September 21, 2009
Except he's good. Really, really good. I lost. It was embarrassing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins star is preparing to defend the Art Ross Trophy and, more importantly, the Stanley Cup after a postseason that saw him win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP -- and saw his parents become celebrities in their own right.
Malkin recently said they were back in Russia, attempting to get the paperwork to bring his dog to the U.S. He told me it's a Dogue de Bordeaux, which is a huge dog that weighs roughly more than two Nicole Richies.
The topic of his parents' sudden stardom came up as I interviewed Malkin on a bench near his house in Sewickley, Pa. So did winning the Cup, Internet photos of private celebrations, the Penguins vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, Petr Sykora's(notes) unceremonious departure from the team, awkward moments with President Obama ... as well as what he's driving and what he's drinking these days.
But we also talked about one of the most important issues for any Russian playing in the NHL: The chance that the League won't allow him to represent his country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Like his countryman Alexander Ovechkin(notes), Malkin said he's ready to face fines or suspensions from the NHL for that honor -- and it doesn't sound like he's going to back down.
Here's our conversation with Geno:
Q. Were there any specific names that you looked for on the Stanley Cup? Maybe those of the idols of your childhood?
MALKIN: I didn't have that much time with the Cup in Pittsburgh, but in Magnitogorsk I did have more time. And the first name I looked for was my name, but it hadn't been put on the Cup yet. But afterward I looked up the 1991 and the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins team. And then some teams from the 50s. It was really interesting.
What was it like to hold a trophy with so much history?
The feelings were unforgettable: The Cup, the celebration. It's difficult to describe. But we cannot stop at this. We need to keep going and win more Cups.
How did you feel about photographs from your party at Mario Lemieux's house leaking on the Internet?
To be honest with you, I wasn't even checking the Internet after the win. That's why I only found out about those pictures from my friends. Only then did I check out the pictures and saw [Sidney Crosby(notes)] sleeping with the Cup. I wasn't really interested in that. I was on vacation and was trying to just enjoy everything that was going on. I didn't even come close to checking the Internet.
I noticed a couple of Steelers' caps in your house. What do you think of American football? Are you a fan?
Sometimes you just get some free time when there is nothing to do. It's not like in Russia, I don't have a lot of friends here. So I just go to NFL games. I was at some playoff games last season. We even went together with guys from our team. I have been here four years and have learned the rules. And when you know the rules it is very interesting.
Are you friends with any of the Steelers? Maybe Big Ben?
No, I have never met him nor been introduced to him. I only know... What do you call them? They guys who kick the ball? Kickers? I went out to dinner with them a couple of times, hanged out with them.
Are the Steelers tougher than the Penguins?
I don't think there is even a question that the Penguins are tougher! Of course!
But seriously, the Steelers are certainly tougher. They are such big guys. I don't think it'd be healthy to play against them. Although it depends where.
Your parents are extremely popular in Pittsburgh. Someone even published a recipe of your mom's borscht. Have you heard about it?
[Laughing] Yes, I was told about it. My parents were embraced in Pittsburgh, they were welcomed in the stands [at the arena], they meet and talk to people. That's why everyone treats them really well. I am really happy that this is the way it turned out. As for the borscht, I don't really know how they came up with the recipe.
How many of your teammates have had your mom's cooking?
To be honest, a lot of them asked, especially after this whole talk [about the cooking] started, and during the playoffs. But during the playoffs I had friends from St. Petersburg living in my house and they had to be fed. And it was difficult for my mom alone to cook for them. I think maybe next year it will happen, and I will let my teammates try the food.
How did you feel about the way Petr Sykora was treated by the Penguins as he left as a free agent? There was also a fake interview?
I know Petr really well. And I didn't believe any of those unpleasant words he supposedly said about our coach. Petr is a great person and he understands really well that, maybe, his season wasn't as good. Maybe he was even ready for this departure. He had a very good relationship with the coach. Maybe the media turned some of it upside down. Hockey is such a sport. It's a little sad that he left.
What do you think about Ovechkin's comments about him leaving the NHL to play in Sochi? Will you join him?
There is nothing to add to what he said. I completely agree with Alex. I have exactly the same opinion. We even spoke to each other about it on one occasion. That's why I agree. This is my dream [to play in Sochi]. Especially because this is going to take place in Russia. There is a buzz over there already. And if I am in good form, if I am a candidate for a roster spot, and if I am invited, there is no way I will refuse.
What if the NHL tells you that you can't go? What if there will be some sanctions?
I would rather pay fines and still go. If there is something serious like a disqualification for a couple of years in the NHL, if there is something like this I will probably still go because I can even leave to Russia to play. It is very difficult to say right now. But I can give you 100% that I will go [to Sochi].
I think there are a lot of fans in North America who don't understand this desire to go and play in the Olympics. Can you, as a player, explain why it is so important for you?
I don't know of any American or Canadian player who doesn't want to play in the Olympics. I spoke with many of them, including Sid and other guys, and they all understand that this tournament takes place once every four years. And it is one of the most important events in the world of hockey. That's why players are eager to go. Those who don't want to go are those who only want to make money and don't love hockey. I don't know any player who doesn't want to participate in World Championships or the Olympics.
There was talk that the Flyers traded for Chris Pronger(notes) specifically as a response to how well you play against them. How do you feel about being in the same division as him? Some consider his play a bit dirty.
I don't know how many games we are playing against Philadelphia this year. Four? Six? If they traded for Pronger because of six games, then this is probably not logical. But he is a good player. And he will further strengthen their defense and attack. That's why he is a very good addition. As for me, I don't care which defenseman plays against me: a dirty one, a clean one. I will just keep playing.
Maybe now I will be a bit more careful against Philadelphia. Whenever you play against a player of his size, you have to be careful. I am sure all of his plays will be shown to us and explained.
Do you play fantasy sports on the Internet? Maybe you joined a league online?
No, I don't do that.
If you were in charge of a team in a fantasy league, who would you take first overall in a fantasy league draft? Ovechkin, Crosby or Malkin?
I love myself just a little bit more, so I would pick myself of course. And then I would have to think.
I was covering your visit to the White House not long ago and, obviously, I was following you when I noticed you trying to take pictures of President Obama with your cell phone. What was that all about?
I was actually trying to shoot a video but the phone just wouldn't cooperate with me. I wanted to shoot a video of him talking about me. I just thought it would be a bit longer than it was. I was hoping to have those words about me on camera. But I didn't get anything but laughter. I was actually a bit embarrassed.
How did you feel when President Obama turned around and gave you that look?
I saw that he didn't understand what was going on, he just looked at me with a smile. That's when I realized it was all a good laugh and he wouldn't do anything serious to me.
And then you tried to send text messages?
I wanted to send a picture. It's just I couldn't send an MMS from America to Russia.
What are you driving these days?
Right now it's a Range Rover. But I am going to change it because it is four years old. A week ago I ordered a Porsche Cayenne, and I will drive that. I also have a small Porsche that I "race" as you were told. When you're young you want to have a sporty car and look for such cars every year, like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. I keep thinking about buying one. Maybe I will.
What's on your iPod?
I don't even own an iPod. To be honest, I only listen to music when I am in my car. I listed to radio. I listen to whatever sounds good. If there is something I like on the radio, then I listen to it. If not, then I just change the station. I am not after iPods, downloading music.
What is your adult beverage of choice?
Lately I really like Sangria. Just white or red Sangria, sometimes mixed, with lots of fruits. You can drink it after games in good quantities, unlike beer. You have to watch your weight.