“I’m tired of not playing,” says Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, here letting fly during practice for the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Allen McInnis, Gazette
This is an expanded version of a feature interview with Canadiens all-star defenceman Andrei Markov, which appears in Monday’s Montreal Gazette:
Hockey is back in Montreal – not that it’s ever been away. The Canadiens begin their 2010-11 season in Toronto on Thursday and Pittsburgh on Saturday, a 20-day training camp wrapping up on Wednesday after a team-bonding exercise in Quebec’s Charlevoix region. Their Bell Centre opener is Oct. 13 against Tampa Bay.
The National Hockey League’s 82-game marathon begins with high expectations, the Canadiens having gone three rounds and 19 games into the playoffs last season.
Last Thursday, Brian Gionta was named the 28th captain in team history,
his leadership and that of a core group of veterans now expected to
carry the load. Among that group is all-star Andrei Markov, one of the
finest defencemen in hockey.
Markov won’t be in uniform this
week, still recovering from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate
ligament of his right knee that was torn April 30 in Pittsburgh.
The 31-year-old Russian, granted his Canadian citizenship in July, was drafted by the Habs in 1998 and enters his 10th season with the team. He’s expected to return to the lineup this month.
The Gazette sat alone with Markov near his team’s dressing room last Thursday night, chatting as he stole glances at TV images of his club’s final Bell Centre preseason game.
• What makes you more nervous – a National Hockey League playoff game or taking a Canadian citizenship test?
They’re different. I’m nervous before every game, playoff or regular season. That’s automatic. In my mind, if you’re not nervous, you’re not thinking about the game or don’t care about it. But after a couple shifts, the nerves are gone. It was a different nervousness before the test. They had many questions about history, religion and politics. I prepared before the interview with the book they gave me and for some of those questions, I didn’t have the answers. (laughs) I’ve asked some teammates and regular Canadians and they didn’t have the answers, either. But the judge asked me easy questions and it wasn’t that tough. There was one – not the prime minister, but who is the lady?
• Michaëlle Jean, the outgoing Governor-General?
That’s her. It’s always tough for me to remember names. I knew it (sighs) but I forgot it during the test.
• You arrived in North America from Russia a decade ago. How difficult was the adjustment, in daily life and in hockey?
I spoke no English at all. I still have problems with the language. Some people learn quickly, but for some it’s tough to learn any language. For me, it’s tough. It’s not easy to be here. You have to work hard every day, not only in the games but in practices and summer, too. Every year the game is getting faster and the guys are getting stronger. You have to prepare. Ten years ago, I didn’t realize how tough it would be in the future. Now, I realize it’s not easy. You have to take care of yourself all the time. But I like that.
• The best and worst parts of playing in Montreal?
Winning is the best. If you win, the people love you. We play for those people and try to make them happy. The worst part? Losing.
• Last April in Pittsburgh, when you tore your knee, did you know immediately that you had a serious problem?
I just felt the crack in my knee and I felt a lot of pain. I knew something had happened but I didn’t know how bad it was. Now, I just want to feel 100 per cent. I’m tired of not playing.
• What do you remember about learning to skate in your hometown of Voskresensk?
I was 6. (laughs) I had funny, standing-still skates and as soon as I stepped on the ice I grabbed the boards and stayed there the whole time. But I had a good coach to learn how to skate.
• If you hadn’t switched from being a centreman in Russia to a defenceman, would you be in the NHL today?
I don’t know. I played centre when I was young, both positions actually, but I began my pro career at centre. My coach asked me to play defence some games so I did after that. I played defence for the Russian junior national team. But when I came back to my hometown team, NHL scouts told me it would be better if I played centre. I told my coach this, I started to play centre, but when I moved to Moscow Dynamo, I started to play defence again.
• Do you think that your experience as a forward has helped you develop the vision you have on the ice – your ability to both anticipate the action and react to it?
Of course it helps, especially as a centreman. You have to play offensive and defensive zones, you play both ways all the time.
• When you signed your current contract with the Canadiens in May 2007, for four years and $23 million, many believed you could have earned much more had you tested the free-agent market. Why did you choose not to?
I’m not a guy who likes to change teams a lot. I like this organization, the city’s nice and I like this team. I want to be part of it. I’m sure it’s going to be something special if we win the Stanley Cup. That’s my dream. I hope I’m going to stay a long time. I feel comfortable here and I don’t want to change teams right now.
• Your contract expires at the end of this season. Do you think you’ll re-sign?
Right now, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to come back to play and I want to enjoy the game. That time is coming. I don’t want to think about my contract. I want my mind to be fresh. I’ve always said, nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Maybe the Canadiens will trade me after the New Year. It’s a business. I don’t want to look that far ahead.
• Do you see it as a responsibility to take someone like young defenceman P.K. Subban under your wing and be his mentor?
P.K.’s a great guy and a good hockey player. I’m sure he has a good future in the NHL. If he asks me to work with him, I have no problem with that. Every player is different. Some people don’t like to ask for advice. But if he asks me, I’d love to help him.
• Do you recall the first of your 80 NHL goals?
Power-play. Against Philadelphia, 5-on-3. Slap shot, a one-timer. (smiles) Right? (Yes to all, scored Oct. 19, 2000.) I still have the puck.
• Before every home game, you receive one of the loudest cheers when the team is introduced on the scoreboard. In the dressing room, or in the clinic getting treatment, do you hear that?
I hear it sometimes. It depends where I am in the building. It means a lot to me.
• You’ve played enough games in the NHL to have earned yourself a single room on the road when the team travels. Will you take one?
We’ll see. I don’t think it’s about me, it’s going to be a management decision? But if I can have my own room, I’ll take it.
• If you could have dinner with any hockey player of any era, just to talk about the game, who would it be?
Mario Lemieux, maybe. I liked Mario a lot. When I was younger, I saw him. We didn’t have much chance to see NHL games in Russia in the past, so when we had the chance to watch, I was looking for him. I didn’t have heroes as a boy, but to me, he was the best.
• Have you got a favourite hockey souvenir?
I’m not a collector, but probably my gold medal from the 2008 world championship. And my two NHL All-Star Game jerseys.
• You and teammates Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Hal Gill and Maxim Lapierre are on the cover of the November issue of Elle magazine and each of you is featured inside with a short interview. Do you have a second career as a fashion model?
That’s my first time. It was good experience. We had lots of fun doing it in Brossard, before training camp began. I knew when I agreed to do it that it would be something new.
• How often do you look at the storeys-tall photo of yourself on the southeast corner of the Bell Centre?
(Laughs) You can’t miss that, you know. When I come to a game, it’s a one-way street to the building.
• Ever taken a photo of it?
(Laughs again) No, but my friends from Russia were here and they took pictures. Lots of them.
• During dressing-room interviews, you can get a look on your face that suggests there’s a very funny man just beneath your serious exterior. So… what’s the best joke you’ve played on a teammate?
Heh-heh. (Pauses, then grins) I don’t remember. If there’s something special, you know, maybe it’s still in my mind.
• Forgive me if I don’t believe you. You can’t recall even one?
(Wearing that look) No.
Andrei Markov jokes “you can’t miss that” when asked whether he gazes at the storeys-tall image of himself on the southeast corner of the Bell Centre.
Allen McInnis, Gazette