Photo: Bruce Bennett
It’s summer, which means we should be expecting Russian NHLers to do what they normally do: jet-ski on a lake in the middle of Siberia and maybe judge a beauty contest in Moscow. This summer, however, has been a bit different for Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is spending his summer break on this continent while he takes care of his newborn daughter.
In a three-part interview (1, 2, 3) with Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov, Kuznetsov talks about his baby (his daughter’s middle name is Evgenia) and the negotiations behind his new two-year contract with the Washington Capitals.
“It is not a secret that I wanted a long-term deal,” Kuznetsov said. “But we ran out of time. And decided that two years is the right option, and Washington did not object.”
That, and literally a million other things are covered in this mammoth interview.
Pavel Lysenkov: A grandiose event occurred in the life of Evgeny Kuznetsov and his wife Anastasia – they became parents.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: We had no problems picking out a name. We had two in mind, and picked Ecenia. I don’t even recall the other one… Ah, Vasilisa.
Here in America instead of a patronym there is a middle name. So, the full name is Ecenia Evgenia. We liked it right away.
PL: Do you go for walks next to the White House?
EK: No, it’s too crowded there. We go to the park, or to the mall. Actually, when a child is asleep in a stroller – that is mom and dad’s happiness.
PL: When you became a dad, did your world turn upside down?
EK: It’s such a big tremendous joy, you don’t even realize it at first. Now we just live for one person.
PL: Do you get any sleep?
EK: Yes, I have been training for four weeks now. My wife lets me sleep at night. I try to help out during the day and when I have a day off.
I am training with the team coach, just like I did last year. It’s convenient – everything you need is in the room. When ice is available, we skate. I also do running by myself.
PL: You didn’t go to Russia this year.
EK: I had to take care of paperwork, negotiate a new contract with Washington, look for a new apartment. So we decided to spend our vacation somewhere in America. I went to Russia only for a week, to take care of some stuff.
PL: Where are you moving to?
EK: Same apartment building as Dima Orlov. Same neighborhood, but we decided to change it up a bit. You get tired of living in the same place.
PL: How is Orlov’s health? He missed the whole last season because of the injury.
EK: He went to Hershey in the spring, played three games there. He was ready to play, and if anybody got injured during the playoffs he would step right in. But they let him know that it would be difficult to just throw him out there after missing a whole year. Dima understood that.
PL: You signed a new two-year deal with Washington and posted a picture of yourself on Instagram where you look like you haven’t had enough sleep lately.
EK: That’s an old photo. I just had to post something because of the occasion, so I picked that one.
What complicated the contract negotiations was the July 5th deadline for us to make a deal. Otherwise, both the team and I would have a right to file for arbitration. But nobody wanted to go through that. So we came to an agreement rather promptly. Both sides got what they were looking for. I think I signed a very good contract.
PL: Why specifically a two-year deal?
EK: It is not a secret that I wanted a long-term deal. But we ran out of time and decided that two years is the right option, and Washington did not object.
So, I’ll just have to prove to myself that I can play in the NHL even better.
PL: Your WJC buddy Vladimir Tarasenko surprised the experts and exploded the market with his 8-year, $60 million deal with Saint Louis.
EK: Only those who don’t follow hockey should be surprised. There is actually a tendency in Russia to only pay attention to goals and assists. Nobody knows how a guy plays the game. Because nobody watches the games, so that is a huge negative.
I try not to miss games. So, Volodya had a terrific season and earned his money. I am not surprised at all. I’ll even go further – he could have gotten even more. How many games he carried the team! All that work he does, you can’t see it on TV.
PL: Why are so many Russians leaving for the NHL this year? Is it because of the crisis?
EK: Just that people learned everything about the KHL, and now they want to see a different league. If you are invited, why not go? It’s not the young kids who are leaving, but national team players, accomplished hockey guys. Plotnikov, Tikhonov, Panarin…
Good for them to decide to test themselves overseas. It’s not about the crisis. Everybody wants to participate in the World Cup and Olympics. If you are playing in the NHL, your chances to make the national team are better.
PL: But the guys are starting from nothing. They get small contracts. Plotnikov even had to buy himself out of his deal with Lokomotiv for half a million dollars.
EK: That makes it even more interesting! As an athlete, you need to motivate yourself constantly. I wouldn’t say there wasn’t enough of that in the KHL. Winning is important everywhere. But in the NHL you are told: “You are nobody and nothing. Go, climb out. Make a new name for yourself.”
It’s like going back to school. The guys are living in very interesting times, when everybody can discover a hockey America for himself.
PL: And for you, has there been a moment when you felt lowly?
EK: Of course. When, for example, you get 5-6 minutes of ice time. But the coaches kept saying, “Be patient.” Maybe they were testing me, looking at my character, would I do the little things that are required.
I used to think that was not very important. But when you are forced to – you learn something new. And then, one day, I was told: “That’s it, you are on the second line. This is your chance, grab it.”
So the way it worked out, I stepped up and proved they were right to believe in me. That was the toughest moment. You are watching the game from the stands and waiting for your chance to play.
Many say they would go back to Russia. But I realized, you need to be confident and keep working. There are plenty of examples around. Here in the NHL, they pay a lot of attention to you, look at every little detail.
So that’s how it works: those who break, go home. Those who don’t break, stay.
PL: What are your most memorable moments of the season? Maybe your goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Islanders and the Rangers?
EK: There are so many games, you don’t get too hung up on anything. Once it’s over, you flash it out of your head. After losses, it’s hard. During the regular season, when there is tough competition for playoff spots, you realize you may end up going on vacation too early. You really don’t want to do that!
The team atmosphere is also important, how the coaches motivate you. Here in Washington everything was very positive, and we survived through difficult times.
PL: Did you feel a bit of a snub when team Russia only kept one spot on their roster during the World Championship – for Alex Ovechkin. Seemingly, they all just forgot about Evgeny Kuznetsov.
EK: Don’t compare me with Sasha. Everybody understands, even if Ovechkin has an injury, he’ll still join the national team and give them all he’s got. Tired, exhausted, he flies from Washington to Prague and shows his highest level.
How can I have any complaints? No! I was a bit disappointed that nobody even called me, talked to me. I even got concerned a bit.
But life is such thing, you should never hold a grudge. Everything is in my hands. If I play well – I’ll make the national team. And I am ready to come whenever they ask.
EK: There are plenty of Russian stores in Washington. Recently my wife made okroshka. There is no such thing as American kvass – thus, we are drinking kvass from Vyatka.
PL: You have everything you need in the States?
EK: As far as food is concerned – yes. I do miss Russian people though. Family, friends – they are far away.
PL: [Do you watch] KVN?
EK: On the internet. I really like two guys from DALS [ed. note – a team participating in KVN competition]. They are a riot! I like old KVN, Comedy Club, Ural Pelmeni. I love Stas Yarushin from Univer. Even though I know every episode by heart, it’s always nice to see his smile on TV.
PL: When are you going to do another episode of Univer?
EK: Oh, why would anybody need an actor like me?! They don’t ask me anymore!
PL: But a week ago, you made a brief appearance in this music video.
EK: There is this producer Gazgolder, they put on a concert at Green Park every year. And I have a friend in Chelyabinsk who was invited to the festival. And precisely at the same time I was in Russia – so I took part in the project.
EK: Yes, of course. I think good people need to be friends with good people. Basta has the right outlook on life, it’s just a pleasure to hang out with him. We met through a mutual friend in Chelyabinsk. Basta later came to the World Championship, he also came to visit in America.
EK: It’s a Kobe Bryant shirt. I had a contract with this company, they paid me a certain amount. I was ordering their stuff, grabbing everything – including this shirt.
Actually, Bryant is an incredible athlete. You probably cannot compare him with Michael Jordan, but Kobe is a legend. A giant. I hope he is going to come back from surgery and will be picking up 30-40 points a game next season, just like he used to.
PL: Do you like basketball?
EK: Yes, I try to watch NBA, don’t miss it on TV. This is basketball that is worth watching!
PL: All kinds of stories associated with [famous sons of Chelyabinsk] this summer: Bykov quit [head coaching job after winning KHL championship with SKA], Slava Voynov in jail, Andrey Nazarov and the doctor story. Which one has touched you in any way?
EK: That people in Chelyabinsk are complaining – life is not good, the roads are horrible, money is tight, pensions are tiny. Life is not so good in my home town. A lot of pollution from the factories – expecting mothers talk about difficult pregnancies. Environmental problems…
I think it was different when Mikhail Yurevich [Ed. note – who also happened to be Traktor Chelyabinsk president while Kuzy played there] was the governor a couple of years ago. Because I follow the news. And I am upset about what’s going on in my home country. I have parents, friends who live there. A lot has changed in the last two years. When I came home, I saw it with my own eyes.
PL: Where did you catch such tremendous lightning storm, which you also posted on Instagram?
EK: We had like two weeks of rain, one after another. That’s what it looked like from our place. I got a bit tired of watching it all day long. It was even scary a little. The lightning strikes went on for like three hours.
I have to say the nature is amazing in Washington. It’s the nation’s capital, but you can see a deer in the suburbs. There are geese and squirrels right in the middle of the city. Lots of various creatures. And in springtime, during playoffs, the cherry trees were blooming. We woke up, looked out the window – and the whole city turned pink.
PL: You were teasing Semyon Varlamov: “don’t scream like you did in Atlantic City.” What did you mean?
EK: Last year we went there to see Sergey Kovalev, he is a boxer from Chelyabinsk. When we were cheering him on, waving flags, we were screaming like little kids. I thought Varlamov went to see another boxing match, that’s why I was teasing him.
PL: Are you happy about Fedor Emelyanenko’s comeback?
EK: That is great news. I really want to see Fedya doing his thing. He is a Russian sports legend. The whole world knows Emelyanenko. His will, character, the right words. It’s not just talk, that’s his nature. Fedor is a great representative for our country.
PL: You posted this Vitaly Mutko video [Russia’s Sports Minister and member of FIFA Executive Committee, mixing Russian/English gibberish viral]. [Ed note – full video is here, and here, and they are hilarious] Are there a lot of characters like that in America? Brighton Beach maybe?
EK: Sometimes I am like that myself. Our American friends say, “You Russians can be heard from afar. You are like barking dogs.” Meaning, we are always so ill-mannered with each other.
And, indeed, I have noticed that we do speak somewhat coarse language, even when switching to English. But if you learn the language well, it goes away.
Regardless, when I run into a Russian person, I smile. It’s nice to see your own kind.
PL: You should be more kind to each other.
EK: When I went to Russia, I noticed – maybe the level of nastiness has come down. There is more respect. Many now understand, even if something or someone bothers you – you don’t have to be rude. Guys, let’s live in a friendly way.
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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