By Igor Kleyner
When it comes to handing out cool nicknames to their teammates, we think hockey players are second to none. The current crop of Capitals are certainly doing their fair share of creative nicknaming. When the NHL mic’d up Tom Wilson for a first round game against the Islanders, we learned that Alex Ovechkin’s moniker is Destroyer – or at least that’s what Willy Baby calls him. And who can forget the “Big Cheese” Joel Ward; I mean, how can it possibly get any cooler than Big Cheese!?
In my opinion, it just did, courtesy of the two Caps players, who, as The Washington Post recently discovered, developed a strong and somewhat surprising friendship during the course of this season: Russian rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov and grizzled American veteran Brooks Orpik.
I spoke to Kuznetsov Sunday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as the team prepared for game three.
Igor Kleyner: We have heard about your somewhat surprising close relationship with one of the team veterans – Brooks Orpik…
Evgeny Kuznetsov: [Interrupting question, smiling ear to ear] Batya!
IK: Is that his nickname?
EK: Yes. Batya. He is a great guy. Very nice, funny… I feel like he is Russian. In everything, the way he acts, the way he behaves around the team, and not even just hockey stuff – life in general… he really is a good guy, a real bat’ka of the team!
Now, what in the world is this “Batya”, you are probably asking at this point, and why is it supposed to be so cool? Well, Batya (or even less formal form Bat’ka) is a Russian colloquialism for “dad.”
It is very informal, but carries a great amount of respect. In other words, you don’t just call someone Batya because he is older– it’s a title that conveys certain deference and appreciation, albeit in a light-hearted manner. To make it even more interesting, Orpik is not the first Batya in Kuznetsov’s budding hockey career– and many Caps fans will recognize the name of the other one.
Igor Kleyner: That nickname, Batya – isn’t that what [ex-Cap] Andrei Nikolishin’s nickname was when you two played together in Chelyabinsk?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Well, I need to have a Bat’ka on every team I play! It’s true, I like it when I can find a real, grown-up veteran on a team and build a good relationship with him. I try to interact more with “adults,” you can learn a lot from them.
IK: So you generally prefer to hang out with older guys?
EK: Oh no, of course I am also friends with guys of my age! But it’s like… you know – my generation is Pepsi, right?! [laughing] We need to look at the older guys and try to learn from them. For me, it’s just a pleasure to have this opportunity to look up to Brooks and try to learn from him. I have learned a lot from him.
IK: So, was it you who nicknamed Brooks Batya?
EK: Well, it wasn’t like I just gave him a nickname –we asked him if it was all right for us to call him Batya, and explained what that meant – and now the whole team calls him that. He likes it! It is not a mocking or offensive nickname at all. It just fits him right. He has so much experience; he is one of the few who got to raise the Cup – we don’t have many other guys like that. He just finds a lot of the right words, and those words are easy to understand even for someone like me who doesn’t speak much English.
IK: Is he a figure of authority for other young players?
EK:He is like that to all players. That’s the thing – he tries to help us. He doesn’t close himself off, he interacts with us, sometimes with humor – he tries to point to us what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong.
So, there you have it – Brooks Orpik may not have the best stats on the team, but as far as Evgeny Kuznetsov is concerned, Batya’s real value goes far beyond his Corsis and Fenwicks. #TeamBatya anybody? Count me in.
Headline photo: Ian Oland
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