Photo: Jonathan Daniel
Earlier this week, we published a partial translation of an Evgeny Kuznetsov interview with Igor Rabiner of Sport-Express. Kuzy spoke about his ‘close’ friendship with Alex Ovechkin, how the team celebrated Ovi’s 500th goal, and how important the Stanley Cup is to him.
In the second part of the interview, Kuznetsov speaks about his affinity for Barry Trotz.
“I don’t think this coach will allow us to relax,” Kuznetsov says of Trotz. “He straightens you out very quickly. And our team has character, we won’t let ourselves take it easy. We work hard every practice, not to mention the games. We are very comfortable within our team off ice, and everybody works hard in training.
Kuznetsov and Rabiner also talks about Ovechkin’s leadership inside the locker room.
Igor Kleyner has your translation.
As you were taking your time for a few years moving to North America, many NHL clubs stopped picking Russians in the first round.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I think that’s a stereotype. Maybe there are some clubs that do that, every place is different. At least as far as Washington is concerned, that had no impact. Our team will always pick a Russian if he is better than someone else. Like last year, when we picked Ilya Samsonov, no one regrets it, even though he didn’t move here right away.
Was it hard to play 6-7 minutes a game on the fourth line in the beginning, miss shifts – you know, starting all over again?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I had to grind through that moment. Everybody believed in me and supported me. I chose this new life for myself. I wanted to challenge myself, and once I went down that road, I had to show my character. Besides, my friends, the teammates, the coaches – they all helped me.
As far as I understand, your English is all right. Otherwise you wouldn’t dictate that sharp post for the Player’s Tribune blog, which left such an impression on many people.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: If I knew the language well, I would tell even more. Anyway, it is still kind of difficult to tell stories from my life in English. I didn’t even prepare: they asked, and I answered the questions, whatever I could recall. When I need to, I understand and can say everything. But sometimes I can play dumb [smiling].
How quickly did you get used to your new life in America?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: What’s there to get used to? Home with my family, a game, a practice. My agent and my friends help me with everything else. With my apartment, with various paperwork. Right now, I just enjoy my life, and have no problems, just play hockey. I would wish that for any hockey player!
Does taking care of the baby consume a lot of energy?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: My wife is great. She does everything to let me sleep at night. When there is time, I try to help her. I can see how hard it is on her, when the baby is teething, for example, so I really look forward to our days off to spend time with my family. I am happy, because I am surrounded by good people.
Are you parents here with you all the time?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No, they travel back and forth. I hope, when we buy a house, there will be more room for my parents to stay longer, as well as for the in-laws. For now we are renting an apartment, but soon we’ll resolve this question.
Did you ever thought that this season’s success is god’s way to make it up to you for the last year in the KHL and the difficulties early in your NHL career?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: What’s important is to learn the right lessons. I believe in fate, but I also believe that you can change it for the better through hard work. I repeat: in this league, there are people to learn from. And if they believe in you, they trust you and help you. You cannot help but feel it, and you have to repay that trust. That’s what is happening with me right now.
How did Trotz help you?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: We had a lot of conversations. But I’ll leave it to him to explain that.
He did. According to him, you broke your psychological barrier during last year’s playoffs.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Of course. When you understand how to play here, and things start going your way; that’s a totally different feeling. And now I feel a very high level of trust from the coaches. And I feel confident. Also, it is easier for the young players to develop when the veterans believe in them.
How hard was it to move to center?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Here, hockey is a bit different. I needed time in order to get used to many little details, which I ignored at first. And then it turns out I was supposed to stress those details. It was good that the coach and the guys helped me understand that. And as soon as things started going my way, I got more ice time.
Is there a huge difference between this league and the KHL?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I wouldn’t say that. You just need to pay attention to details. Then you can stickhandle and be inventive. You just need to understand when you can afford to do that, and when you cannot. When you make a silly mistake, your team is scored against, and we lose a game, you realize that you cannot do that.
Are there any moments with Trotz when things start flying in the locker room?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: No. He is, of course, an emotional and demanding coach. But he can praise you, give a day off when we play the right way. Even if we lose a game! Because he sees that we tried, we fought, we played the right way. And sometimes we win without playing proper hockey. Then, a hard skate awaits us the next morning [smiling]. You can’t take it easy here.
Did Trotz tell you that his son teaches English in Vladimir?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes. We met his son when he visited in Washington. He speaks Russian. And there is a lot of positive stuff coming from him.
In other words, for a team with Russian players playing important roles, it would be hard to find a better coach!
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Yes. In general, Trotz changed a lot of things from how it was under the previous coach.
Washington was the first team in the league to reach 100 points. Are there any concerns that the team’s history of Bruce Boudreau era, when the team also won the regular season but never got to the Cup final, will repeat itself?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t think this coach will allow us to relax. He straightens you out very quickly. And our team has character, we won’t let ourselves take it easy. We work hard every practice, not to mention the games. We are very comfortable within our team off ice, and everybody works hard in training.
Is Ovechkin a tough captain? Can he chew someone out?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Anybody can do it on our team, but nobody does. Everybody respects each other, including Alex. If he chews you out, you deserved it.
Are you preparing a gift for his wedding? Has he invited you yet? He came to yours.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: We haven’t talked about it yet. If he invites me, I’ll be happy to come. There will be so many beautiful people there! [laughing]
Ovechkin missed the All Star Game because of his injury, and you replaced him. How did you feel at the time?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: As soon as they told us, I gathered my family and we went there. It was a great festive event for me. For three days, I was walking around, watching how everything was organized. The people I saw there! I met everybody, took pictures. There were stars no matter where you look. My first idea for the breakaway challenge got nixed, unfortunately. But when I saw what other guys came up with, I realized: it was hopeless.
You scored your first hat trick this season against Edmonton.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was great! That was my first hat trick ever playing at the pro level. Not even once while playing in the KHL, and here, in the NHL, right away! I want another one.
How was the famous blind pass born – when you skate behind the net and leave the puck for an empty net shot at the near post; people in the know told me that was not something you did in the KHL.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: That’s true. I tried it two or three times and now the guys are expecting it. But so are the defenders. So it probably will not happen for a while now.
Are the opponents playing more physically against you now that you’re a scoring so many points?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I don’t think it’s more physical. But I can tell that some guys have studied my moves. We also study our opponents, we know who likes to do what.
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