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Kozlov: "I've Made a Firm Decision. I'm Going to Russia."

[For the last day or so a lot of rumors and stories have been floating around concerning potential movement of various players to the KHL. To get the straight scoop on Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Shapiro from Sport Express decided to go straight to the source and phoned up Viktor yesterday.]

SE has already reported that several leading KHL teams are currently interested in the services of Washington forward Viktor Kozlov, who has spent 10 years in the NHL and played more than 900 games, garnering over 500 points. The interested teams include Salavat Yulaev, Dynamo and SKA. Kozlov has yet to make a final decision, but which way is he leaning? Yesterday a correspondent from SE phoned Viktor at his house in Florida.

If it isn't a secret: when will you finally decide on your future team?

"I can't give an answer to that question right now. I can only say that I have made a firm decision to return to Russia. But it's still unclear which team I'll end up with. Negotiating is a difficult process. Discussions are ongoing and I think that I'll make a final decision on a team as soon as possible, and then I'll sign a contract."

In the last few days information has come out in Russia that Salavat Yulaev is expressing the greatest interest in you. Moreover, they claim that you've already reportedly come to an agreement with the Ufa team. However, the Salavat management has refrained from making any comments.

"Again, negotiations are still ongoing. When we finally find a common denominator, then everything will become clear. But right now I still haven't signed any agreement with either the Ufa team or any other Russian team."

Could the fact that you might end up in Ufa be connected in any way with the appearance of Vyacheslav Bykov with Salavat? He's the head coach for the National team... this is, of course, a weighty argument....

"Of course I want to be in view of the training staff for the National team, especially before the Olympics in Vancouver, but nonetheless this is not a sole determining factor. If I can play and make the fans happy with my play, and if I end up in a leading role, then I think I'll receive an invitation to the Russian National team."

Is your possible move to Ufa connected to the fact that this city is not too far from your hometown of Togliatti?

"I'm not going to hide the fact that, yes, this is important to me. I have a lot of family and friends in Togliatti. I happily remember the time I spent with Lada during the lockout year. But on the other hand, in addition to Lada I played for Dynamo before heading back across the ocean. So there are a lot of things connecting me to this team."

Why did you suddenly decide to depart for the KHL?

"The main reason might be because the level of hockey in Russia has noticeably increased in the past several years. Unfortunately, being overseas, I was rarely able to watch any KHL regular season games, but you better believe I always kept up with what was going on. The Continental league which was formed a year ago has done a lot, the game conditions in Russia are good, and it's no coincidence that a lot of well-known players have come from overseas, several of which had leading roles in the NHL. This motivated me to return to Russia."

So have you turned the page on the NHL?

"It's difficult to say, so why make any predictions for the future right now? Right now I'm interested in hockey in Russia. I've talked with a lot of guys, and they gave me a quick rundown on how interesting and exciting the KHL play-offs were. Now I hope I can see for myself about that. But of course a lot will depend on the terms that the Russian teams propose to me."

What are they saying about the Continental League in North America?

"They are talking about it quite a bit now overseas. More than anything they talk about its high level."

Are you keeping up with the goings on with your old Lada team?

"Of course. I know that right now the club is having some serious financial problems. But I want to believe that hockey in the city will not die, but on the contrary will soon return to its former level. Togliatti has always survived and I am sure that hockey will also live on. Besides, it's too difficult to imagine the city without Lada."

Right now Petr Vorobiev, who you worked under when you were at Dynamo and Lada, is visiting in America. Have you had a chance to talk with him?

"What do you think? I've seen Petr Ilyich several times, both in Washington and in Florida. It's extraordinarily interesting to talk with him. He always offers suggestions and assistance, and gives the right advice."

Where does Vorobiev advise you to go-Salavat, Dynamo, SKA or some other team?

"Believe it or not, we didn't even touch on the topic of a new team. I didn't ask him about it, and he apparently considered it awkward to talk about. In this regard, Vorobiev is a remarkably scrupulous man."