VANCOUVER — With a workout regimen as unusual as his staple diet last summer – and yes, one of those things was caused by the other – Andrei Kuzmenko still managed to score 39 goals for the Vancouver Canucks during his first season in the National Hockey League.
Imagine what he might do in Year 2, now that the 27-year-old has sworn off the Nutella waffles.
“Last season was so bad for me, my weight,” Kuzmenko said this week after skating with Canuck teammates at the University of B.C. “Now, I lose weight. Last summer, I (ate) a lot of waffles.”
Waffles with syrup and whipped cream? Not exactly a kale smoothie with yogurt and quinoa.
“No, (it’s) worse,” Kuzmenko explained, layering his hands, one above the other. “Waffles, then Nutella, then strawberries, then bananas.”
At least there was fruit. But after choosing the Canucks last summer as a highly coveted free agent out of the Kontinental League, Kuzmenko clearly was not in NHL-shape when he reported for camp and was placed by the training staff on a individualized conditioning program that saw him in the gym or on the bike, often alone, after practices throughout the season.
“Waffles are not good for me,” he said. “I like, but (they’re) not good for me. This summer, rules for me: no chocolate, no Nutella, no ice cream in my freezer. You want ice cream, then go to the market. But I stay home.”
Actually, staying home is one thing the engaging Russian did not do.
Kuzmenko may have a home in Moscow and a team in Vancouver, but he is a citizen of the world.
Starting in Panama and then moving into South America before crossing the Atlantic and working his way east from Turkey, the winger had his passport stamped in 15 countries this summer. There were stops in Dubai and Singapore and Malaysia, among other places, but he spent most of June and July in Bali, the island-province in Indonesia.
Kuzmenko surfed in the morning and then went to the rink.
Yes, there is ice in Bali that isn’t in drinks. Kuzmenko said he rented one-hour blocks at Bali Ice Skating Arena. You can Google it. It is attached to a mall.
Importantly, Kuzmenko’s entourage of family and friends included a coach he flew in from Russia. The Canuck posted pictures on his Instagram account.
“(He’s) not happy coach,” Kuzmenko emphasized. “He is: ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ It’s so hard, yes. It’s work, work. But this summer is so simple for me to prepare for season because I have coaches. For my body, it’s very good.
“I need to have good summer because I change (how I) prepare for season. I work on my balance, yes. Skating is a little difficult for me (last season) when I stop, change sides, and my balance is a little tight and I go down. So, I work on the balance. I work on my … what is it for food?”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Now, my body is very good. I understand what is work. I prepare.”
Kuzmenko also brought a personal coach with him to Miami, where he spent most of August (with a quick side trip to Cuba) and skated with other South Florida-based NHL players. The five-foot-11 winger said he is stronger and about 10 pounds lighter than he was going into his first training camp with the Canucks.
He returned to Vancouver two weeks ago. He said he did not go home to Russia this summer.
“I like travelling,” he said. “I don’t like (to) stay in one place. I like it to see the world … people from other countries. I like travelling (because the) season schedule, it’s so difficult. (For the) first time in my life, I don’t go to Russia. I want to travel the world.”
He is already planning for Australia and New Zealand, the Iberian Peninsula and Africa next summer. But first there is an NHL season that Kuzmenko hopes will be extended by the Canucks’ return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Starting a two-year, $11-million bridge deal that looks like a bargain after his 39-goal rookie campaign, Kuzmenko said he knows his second NHL season will be more difficult than his first.
“I need to be better,” he said. “Little drills, yes? Defence, I be better. Shooting, I be better. I shoot more. And skating … I need physical body. Work, work, work.
“I know I have pressure. But I have pressure all my hockey years. Every year, step up. But for me, it’s simple: You want to be better? Go to work. Go to the gym, go to the ice, go to the cycle. You don’t want to be better? Relax, stay home. But I want to be better.”
Kuzmenko had puck possession numbers last season to match his impressive 39 goals and 74 points in 81 games. The Canucks outscored opponents 64-47 at five-on-five with Kuzmenko, whose expected goals-for of 53.5 per cent was behind only linemate Elias Pettersson’s 53.7.
But Kuzmenko’s other-worldly shooting percentage of 27.3 is not likely to be repeated, which is why he is determined this season to amass a lot more than 143 shots on target. He registered 114 fewer shots last season than Pettersson.
And he needs to build consistency into his game, the lack of which was reflected by wildly varying ice times under coach Rick Tocchet, who on a road trip in February played the scorer as much as 18:04 and as little as 10:35.
Under Tocchet and fired coach Bruce Boudreau, who healthy-scratched Kuzmenko for a game in November, the Russian averaged 16:15 of TOI in his first season of North American hockey.
“I understand (it) will be harder,” he said of his sophomore season. “I want to go to (the) playoffs, yes. What I can do for team is be better. OK, I get a lot of scores, but the team loses. If I play for defence, it’s better for my team, yes.
“I think we have a good team. We have good players, a lot of leadership. Petey, Millsy (J.T. Miller), Huggy (Quinn Hughes) — great players in the league. And our goalkeeper is Thatcher Demko. A lot of other players, too. Good guys. For me, it is very interesting season and very interesting season for our team because it’s not (a) young team. Not old, but not young. Middle career. Is a good age for a good season.”
After operating into two training groups last week, Canuck players have organized themselves into an NHL group for skates this week at UBC. Canuck prospects practise Thursday in Penticton before opening the organization’s annual Young Stars tournament Friday night against Calgary Flames prospects.
Vancouver’s training camp opens Sept. 21 in Victoria.