18 September 2008 – Morozov and KHL

9/5/2008 P. Lysenkov

9/5/2008 P. Lysenkov

photo: P. lysenkov

photo: P. lysenkov

I know everyone is clamoring for some “real” hockey news, and Lord knows I never wanted to be the Perez Hilton of hockey. So while waiting for the NHL season to start, I’ve decided to put in some news from the Russian KHL league. The article below appeared in the 5 September issue of Soviet Sport, and besides just being an interesting read on the state of the KHL, does have a slight Capital’s connection– Morozov’s mention that he really wanted to get a picture of himself with Fedorov, but only ended up with the official team photo. I certainly hope he gets the chance to meet up with Feds and get the picture. Anyway, enjoy some “real” hockey news.

If You Want A Fight– Go Watch Valuev

Yaromir Yagr told me to tell you “hello”- I tell Alex first thing.

“Really?” Morozov asks happily. “Well I’m going to see him tomorrow. I hope we have time to shoot the breeze.”

But he’s not in Pittsburgh, he’s in Avangard. You might say that you two are now “enemies”

“Yeah, whatever! If Yagr is on another team now that means I can’t talk with him? I won’t give any quarter when I’m on the ice, but off the ice we are good friends.”

Yaromir said that he hadn’t seen you in action for a long time.

“Three-and-a-half years. Truthfully, I haven’t seen him in that long either. I remember the last time we played against each other in Kazan…”

How many times were you and Yagr on the same line in the NHL?

“Not very often. Actually, the first 12 games I played with Ron Francis and Yagr, on the left wing. But it didn’t work out for me.”

How could it not work out, surrounded by such stars?

“Just imagine it. The coaches weren’t happy with my game. They wanted something else.”

Maybe Francis was telling tales on you? Like “why have you got this young kid on my line”?

“I don’t think so. But I really didn’t understand much English then. Maybe the veterans complained about it. But it wouldn’t have bothered me. If they had put a 20 year old Morozov on my line, I wouldn’t have refused to play with him” laughs Alexei.”

Your first goal in the NHL was off a pass from Yaromir?

“Exactly. In the first period of the game against Los Angeles, Yagr and I went down ice on a 2-on-1. He gave me such a pass to the far post that all I had to do was turn the corner.”

What would it take for you to say that the KHL has surpassed the NHL?

“I’ll say it when Ilya Kovalchuk returns to Russia to play” Morozov says about his best friend. “He is enormously popular in America. But if Kovalchuk were to select our championship, it would mean that the KHL is in no way inferior to the NHL.

Wouldn’t it be a great loss for the NHL if our guys didn’t stay there?  You could add “Russian Legionnaires” to the list of endangered species.

Calling it a loss is putting it mildly. People overseas follow Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Malkin, Datsyuk, and Kovalev– not just the Russian speaking population, but North Americans in general. The business of a lot of teams is based on Russian players.  It wasn’t for nothing that last year’s NHL season was called the “Russian” season. Our guys made a really good showing for themselves.”

Were you able to meet up with Kovalchuk in Moscow?

Yes, we met and we went to supper together. But as soon as Ilya returned from his vacation in San Trope, I saw him less often. The preseason started for me. I thought I might run into him in France, but it didn’t work out. His vacation was really short this year. He and his wife only had time to fly back home to Miami.”

Kovalchuk not only vacationed in San Trope, but he also participated in the filming of “The Great Race” and “Fort Boyard”

“They also wanted me to appear, but I just didn’t have the time. (Danis) Zaripov, however, had more time and also participated in “The Great Race”. You’ll soon be able to see how Danis gets “lit up” on Channel one.”

It seems to me that modesty would prevent you from appearing in such television productions.

“You are probably right. It would be fairly difficult. Before I ever go in front of a camera I have to think about it a hundred times. I hate being disgraced in public.”

And would your contract even let you participate in these extreme games?

“I haven’t really studied the contracts that closely. (Morozov signed a new five-year contract with the Ak Bars only last Friday). There may be something in there that forbids it. But on the other hand, I do have insurance to protect me. And it rarely ever gets that extreme on those shows. There was one time, however, in “The Great Race” where you did have to get in the ring with some healthy bulls. I wouldn’t participate in a game like that even if I was armed. What if they tried to gore me with their horns? Uh-uh, I value my life too much for that.”

Let’s talk about Miami. You have a house there. Would you go there if you got an offer from “Florida”? You could live year round in paradise.

“Yeah, and go to practices, and plow through the games… and have no freedom whatsoever. After that you might as well erect a cross in paradise. How much fun is that, to vacation where you work? I’d have to find a new paradise somewhere in Los Angeles.”

By the way, your partner Danis Zaripov keeps getting calls to come to Los Angeles, but he also decided to sign a five year contract with Ak Bars.

“What would he do in California? They already have Beckham” laughs Morozov. “It would be difficult for Danis to surpass him in popularity.  But seriously, I am not surprised at all by Zaripov’s decision. Why would you leave where you’ve got it good?”

So that’s why you aren’t going to the NHL?

“What, did I forget something over there? When I was younger, that league was interesting to me. But now I have a family and a child. I’ve gotten used to Kazan and I’m comfortable living and playing here. What’s more, the KHL is really developing. For example, they say that next season there will be 32 teams in our league. Imagine the competition. The fight for the Gagarin Cup will be no less difficult than winning the Stanley Cup.”

This isn’t just a pipe dream?

“Not at all. Look how rapidly our league is changing. I just turned on the TV to watch the season opener Salavat Yulaev vs. Lokomotiv, and the “picture” was totally different than it used to be. The quality is better, and they are giving a lot of statistics. During the breaks they give an overview of the games just as well as they do in the NHL.”

And the schedule of the games is going to be like overseas?

“I took my time to study the schedule. Five games in ten days, on away games. Not bad, huh? True, then you have almost a week off. A decent workload.  What is there to complain about? It is the same for everyone.”

Here are some questions from the fans… How is your son Nikita?

“He is one year old on September 6. He already understands a lot. He says “gimme” and “mama” and “where’s dada”? He is slowly starting to walk. He is a joy to his parents. My wife thinks that she will start teaching him English within a year.”

It’s popular now to have an online diary or blog. Zaripov has one, as well as Kovalchuk and Kovalev. What is holding you back?

“I’ve been asked to do one, but I don’t want to. What would I write about? Where I’ve gone and what I’ve done? This is my personal life, and I don’t want to let strangers into it. And as far as talking about hockey, everything is already being said in the game reports and in my interviews.”

In Kazan you are very popular. Are you frequently recognized in Moscow?

“Much less frequently.  There is only one hockey team in Kazan, and there are a lot of them in Moscow. The population is ten times larger also. It’s easier to get lost in a crowd there. Or get caught in a traffic jam” smiles Morozov. “Once I ran into Christina Orbakaite in Miami. She didn’t recognize who I was, and I acted like I didn’t know her. Why should you bother people? I mean she came to Florida on vacation.

I hate it when people start staring at me and whispering “Look, it’s Morozov”. Well so what? I’m a human being. Can’t I just walk down the street?”

That’s what happens when you’re famous. And now you and Yagr and Yashin have been turned into the face of the KHL.

“They even filmed us for some advertisements. The Ak Bars happened to be in the studio for a meeting, and some television people handed me a script and told me what to do…”

Did you score a double right out of the box?

“Hardly! I wasted a lot of time is what I did. They looked for a facial expression which would please the director, then they placed the lights and the background. I never thought it would be so much trouble. . Then I had to say “Watch Hockey” into the camera, which also was quite a trick for me.”

Were you happy with the results?

“Not really. I really don’t like to see myself on television. It takes me by surprise and I say “Oh my God- who is this?” I really am not the best actor in the world.”

Do you think a girl in a hockey uniform is attractive?

If it is a female fan wearing, say, an Ak Bars or Team Russia jersey, then yes it is beautiful. But I really don’t care for women’s hockey. I can’t understand any girl who would want to chase around a puck. Nobody will ever be able to convince me otherwise that hockey is purely a man’s sport.”

What are your thoughts on the situation with your native “Krylya Sovyetov (Soviet Wings)” which was split into two different clubs?

“This is a really heavy situation. When CSKA was split into two teams in the middle of the 90’s, I couldn’t have imagined in my worst nightmare that the same would happen with the Wings. It is painful to see what has happened to my native team. It’s a pity that I can’t really offer any helpful assistance.”

You don’t think that the fantastic play of the Zinovjev-Zaripov-Morozov line hurts your individuality? If you were the lone star on the team, then you would shine even more brightly.

“Do you know how difficult it is to play in solitude? On the contrary, I find playing on a team much more rewarding. When you have great partners by your side, you can make mountains crumble. I’m not a lone wolf, I’m a team player.”

You skate really well. You have a wide stance but you take short, sharp strokes for accelerating and braking. Did your style come from your skating school as a child?

Of course this is where everything was embedded in me. Now I would be happy to change something, like in a computer game where you can make a shot like Kovalchuk or have the aggressiveness of Ovechkin, but I am Morozov, with my own advantages and disadvantages. This is how my trainers taught me as a kid.”

Whose skating do you consider the best and the worst?

I remember tough-guy Steve McKenna from Pittsburgh- he was long as pole. He didn’t slide so much as stomp on the ice. But he didn’t have to skate- he only had to make it to one of his opponents so he could whack him. But the best skater was Lemieux.  He skated slowly and smoothly. Mario looked like he was running in place, but you couldn’t keep up with him. Lemieux didn’t stomp his feet, but gently floated across the ice. You could say that a hockey player’s skating is his autograph. Everybody’s is different, and each is as unique as the markings on a feather.”

Do you think you will be able to play until you are 43, like Igor Larionov?

“This is a difficult question. I have set a goal to make it to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. We will see what happens. Nobody is safe from injury or bad times.”

You have crossed paths with Sergey Fedorov only twice—once in the 98 games in Nagano and again in the 2008 World Championship in Quebec. When was it easier for you to have him on the team?

“Ten years ago I was still quite young. Sergey Fedorov and Pavel Bure were like gods to me. I wanted to have my picture taken with them for a souvenir. I wanted to do it secretly somehow, when Fedorov walked by. I would have died from embarrassment if I had to ask him directly for it. Now I have my own views on hockey, and in many ways they coincide with Fedorov’s opinions. I was the captain of national team and Sergey was my assistant. It was easy for us to get together and talk about team strategy.”

So did you ever get your picture with Fedorov?

“No” confesses Morozov. “I only have the team photograph from the tournaments.”

Several years ago in the NHL there was a high point when Pavel and Valeri Bure played together.. Have you ever thought about playing together with your brother Valentin?

“I have forgotten about doing this now. You see, Valya has finished his hockey career and is a businessman now. When I was young I used to think about it. True, our paths never crossed on the Russian National team.”

And do you have your own business? For example, Maxim Sushinski runs a car dealership in his free time.

“There is a business in which I am investing, but I’m not going to advertise it.”

Besides hockey and business, I know that you are also still taking classes.

“Yes, for a year now I’ve been a student in the law department of Kazan University. I am taking correspondent courses and will graduate in two years. This will be my second post-graduate degree since I graduated from the university.”

Morozov could defend someone in a court of law? I propose that you become an attorney in the Radulov matter!

“I’m really just studying law for myself. I want to be competent in everyday matters. I’m not really looking to become an attorney. Although, who knows what the future holds in store? If my career suddenly ends I might become a hockey agent.”

Or a politician.

You mean a deputy? Like Sikharulidze, Kabaeva or Khorkina? It would be important for me to know exactly what I would be doing in the Duma. What would I be doing? To whom would I be answering? If it would be interesting to me, then I might agree. But if I’m just going be wiping my pants on Okhotny Ryad—well I don’t need that kind of happiness.”

But do you know what kind of privileges a Deputy gets?

“I’ve heard, but I can live without them” smiles Morozov.

What is the most valuable hockey advice you have received during your career?

“Once again I am thinking of Yagr. A long time ago Yaromir came up to me after a training session and started having a heart-to-heart talk. He told me about how he came to the NHL when he was just a young boy and how he had to learn all about America. He had it all broken down into steps, how to achieve greatness in hockey—how to become a real star. I remember that conversation to this very day. For Yaromir, the word “partner” is not just an empty phrase. I do not agree with those who think the Czech is an egoist. Yagr is a team player who wants to win in each and every game.”

Does our hockey need bad-boy players like Chris Simon or Yarkko Ruutu who have, thank God, thus far remained in the NHL?
“Well those guys have a job to do…”

“Well what would you say to Kovalchuk, who almost had his knee broken by Ruutu last season

“Yea, that was unsportsmanlike. The rules say that you should be severely punished for intentionally inflicting an injury. Let the thug sit out half the season without pay. I am generally against playing dirty. They make a show of this in the NHL, but we have our Nikolai Valuev, Alexander Povetkin and the Klitschko brothers. If you want a fight, you are welcome to go to a boxing match.

Were you able to watch the Beijing Olympics?

“I saw a lot of it. I was glad for Isinbaeva, who set a new world record for pole vaulting. I felt sorry for Pozdnyakov, a legendary fencer who lost in the semi-finals against the USA. I was amazed at what the swimmer Phelps did. I can’t even wrap my head around the possibility of winning eight gold medals in one Olympics. The most important surprise were the Chinese. I didn’t really understand why they took first place in the total medal count

State policy.

“So they say. But it is apparent that the Chinese are very hard working people, and their training regimens are first class.”

The Chinese communist party could say “we will develop hockey” and in ten years they PRC would be the world champions, beating Russia in the finals.

“I’m relieved that we won’t see any Chinese hockey players in 2014” laughs Morozov. “They had a nice run at their Olympics, but I’m not worried about our Sochi Olympics”

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