Photo: Rob Carr
One year ago, Evgeny Kuznetsov came to North America. On a spring morning, he took the ice for the first time in a Washington uniform after signing a two-year entry level contract. Save for Capitals coaches, Kuznetsov was alone. Still, cameras followed him incessantly down the ice.
Soon after, RMNB spoke to Kuznetsov for the first time. Last Sunday, we did it again. There was a fair bit to discuss. For Kuznetsov, it’s hard to imagine a more dramatic shift in just one season. So far, he’s been a fourth liner, a second-line second, a healthy scratch, and finally, a playoff hero. Off the ice, Kuznetsov endeared himself to his teammates and became a media darling.
Naturally, we had both asinine and serious questions for Kuzy. He happily obliged.
Igor Kleyner: Your progress with English is great. What is your secret?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I just listen to what the guys say in the locker room. Try to watch American TV as much as I can.
IK: How much does interacting with your teammates help?
EK: Yes, of course. Everything is in English, I listen and speak a lot, try to understand everything that is said around me, just picking up whatever words I can, and then figure out how to use them and in which situation.
IK: You often hear that hockey is different during the playoffs – how do you see that, based on the series against the Islanders and how this one started out?
EK: Well, I wouldn’t say the game is completely different – it is still the same hockey. The main difference in my opinion is how the players view the game. I mean, unlike the regular season, where you play a team once and move on, here you keep playing against the same opponent until one team wins four games. So you need to find a strategy that will help your team get to those four wins first – and learn quickly from the mistakes that you make and maybe change something. You know it’s like everybody at the end of a day tries to think – what did I do right today? What mistakes did I make? Doesn’t even matter if you are a hockey player or not – everybody should do that. And every hockey player wants to develop into a better player, wants to improve.
IK: Any idea why both times the team had an early game this postseason, you started very slowly?
EK: Yeah, I think it’s not ideal to start a game so early. But at the same time, it’s the same for both teams – they have to start at noon just like we do. So I am not sure I understand why we started both of those games so badly. So we need to learn our lesson and correct our mistakes in the future.
IK: Ever had such an early game when you were playing in Russia?
EK: Nobody would show up for the game! [laughing] I am joking, of course. But 5 o’clock is the earliest a game would start on a weekend, and on a weekday it’s always 7 o’clock.
IK: A few years ago, after losing to the Rangers in the second round, Alex Semin told me that while he usually doesn’t change how he plays based on who is the other team’s goalie, playing against Lundquist he thought it was pointless to use any “tricks”, and the only way to overcome King Henrik was to put lots of shots on him. Do you make any adjustments to your game depending on who the goalie is?
EK: Well, if I had a shot as good as Sasha Semin, I would also just keep shooting the puck! But my shot is not that good. I haven’t had a chance to go one on one with Lundquist yet, so I don’t know… but of course, he is one of the greatest goalies – maybe not even one of the best in the game today, but even in the history of hockey. I also heard he is a great person as well, not just a hockey player, so I have nothing but respect for him. But you know, we did manage to score a few, so it is not impossible, we just need to shoot the puck, and… Scoring from a rebound is still legal as far as I know!
We spent the next few minutes talking about Kuzy’s friend and mentor Brooks Orpik, and after finding out about the coolest nickname given to Brooks by his young Russian protege, I couldn’t help but inquire about Kuzy’s own new moniker, bestowed on him by the Caps dynamic youngster duo of Michael Latta and Tom Wilson.
Igor Kleyner: I hear you are now called Harry Potter…
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yeah!… That’s Lats and Willy, thanks to them!
IK: Are you a big fan of the series?
EK: Not really, it just happened during practice, I was doing tricks with my stick, so they started calling me Harry Potter, and it stuck!
IK: So is that what everybody calls you know?
EK: Yeah, it’s Potter now… not on the ice, but like after I score a goal, and come to the bench, they all say “Harry!” I don’t mind; it’s pretty cool.
IK: You even have your new nickname stitched on your suit?
EK: Yeah, when I was getting my suit, they asked me what name to put on it, so I told them Harry Potter.
Throughout the interview, I was (alas, unsuccessfully) trying ask a question that might bring me an “It’s not my first rodeo!” answer. Having failed at that, I begged Evgeny to say on the record the phrase that he has became famous for among Caps fans. I only got a “maybe sometime in the future.”
But regardless of the number of rodeos under his belt, we’ll be enjoying watching Kuzy’s magical moves on the ice for years to come– and his presence on this blog as well.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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