Evgeny Kuznetsov conducted a Russian language interview with Sport24’s Alena Grebenkova while the Capitals were in Pittsburgh earlier this week.
During the chat, Kuznetsov gave extensive insight into events that led to the team’s four Russians being placed on the COVID-19 Unavailability List and the Capitals being fined $100,000 by the NHL.
“Unfortunately, I cannot explain everything,” Kuznetsov said as translated by RMNB’s Igor Kleyner. “It was supposed to remain in our kitchen but spilled over. I am not holding a grudge against anybody.”
During the Capitals’ first road trip of the season in Buffalo, Kuznetsov along with Ilya Samsonov, Alex Ovechkin, and Dmitry Orlov broke NHL protocol by hanging out in a hotel room together maskless.
“We were at fault – we watched TV in the same room, no alcohol or anything like that,” Kuznetsov said. “We just watched the UFC and played (video games).”
Soon after, the situation became serious when Ilya Samsonov tested positive for COVID-19. While the NHL did contact tracing to see who else might have been exposed, the league learned the Russians hung out together in their hotel room.
On January 20, the NHL responded by fining the Capitals as a team $100,000 and placing all four Russians on the COVID-19 Unavailability List.
“Unfortunately, Sammy was the first to get sick,” Kuznetsov said. “Personally, I was mostly upset for him, and not about the fine or the punishment. He has had a rather difficult year, and now coronavirus on top of everything. I wasn’t worried about myself – no big deal. But I was very upset for him.”
The Capitals responded by distancing themselves from the team’s four-star players.
“Our training staff has worked extremely hard to create a safe environment for our players and staff to be able to compete this season,” the Capitals wrote. “We are disappointed by our players’ choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas. We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 Protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward.”
“That’s their decision,” Kuznetsov said of the team’s reaction to the incident. “I cannot object, I am just an employee. So, you can say I support the punishment that was handed to us. I repeat, it was our fault. But it’s in the past now. We have to think about the future. That’s why I am alone in my room now, and Sammy is in the minors, so no need to worry.”
Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov, who had antibodies, did not contract coronavirus, but Kuznetsov eventually started showing symptoms days later. Ovechkin and Orlov returned to the Capitals after 10 days in quarantine, but both Kuznetsov and Samsonov struggled through the disease for the next several weeks until returning to practice 19 days later.
“I just want to say, there was a moment when I woke up, and almost cried happy tears when I realized I can walk and breathe,” Kuznetsov said. “There were some moments. Difficult. Everything happens for the first time, you never know what to expect next. The way this disease goes – one day you are fine, the next day it’s bad. Only those who got sick with symptoms will understand what I am talking about. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
During Kuznetsov’s first game back against the Penguins on February 14, he scored. But he revealed there were times he was struggling with his conditioning still.
“I did absolutely nothing for 21 days,” Kuznetsov said. “I thought, three days of practice would be enough, that I am in good shape. But occasionally it was pretty difficult during the game. It felt as if I just came out to skate with the guys after summer break, that’s how strange it was. But the game went on pretty well, it was emotional. We were constantly trying to catch up with them. It went so fast, I didn’t even notice how tired I was.
“It’s one thing to watch, another to be in the room, to play,” he added. “Doesn’t matter how many games you watch, you need to be on the ice. Make mistakes, and make them again. Of course, if you are fortunate and manage to play without mistakes – that’s even better. But you need to go through all that together with the other guys. And now I need to catch up with the team on the system.”
After contracting the deadly virus, Kuznetsov was asked if the NHL should return to a bubble to conclude the season.
“It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think there will be a bubble,” Kuznetsov said. “There will be a vaccine. Those who don’t get sick and have antibodies will get it. I hope it will all work out, and there will not be a bubble, because that is total nonsense.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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