On what he called the “best day of my life,” the day he was crowned the most valuable player in the National Hockey League, Evgeni Malkin made a point of thanking his best friend in the NHL.
Now he’s nowhere near the NHL but sitting right beside his favourite hockey pal.
After his 2012 Hart Trophy acceptance speech in Las Vegas, during which he gave the sincerest of shoutouts to former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate and fellow Russian Sergei Gonchar, Malkin stood at a podium flanked by the Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies and addressed the English-speaking media and their English questions. He was so visibly nervous, he was shaking.
“I came here, I not speak English. He’s who take care of me. Sergei Gonchar is great guy, humble player. He’s learned how hard it is to play here (in North America). That’s my best friend here,” Malkin said, elaborating on his speech. “We always talk on phone too.”
The now 38-year-old Gonchar had a dozen NHL seasons under his belt when that kid who played with him for Metallurg in the Russian industrial city of Magnitogorsk (then of the Russian Superleague) during the 2004-05 NHL lockout joined the Pens in 2006. Despite the 12-year age gap, the two became quick friends, living together in Pennsylvania. Gonchar helped teach Malkin the language of his adopted continent, and they shared a Stanley Cup victory in 2009. In the offseason they vacationed together and trained alongside one another.
And when Gonchar left for the Ottawa Senators when free agency opened in the summer of 2010, signing a three-year, $16 million deal, the two stayed in touch over the phone.
Eight years later, the forward in his prime and the wise veteran defenceman are right back where they were during the last lockout – wearing Metallurg* jerseys and taking great pride in their country, even if the KHL fans have trouble placing the face of arguably the best hockey player of today.
“I’m not playing here for six years, and of course people have forgotten me,” Malkin says in a lengthy two-part video interview with his new-old KHL club.
Watch and read below as the reunited friends sit side by each on a sofa and talk hockey, lockouts, contracts and friendship in their first language (subtitled).
“It’s always hard to leave the team and your friends. We managed to find common language on the ice with Geno very quickly,” Gonchar, who will be a free agent again in July, says of leaving Pittsburgh. “I’m glad to play with Geno on one team again.”
Not to mention the billiards and home-cooked meals, courtesy of Mama Malkin.
Makin and Gonchar interviewed, Part 1:
*Magnitogorsk’s nickname translate to “Steelers,” eerily appropriate for a couple of Pittsburgh champs