have him as a coach.
IZ – How interesting is it to work with Belousov?
EK – Very interesting! Our training sessions are always changing, except for the game day skate-around. The coach explains everything in very simple and detailed terms. The most important thing is to understand what is asked of you and execute. If everybody follows the coach’s instructions, the team will be winning.
IZ – Belousov is known for his powerful psychology. Have you had any individual conversations with him?
EK – Not just myself, he talks one-on-one with many guys. He speaks very calmly and confidently. It’s always a pleasure to talk to such a person.
IZ – During the first couple of weeks Valery Konstantinovich [Ed note: Belousov] tested his team a lot – high player turnover, lots of experimenting with line combinations. But then the lines settled. You are now always playing on the line with Andrei Popov and Anton Glinkin. Do you feel more comfortable playing with the same partners, or is it not that important?
EK – Of course, when you play with the same partners – you get used to each other, understand each other better. But the lineup is determined by the head coach. He knows who fits better with whom.
IZ – Are the “young guns” the best Traktor line?
EK – ::laughs:: That is not for me to decide. We try our best in every game, every moment to show our talents to the max.
IZ – How do you explain the jump in your goal scoring lately? Did it have anything to do with the upcoming World Junior Championship?
EK – From the very beginning of the season, I really wanted to make the WJC team, so I tried to prepare myself to peak in time for the New Year. But I have to admit, in some cases it was just sheer luck – a few pucks just found their way into the goal by accident.
IZ – So far you are not doing very well in the shootouts…
EK – I never score in shootouts! In practice I always score, never a problem. But in a game situation… I don’t know, maybe I am jinxed, just like Jagr. He doesn’t even participate in shootouts, because he never scores in them.
IZ – You are one of a few Traktor players who put on a show after the game. Why do you do that?
EK – The fans come to the game, and I want them to go home happy. By the way, I am not the only one who does it. We have done it with Petr Vampola a couple of times. It’s not an unusual practice in many European countries, especially the Czech Republic and Sweden. It’s no big deal. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.
IZ – Do you always improvise, or prepare something in advance?
EK – Nothing in advance. It’s always improvisation. After the final horn, we quickly agree on our act, and then we go ahead and implement it. For example, the last time Petr and I performed a canoe racing number ::smiles::.
IZ – Your contract with Traktor is good for another year and a half. Of course, everybody in Chelyabinsk would like for you to play here, but obviously, sooner or later you will leave to pursue your dream and play in the NHL. How do you envision your last game for Traktor?
EK – ::laughs:: Well, I think it’s too early to talk about it.
IZ – Earlier this year, Zenit St. Petersburg was honoring their player who was leaving, Radek Sirl. So, he spent a half of the game among the hardcore fans, on the platform from which the chants are lead. [Ed note: Imagine Ted building a special platform at VC for Goat.] Can you imagine a similar role for yourself – surrounded by your fans?
EK – When it is time for me to play that last game for Traktor, I will know in advance. If the fans want me in the stands among them – I will be there. But I would rather spend that game on the ice, wearing Traktor colors, and winning the game.
IZ – With the World Junior Championships coming up, how is your mood?
EK – Positive, of course. The main thing is to quickly become a team, for all of the new guys, including myself. The faster we do that, the better luck we’ll have. There is only one goal: to be first.
IZ – Will you feel more comfortable if Traktor teammate Anton Burdasov also goes to WJC?
EK – Of course, it’s always nice when you are not the only one from Chelyabinsk on the national team. We are good friends too.
IZ – Valery Bragin referred to your first round group at WJC as “the group of death”. What do you think about your opponents?
EK – It’s just a first round group. You just need to go out there and play, and not think too much, no matter if it’s Canada against you, Sweden, or somebody else. It’s just like playing for Traktor: it doesn’t matter if you are playing against Magnitogorsk, Kazan, or Novokuznetsk. You have to go out there fully-focused, and prove that you are the best. At my age, every game is worth its weight in gold. And for me personally, since I was drafted by the Capitals, every game I play I need to prove that I want to go there and am ready to play for them.
IZ – In the US, there will be representatives from the Capitals watching you. Will that be a motivating factor, or create an additional psychological burden of responsibility?
EK – I don’t ever pay attention to anybody. Even if my parents, my girlfriend, or my friends are in the stands. During the game, I don’t focus on anything except for the ice rink and I am fully into the game. When it’s over, I can acknowledge those who came to support me.
IZ – Are you familiar with coach Bragin?
EK – Not until I was picked for the team. I talked to him on the phone once.
IZ – What does he see your role on the team being?
EK – Valery Nikolaevich [Bragin] wants to play me in the middle. I like playing center. I play on the wing for the club though. Just because you need experience to play as a center.
IZ – Who are going to be your linemates?
EK – I don’t know. Everybody who makes the team is a good player.
IZ – Russia is opening the tournament against Canada. I can’t think of a better opening game. Will the atmosphere surrounding this affect your concentration?
EK – I think it is good that we are facing Canadians right away, and then the Swedes. We’ll be in it right away, we’ll have to prove our worth in the very first couple of games.
IZ – The team looked very good in the Subway Series. Don’t you think it improves the outlook?
EK – Of course. We all feel more confident in ourselves. A lot of us now have experience prevailing over Canadians. Let them be slightly shaky in anticipation of our meeting. Because they can not learn to play our style of hockey, while we can learn to play theirs. We can accept and understand their hockey and play with them. And succeed. [Ed note: Wow, trash talk.]
IZ – This is your fourth World Championship. You played in two U18 tournaments and one U20. So far, you have only managed to collect a silver medal for the U18 team in 2009. Are you determined to win the gold this time?
EK – Of course we would like to be in first place. There is no alternative – you’re either number one, or you have lost the tournament. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. All three tournaments I went to, we always talked about winning, and we never did. We need to learn to be calm. Less talk, and more action.
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