Photo: Bruce Bennett
Over the last weekend of January, Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was in whirlwind he will never forget. When teammate Alex Ovechkin dropped out of the All-Star Game due to a lower-body injury, his open spot was given to another Russian-born superstar-in-the-making. Stars were aligned, plane tickets were purchased, and Kuznetsov made his way to Nashville to participate in his first All-Star Game.
It was Kuzy’s first ASG appearance (along with teammates and other first-timers Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom), but it’s unlikely it would be his last. Kuznetsov currently leads the NHL in primary assists (34) and has 58 points in 56 games played. He has shined in his role as a top-six forward, and has recently been promoted to the first line, playing next to Alex Ovechkin.
Earlier this month, Sport-Express’ Natalia Shmeleva spoke with Kuznetsov, touching on Barry Trotz’s contribution in Washington and how it feels to be on a winning team. Most notable, however, is Kuznetsov’s support of ASG underdog John Scott, who won the title of MVP in the game, recording two goals and an assist.
A photo posted by John Scott (@jhs_32) on
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was so unexpected. All of a sudden they call me up to go to Nashville. We got together as a family and went there. We really liked it a lot. I have been to All-Star Games in Russia before, but this is a bit different level. I was amazed how everything was organized for the fans – for free. We hung out, enjoyed it very much. There were concerts, festivities, celebrations all over the place.
Natalia Shmeleva: What was your impression regarding the Cinderella story of one of the four captains, John Scott? Was his star moment set up by the NHL PR machine, or was it a true magical story?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: As far as I recall, at first he was “picked up” by the fans, and then nobody interfered. Everybody was watching how the events would unfold. Personally, I would thank all those who voted for him. They gave the guy a present of two unforgettable days. I talked to John; he was very happy.
Natalia Shmeleva: So, in your opinion, everything that happened was, indeed, sincere?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Oh yes, they gave the man a holiday, he came in and played well. Scored two goals, had an assist.
Natalia Shmeleva: You mentioned that you were not allowed to execute your first script for the breakaway challenge, and you had to come up with an alternative. What was the idea?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: At this point it doesn’t matter. When I saw what the other guys came up with, I realized I had no chance. Subban and Burns had no competition.
Natalia Shmeleva: In Washington, aside from the Russian quartet there is also a powerful Swedish group – Backstrom, Burakovsky, Johansson. Is there a competition between you that journalists love to look for?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Within the team, there is no separation by nationality. Of course, we can get together as compatriots, but we hang out with Canadians and Americans all the same. We don’t care what passport a guy has, we are all here to win the Cup. Our team is very international and tight; that is our strength. I see something like this for the first time in my life.
Natalia Shmeleva: Is there any negative impact on the attitude Americans have toward you because of politics?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t see anything like that at all. The fans love us, as always. Maybe even give us more attention, because we are playing well and winning. They love us even more.
Natalia Shmeleva: The leading position Washington is in – does it add psychological pressure, or help?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Personally, I like it. We earned the spot at the top of the table by playing well. We are trying to stay in that position. There is nothing negative about this situation, it’s all positive.
Natalia Shmeleva: What do you think about your coach Barry Trotz’s contribution to your team success?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It’s like the fish and its head – whichever way it looks, that’s the direction the fish is swimming. When Trotz came to the team, you could feel it right away. He is an extraordinary person. He found a special approach to every player, not force everybody into the same frame. I had never had a chance to work with a coach like him before.
Natalia Shmeleva: Did he give you the Harry Potter nickname?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No, that’s the guys. He likes to call me that. Everybody likes it. It’s not a bad nickname.
Natalia Shmeleva: Recently there was an incident on the ice that was followed by a trip to the hospital because of suspected concussion. Does the team educate the players about the dangers of returning to the ice prematurely after a head injury?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Every year prior to the season we undergo testing. Like any other injury, a concussion that is not healed properly may recur. I understand that recurring concussions can result in serious situations, Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t really like to talk about it, but when something like that happens, you start learning the details. So far I feel great, and the tests demonstrated that everything is on a proper shelf inside my head. I hope to make it to the old age healthy.
Translation by Igor Kleyner.
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