Igor Eronko, writer for Sport Express Russia, talked to Larissa Alexandrovna, the mother of Evgeny Kuznetsov, at the time he brought the Stanley Cup to the rink in his hometown of Chelyabinsk. The original story was titled “America Will Not Replace Chelyabinsk”. (You can access the original article here). Here is the translation, primarily via Google Translate, but with editing.
Question – What does it mean to you with your son bringing the Stanley Cup inside the walls of his hockey school?
LK: “I did not sleep most of the night.” I was worried about whether planes would fly to Chelyabinsk because the rain and the fog. We fly to visit to Washington more often than I do in the Leninsky district of Chelyabinsk. So, I know what airplanes are, and how sometimes everything breaks down. I found out that at 3.15 a.m. the Stanley Cup arrived, and then I lay down to sleep for an hour.
It’s not just the Stanley Cup – it’s a huge victory for the whole team, the Washington Capitals. I love this team. I like every hockey player there. I do not know English, but I understand them perfectly. And they understand me.
And what does the Stanley Cup mean for the city? The fans should be asked that question. But I’m very happy for them because they love Zhenya. I have not seen anyone in Chelyabinsk that was as loved as Zhenya. No athletes, no musicians, no officials. They loved Zhenya from a young age. And everyone here knows him.
We are now with you in the place, where Zhenya began his journey. It means a lot to me. That means everything. In general, everything. Chelyabinsk is the most beloved, the dearest place, and is our hometown. America will not replace it. But I also love Washington. Because my son’s family is living there now.
I’m so used to the fact that in Chelyabinsk everything is covered with Zhenya’s posters, which I do not notice. But when I flew to Washington two years ago and saw a huge poster with Yevgeny Kuznetsov at the practice facility, it was a shock for me. It meant the Americans recognized him. And it’s worth a lot. They are very cold people. And prudent. But if they want and like you, they will do everything for you.
Question: Evgeny had once said that there was a time when even dogs in Chelyabinsk turned away from him. Have you noticed?
LK: “I do not remember that.” “Such, not very great moments. Those who turned away … The dog barks, the caravan goes.”
Question: How did Zhenya end up getting in such an early marriage? And how did you react?
LK: First, about the registration of marriage, it was my idea. I do not like, as they now call it, civil marriages. I do want it legal by the letter of the law. Secondly, when I first saw Nastya, I immediately said that she would be Evgeny’s bride. My birthday was September 28 and she entered our house for the first time. By September 28 the next year, she was already a lawful wife. I am very pleased with that choice. I have not seen a better wife and better mother, although I have been a mother twice. But I’m not as good at being a mother as Nastya is. I have a lot to learn from her. A girl at such a young age who keeps a house so clean and orderly. And without servants, because they do not stay with her. I want Evgeny and her to live together very long and happily. I love Zhenya and his family.
Question: In his childhood, Zhenya spent 6-8 hours a day on the ice. Did you have a desire to take him out?
LK: I would come to the Traktor school, and you don’t know how I screamed. I would yell, “Evgeny, let’s go and eat!”. He would say, “No, I want to skate some more.” But understand one thing which I haven’t told anyone. Many don’t believe what Zhenya did in the Traktor children’s school. He skated with all the coaches, with all ages. And with very small boys and very big boys, and no one drove him. We had our own rink, the evening league, and he came. Even playing with Yurevich [the former mayor of Chelyabinsk and the governor of the Chelyabinsk region – approx. “SE”]. Yurevich once had a guard ask me the question, “How many years has your boy played?” I answered, “Since he was five.” The guard said, “He plays well.”. There was everything for Zhenya. Normally, they do not do everything for one child. But for Zhenya – they did. All around, all the coaches without exception.
Question: Did you understand that your son is becoming more of a star?
LK: Not a star, but for me Zhenya is the only hockey player in the world. Because I am his mother. And I did not see him as the star. For me, it is the best. Even if he played badly, he’s still the best to me. There are times when he didn’t play right, but I always tried to be someone that could make things a little bit better for him. His dad never (directly) criticizes him, but he is a hockey player, knows ice hockey and understands. So sometimes it’s hard. I never coach and quietly keep my mouth shut. But I’m doing my job.
Question: Could you describe how Evgeny prepares for each season in Chelyabinsk, even though it does get a lot of attention.
LK: He starts training as soon as he arrives in Chelyabinsk. In the morning, cross training is required, in the evening – ice. Zhenya trains twice a day. In the NHL, they prepare everything themselves. Professionals are hired. None during the season will not break the regime, nor will it stink or light. They are not followed, but for them it is excluded. If someone cannot cope with it, they do not survive there. They will not play there. Of course, the attention he gets here is distracting. It’s hard for him. Why does he and his family leave early for America? Because he needs to prepare. And there he prepares calmly, without distraction. Here, since Zhenya cannot refuse anybody. He’s so kind. They called there, they called. He does not tell me, but I know that he helps a lot. And there, beyond the ocean, he’s concentrating better and thinks only about training.
Question: Ovechkin ate caviar from the Stanley Cup. What is your son planning?
LK: Eugeny is so unpredictable that it is difficult to even guess. This includes his “bird” moves [the famous celebration of Kuznetsov’s goals], of which there are now posters of it hanging up throughout Washington. It’s a rare fan who does not cry: “Show the bird”. Zhenya, probably, will think up something more spontaneously than Ovechkin will when playing hockey. When he scored goals in his childhood, his first coach Vladimir Ivanovich [Shabunin] told us, “He rolls, and I do not even understand what he will do now. For a split second, he changed his “moves-exits”. He loves to be with “force majeure”, so that it is unconventional. So, you cannot predict his actions. On the other hand, maybe everything will be modest. Because they already drank and ate from the Stanley Cup.
But, incidentally, the very first person who sat in the Cup was our Yesenia (daughter of Evgeny Kuznetsov). Nastia Ovechkina invited us to her home the day after the victory. Ovechkin came with the guys, after a team gathering that included President Trump who they met. And Sasha says: “Do not leave, Stanley Cup will be brought now.” I thought he was bluffing but he wasn’t. The Cup was brought out and we immediately seated Yesenia inside. Once she was seated in the Cup, Yesenia did not want to get out of it. Sasha Ovechkin is this: once said, so it will be. He generally does everything well. He knows how to celebrate and rejoice! He rejoices like a child. I looked at him and was stunned to see it. He was sincerely happy and just cried for this Stanley Cup. It’s clear why – he’s been playing there for 13 years. You cannot imagine what was happening at home.
And you would have seen what was on the parade in Washington. We drove 10 kilometers in three hours. People screamed in delight. We were told that there were about a million people there. In the heat of 30 degrees Centigrade [85 degrees Fahrenheit], fans stood there for five hours just to see the bus. In Russia, I have not seen this. I was sitting on the bus, and my tears streamed with pride for our Russian boys. And not only for them – for Backstrom too. And everyone cried. How people took the team – they say, they did not take it in any other club like in “Washington”. The club is many years old, but the Stanley Cup has not existed yet. And immediately it turned out very elegant.
The demand for pictures with Kuznetsov was so great that an extra session was added on August 16, to go along with the original two sessions. Kuznetsov ended up getting ill with a cold when his day with the Cup was finished.
By Diane Doyle