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Fedorov: "America Has Started To Understand The Russian Soul"

[We're thrilled to announce that Tuvanhillbilly has joined the Japers' Rink team and will be providing all of us with top notch translations of relevant Russian-language interviews, beginning with this one from Sovetsky Sport. Enjoy.]

Washington Center Sergei Fedorov: "America Has Started To Understand the Russian Soul"

Sovetsky Sport 2/25/2009

P. Lysenkov, D. Chesnokov

The last time we tried to interview him, the Washington veteran made a joke. Having conquered Florida, Fedorov had the press attaché tell us that he had left…for CSKA. So we shouldn’t wait for him.

Sergei "returned" from Russia after a few days. We caught up with him at a Capitals practice.

Can we talk a bit with you?

"What are we going to talk about?" Sergei asked, screwing up his eyes.

"About Hockey"-we gave the one-and-only correct answer. To just start an interview with Fedorov on everyday topics would be to condemn the interview to failure.

Sergei Viktorovich livened up: "I’m always ready to talk about hockey!"

Where should we wait for you while you take off your skates and pads?

"Let’s start right now. Now or never!"

Alright, let’s go…


How is your season going?

"Everything is okay. We have a hard-working atmosphere on the team. But our job is not to simply play well in the regular season. We are looking beyond that. We have to successfully make it into the playoffs. I’ve spent a lot of years in this league and am already used to not focusing on the regular season."

How are the Capitals progressing as compared to last year?

"I can’t comment on how the Capitals played before I came here. But when I was traded here from Columbus, the team had 12 wins in 13 games. That is not bad at all. All around me everyone was saying that the Capitals were having the best season in their history. If we continue to gain points at this speed we’ll break the club record."

Right now three of the four top scorers in the NHL are Russian: Malkin, Ovechkin and Datsyuk. Could you have imagined this 15 years ago?

"The situation for Russians in the NHL has changed dramatically in recent years. You know the statistics, that answers that question. Malkin, Ovechkin, Datsyuk—these are talented guys. They haven’t become leaders by accident. This isn’t the easiest league in the world to score that many points.

"There used to be a lot of Canadian propaganda in the NHL. They said that all Russians were soft, that they weren’t cup fighters, and couldn’t play physical hockey. But once we won a few Stanley Cups, all of a sudden we were strong.

"It was a different time. There were echoes of the cold war. The opinions of the older generation toward Russians…sorry, but even the Soviet people were different back then as compared to now."

But the opinion of our NHL players started changing when you won the Hart Trophy in 1994 as the league MVP, and four years later you won your second Stanley Cup.

"That might have played a role in it. People started looking at the Russians in a better light, picking them higher in the draft. Malkin was selected second in the draft, and Ovechkin was selected first. If a forward makes a lot of points that means that they’re getting a lot of ice time, and they’re in a leading role on the team. Then came confidence, and an understanding of the Russian soul."


In Pittsburgh we talked with Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman and asked him whether the Canadians will have players of the same caliber as Ovechkin at the Vancouver Olympics. Yzerman answered that Ovechkin is one of a kind. Do you agree?

"Absolutely! Sasha has adapted perfectly to the North American game. You saw for yourself how many individual awards he won last year."

Is there any big difference for you between playing on a line with Ovechkin or with anybody else?

"I’ll say! There is nobody else like him. Vitya Kozlov says that you just need to make a pass on the move to Sasha and he will do all the rest by himself. And I will agree with that. Ovechkin is incredibly focused on the net. He tears through the defense and shoots from any and every position. And he does it right. He has an outstanding hard shot. Very few forwards in the league can brag about that."

Only one year left until the Olympics. Do you dream of going to the Games?

"The Olympics will be an outstanding event for Russia, if not the single most important event in hockey for the last 20 years. The last time we won gold was in Albertville in 1992, when Bykov still played with Khomutov.

"It is difficult for an active player to guess the future, but to play in the Olympics would be awesome. This is a major achievement, especially since I won silver in Nagano in 1998 and Bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002. I still don’t have any gold.

"But to become the best in Vancouver would be especially difficult. Last year the Canadians lost the World Championship on their own home territory. They won’t allow themselves a second misfire."

What do you think about the talk about this being the last Olympics for NHL players?

"I don’t understand why this is being prohibited. Especially for the Olympics."

It is just politics.

"Ah ha- that is exactly the reason. And when the NHL teams start their season in Europe, why are they doing it, eh? To open up a new market.

"In principle, the leadership of our league could say: why the hell should we go to Vancouver? You could argue this point. And then everybody gets all upset about nothing. Who needs it? Who wins from all of this? You just squeeze sour lemon juice from yourself" smiles Fedorov. "And the audience, the real fans, they are the ones who really lose out."

"But it wouldn’t surprise me if the NHL forbids players to go to Sochi."

But wouldn’t that devalue our Olympics?

"I don’t play politics. I am speaking as a hockey player. There are a lot of things I don’t understand, but I do know that the NHL has very good reasons to forbid players going to Sochi. Because hockey is big business."


After you’ve finished your career, do you see yourself as a functionary?

"No" Fedorov answered sharply. "I don’t even know what that word means. I only know that it’s a person who works for the government in some type of job."

Not necessarily. Look at Eric Lindros. He is your age and he became the head of the NHL players union.

"..and he has already left that position. I don’t know why I have to be in charge of something. I’m still playing hockey. Why count stars in the sky that aren’t even there?"

You’d make a good GM for Team Russia at the Sochi Olympics.

"Why should it be me and not some other player who has already finished his career, like Fetisov or Tretiak?

"Just because you’re a good player doesn’t mean that you’d make a good manager. There are some currents below the surface there that will whip your head around. You could lose your good name in two seconds. After all, you’re a hockey player, but you’ve been put in charge even though you plainly aren’t capable of this large role. This isn’t like some computer game where you can jump from level one to level 15. A General Manager is a very responsible position.

"Here comes Sergei Fedorov, and we’re going to win it all"—you can’t be like that. You can’t go it alone. You need a strong team which is infused with your ideas. There are a lot of nuances."

But this depends on character. You aren’t afraid of responsibility? Couldn’t you be the temporary captain for Washington while Chris Clark is out with an injury? Ovechkin thinks that role is for you.

"Sasha needs to be made the temporary captain. This role is for players who play leading roles on the team. Especially since Ovechkin is such a workhorse and has known all the guys on the team for a long time. It is normal for me to be an assistant captain."


At the game in Los Angeles we talked with Mark Howe, who was your teammate in Detroit and is currently scouting for them. He said that Fedorov should go to Vancouver. But he also said that you’re a moody player.

"This is a difficult subject for me. It’s really more understandable if you look at it from a different angle. I don’t have a problem taking this criticism, but it has gone on since my time in Detroit and it’s already turned into a stereotype. At that time the Wings had a lot of good hockey players who had to have a certain amount of time on the ice.

"There is a big difference between whether you get 23 minutes of ice time or 20. In the latter case, you’re really not able to show anything, especially if you’re playing on different lines. In the former case, there’s a really big difference when you are on the PP, where it’s easier to score. Every hockey player understands this. But I’ve been stigmatized: "Fedorov is a man of many moods".

"I hadn’t been in Detroit a year when they started to criticize me. Because they saw a really active guy who was playing well. And so it started in the press…somebody hooks me and I fall down and they cry "AHA- he’s diving, he’s begging for a penalty!" I simply stopped reading the newspapers. They wrote terrible things, they just wanted to offend me. They didn’t understand that hockey wasn’t wrestling. They beat you painfully here.

"Groveling to the press is not the best reason to begin learning English. Especially since I didn’t feel that I deserved it. I don’t understand why Howe had to start singing that old song. Maybe because I played hockey too well?"


Besides hockey, what else can lift Fedorov’s mood?

"A sunny day."

That’s all you need to be happy?

"Yup. I lived in Detroit for a long time. Once winter sets in, the entire sky is covered in clouds, and it stays that way until spring. I only saw the sun when we went on road trips. When you rise up above the clouds you look and – ahh, there it is.

"Then I played in Anaheim. But the sun isn’t the same there. I’m a man of four seasons. When you have summer all the time, you get tired of it.

"But Washington I like. You get sun here almost every day. I caught myself thinking: it’s better here than in California! And the air is good, moist."

What has made you happy in the last two or three months?

"The fact that my injury has healed. I’m talking about hockey—I’ve recovered from my ankle injury."

Did you have a big celebration on your birthday in December? You turned 39.

"I don’t remember that. Did we have a game? Oh, I remember. I didn’t celebrate it at all. But I’ll tell you right now, ever since I came to Washington, I’ve started counting backwards. I didn’t turn 39, I remained 38. Next year, when the Olympics are in Vancouver, I’ll be 37. After a season, I’ll be 36. I’ll go until I’m 25, then I’ll think about what I’m going to do next" laughs Fedorov.

Recently, Mike Green and Ovechkin went to a Metallica concert. Are you not tempted to go off with the young guys?

"I’ve been to a Metallica concert" Sergei said, and after a pause added "In 1994. They were on the same bill with Guns’N’Roses and Faith No More. I really enjoyed it."

Do you listen to any Russian music?

"In Washington we dig Basta. That’s what I listen to with Ovechkin and Semin. They listen to Russian music most of the time. I really like the Russian rappers. It’s beautiful words, talking about life. I came from that same life. I understand what the guys are rapping about. They talk about some serious stuff. I even listen to some pop music. For example, I don’t mind Timati."

We asked your former Detroit teammate Pavel Datsyuk about the car of his dreams, and he said a Maybach, which he will never buy.

"So the dream can remain a dream?"

Yes. You could drive Datsyuk! You once drove to the stadium in a Maybach…

"Give me a break! Do I really have a car like that?" Fedorov exclaims surprisedly, as only he can."You are somehow confused. I don’t have a Maybach. What kind of car is that, anyhow? It sounds expensive. I have, however, heard that it is a good car."

We have also noticed that after a game or practice you go around the locker room in a funny striped cap, like Buratino.

"It just so happens that Niklas Lidstrom… sorry, Niklas Bakstrom ordered these red and white caps, and they have our numbers on the forehead. Mine has 91 on it."

We think this shows your professionalism. It keeps your head warm and wards off drafts so you don’t catch cold.

"The body loses a lot of heat through the head. That is why you always need to be alert. Stability is very important to me. Even in Detroit I always wore something on my head."

I remember that in Anaheim you always cut up hockey leggings and used them in place of your cap. You called that the "Fedorovka".

"That is what it was. My dad often told me "You always have to watch after your health. That is the most important thing in my life." If you catch a chill from a draft or air conditioning, that’s it, you’re sick. But somebody has to play! They won’t let you play sick in the NHL."

Why aren’t you wearing your cap right now?

"Can you believe that I forgot it? I’m going to go get it right now" – and Fedorov ran into his room. After a few minutes he came back so he could pose for a photo looking like Buratino. You can guess by looking at this photo that those two madcaps Ovechkin and Semin really have turned Sergei Viktorovich on to Timati.

As they say: "he has started his second childhood".

And what does Fedorov have to say about that? "My first one hasn’t ended yet!"


Photo: Pavel Lysenkov