March 15, 2016, otherwise known as the Ides of March, was Russian Heritage Night at Verizon Center. The event, the third of four Global Heritage Nights, was dedicated to the celebration of diversity within the NHL.
For this particular game, fans could purchase a ticket package that included a game ticket, a Caps Russian heritage scarf, and could attend a postgame Question and Answer period with the Caps’ young Russian players, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Stanislav Galiev, and Dmitry Orlov. Caps’ full season ticket holders were also invited to the postgame Q&A with the young Russians. Even the Caps’ Red Rockers spirit squad wore Russian heritage scarves throughout the game. As a rule, more fans than usual were wearing Russian themed gear, including jerseys from the KHL days of Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, and Orlov.
When the game was over, the fans attending this session filed down to Sections 116 and 117 for the Q&A session. About a half hour later, the three young Russians appeared, along with the session moderator, Igor Tichonenko, from Voice of America. Fans were able to ask questions of the three young Russians. Each fan called on would state their name and then ask one or two questions. Questions were wide-ranging, covering many topics.
The players were asked whether it was difficult to adjust to America. Orlov replied that when he came to Hershey, he did not speak English very well, but now claims he speaks English better than Kuzy.
The players were also asked whether any of the other players on the team learned any Russian, or if they learned any other languages, such as Swedish. The answer was – only the bad words.
The players were also asked about the differences between hockey in Russia and hockey in North America. The answer to that one was that hockey was like a religion in Chelyabinsk, Kuznetsov’s home town. Games would usually sell out and had about 8000 in the stands. The players remarked about the energy in the larger arenas in North America.
The players noted that Russians rarely go to restaurants to eat Russian food since most Russian women are good cooks. One fan had asked them if they wanted to go to the Russian House restaurant to eat and even offered to buy drinks. Another fan, named Tatiana, asked them if they wanted to go to Mari Vanna’s, another well-known Russian restaurant.
The players were asked about favorite road cities where the answers given were Los Angeles and New York.
The troika was then asked about whether anything funny happened on the road. After some thought, to come up with a story suitable for families to hear, the answer was that one time Kuznetsov called for reservations at a restaurant in Vancouver. He wanted a reservation for 5 people at 7:00 p.m. The reply was, “I don’t know. We’re usually pretty booked.” Kuznetsov then said, “What if I bring Alex Ovechkin?” The reply was, “You can come any time.”
The Russians were then asked about their greatest moments. Kuznetsov and Orlov replied that it was winning the World Junior Championships that took place in Buffalo between December 2010 and January 2011. They were asked what happened between the time they tried to board their flight home and when they finally were able to do so. Tichonenko, the moderator, deflected that question with the answer, “It’s very well documented.” As many recall, that was the event where the Russian Team was not allowed to board the flight home to Russia because they had gotten too drunk celebrating their championship. The moderator was trying to save them from embarrassment. Galiev’s greatest moment was celebrating the Memorial Cup for being the best team in Canadian junior hockey.
Overall, it was a great session, with Kuznetsov stealing the show, so to speak. It was fitting that on Russian Heritage night, that the game winning goal was scored by a Russian, Alex Ovechkin, with an assist by another Russian, Evgeny Kuznetsov while still another Russian, Dmitry Orlov, was on the ice.
By Diane Doyle