Natalia (extragalactic), a translator who has done excellent work at Raw Charge, offered to help us out with a translation of an interview Nikita Zaitsev did with a Russian news site. You may remember that Zaitsev did a similar interview last year at this time for the same site. He was fun and feisty then, and got in a shot at Don Cherry, while talking about his first season with the Leafs.
This year, he’s back and even more feisty, and Natalia explains a little about the interviewer before she gets into the meat of what was said:
Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev was recently interviewed by Alexey Shevchenko of Sport-Express about what he has learned in his second season in the NHL, his fights on the ice, and playing at the IIHF World Championship.
While reading this interview, it is hard not to notice that the dialogue seems to get quite heated at times, but I encourage you not to interpret it as arrogance on Nikita’s side. The interaction is, in fact, rather funny.
The interviewer, Alexey Shevchenko, is arguably one of the most loved and hated journalists in the Russian hockey media, and it is hard to mistake his slightly clownish manner of speaking to people for anyone else’s. Players either respond to the chirping in kind or avoid him altogether; Nikita Zaitsev seems to fall closer to the former category.
Alexey Shevchenko: Do Canadian journalists ask Mike Babcock about you often?
Nikita Zaitsev: What are the questions? I don’t have questions for them, and they don’t have any for me. I have a great relationship with the press there and often talk to reporters and insiders. They understand very well what is happening in my game, in my life.
Shevchenko: How’s that? Once you make a bad play, they begin asking the coach to comment on your actions.
Zaitsev: But it only happened once. In the second game of the playoffs.
Shevchenko: Not once.
Zaitsev: What would they ask about me, anyway? I haven’t had serious downsides this season; I finished the regular season with a plus-8.
Shevchenko: So you’re content with your season?
Zaitsev: It turned out just great. It’s a pity we couldn’t go past the first round of the playoffs: we had every chance.
Shevchenko: Now you’re regularly paired with Jake Gardiner, even though you played with Morgan Rielly last year. What has changed?
Zaitsev: The game plan has changed. Now we do our work with Jake.
Shevchenko: Judging by what I’ve seen—
Zaitsev: I think you haven’t seen anything at all.
Shevchenko: No, I’ve watched it.
Zaitsev: Judging by what you write, I doubt it.
Shevchenko: I’m actually a little hurt now.
Zaitsev: Yes, don’t forget to publish this in our interview.
Shevchenko: I won’t. So, about your pair…
Zaitsev: A lot has changed indeed. Personally, it has become a lot easier for me to play, because I know all the players in the league. I’ve become more confident, gained a lot in all aspects compared to the previous season. So I’m going to continue to progress.
Shevchenko: This year, you were seriously injured after getting a puck to your foot. But I think the skate was supposed to have extra protection. Or did you forget to put it in? Was it your fault?
Zaitsev: I didn’t forget to put anything in, the blocker just broke. It happens and there’s nothing you can do about it. And forget this phrase already, “my fault”.
Shevchenko: What do you mean?
Zaitsev: There are special people in the NHL who are paid very good money—they make sure your equipment is all right. The blocker was there, but it shattered; there are no everlasting materials. In Russia, everyone begins saying these things, that it’s your fault, that you didn’t put something on. In the NHL, it’s all watched carefully.
Shevchenko: Wow, I’ll write it down to not forget and tell everyone. You gave an interview when you were in rehab and said that you spend much more time at work during the treatment.
Zaitsev: It is true. I always wake up early, but I had to go to the arena, take care of myself and do the rehabilitation procedures earlier, before the team arrived. You get the ice at seven in the morning because the healthy players come in after that.
Shevchenko: Did you gain weight?
Zaitsev: I lost some. I don’t understand those who gain weight while being injured. How?
Shevchenko: Sounds normal. You move very little, eat all the time, burn few calories.
Zaitsev: I don’t know what you’re talking about. In my view, you lose weight during the treatment. It’s how it happened with me.
Shevchenko: Everyone says that each season in the NHL is new knowledge. What have you learned from the past?
Zaitsev: Oh, many interesting things. The main one is the playoffs. It wasn’t just me who gained the experience but the whole team. The playoffs are such a thrill; everything is really different from the regular season. I’d like to play for the Stanley Cup a lot and for a long time. Other things also happened, but I’d like to keep them to myself.
Shevchenko: You suffered a concussion just before the playoffs a year ago. Are there no problems now?
Zaitsev: Yes, everything is okay. Weird question.
Shevchenko: Nikita Soshnikov was treated wrong in Toronto.
Zaitsev: I don’t know; I think a lot here depends on the person. On their body. Nikita and I are different, after all.
Shevchenko: There are no Russians left in the Leafs system except you.
Zaitsev: It happens. It’s a pity Nikita has left. He’s a great guy, but the decisions are made by other people. I don’t think we should look for the hidden meaning here. Nikita went to St. Louis. Rinat Valiev was traded too, but he wasn’t on the main team anyway.
Shevchenko: The Leafs have a new GM. Lou Lamoriello invited you to the club, and now he isn’t there.
Zaitsev: He’s a very honest and good man. I have great respect for him.
Shevchenko: But he represents the old school. Doesn’t like tinted visors, didn’t let you bring something from Russia with you.
Zaitsev: Yellow sticks. But, in fact, I wasn’t really going to use them in games. Yeah, Lou is like that. And it was what people appreciated the most. I sent him a thank-you message for the pleasure of having worked with him.
Shevchenko: Are there people you’re fed up with in the NHL?
Zaitsev: Who, for example?
Shevchenko: Brad Marchand is licking everyone.
Zaitsev: No, I didn’t have problems with him. No one really annoys me in this league. I’m still enjoying every day in the NHL, every game.
Shevchenko: Russians have clashed a few times this year. Evgeni Malkin had a quarrel on the ice with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Artemi Panarin nearly fought Kuznetsov.
Zaitsev: So did I.
Zaitsev: Evgeny talks on the ice a lot (laughs). The Capitals had scored on us, and he yelled something to me. Then I scored on them and yelled to Evgeny. Their players thought I was making fun of them. Wilson began skating up to me, watching closely. But I had only been yelling to Kuznetsov.
Shevchenko: You fought this year. Even the CSKA players laughed.
Zaitsev: Yes, I’ve seen Roman Lyubimov’s [A CSKA teammate who played one year for the Flyers.] reaction to my combat. He laughs, see, this is how good a friend he is (smiles).
Shevchenko: Are you going to fight Bieksa now? Wilson? You should aim for someone more serious after Paul Byron.
Zaitsev: I see you’re better at fighters. I’m not going to fight anyone. It was a simple moment. He went to hit me, and I responded. So I lost, yeah? But it means nothing. In such fights, you have to show your spirit, not your ability to throw punches. I didn’t get scared, accepted the fight and it doesn’t matter how it ended.
Shevchenko: You just grew up in Biryulyovo [a fairly isolated district of Moscow where a lot of gopniks live]. I thought you had a secret weapon in fights.
Zaitsev: Showing no fear is the secret weapon.
Shevchenko: Although you’ve finished the season with a plus, I wouldn’t say it was perfect.
Zaitsev: Here it goes.
Shevchenko: When you got scored on, it was largely your fault.
Zaitsev: Yeah, that’s how you write. Our writers amaze me. You know nothing about hockey!
Zaitsev: It’s a fact. I can repeat it for the whole country to hear. It’s a fact!
Shevchenko: Excuse me—
Zaitsev: I am waiting for the moment when Russian hockey journalism gets writers that used to play hockey, and on a good level. Because I’d actually like to hear an opinion from the outside. I’m completely okay with criticism. Even if someone on the street walks up to me, I’ll listen. I don’t have this attitude, like I am the star and you know nothing. But more often than not, what’s written is completely off the point.
Shevchenko: I just—
Zaitsev: Isn’t it so?
Shevchenko: I think there is something in the air of Toronto, something very subtle and strange.
Zaitsev: Oh come on, ask the questions.
Shevchenko: You’ve been playing on the PK a lot.
Zaitsev: At the beginning of the season I was told I was going to play on the PK. It’s very interesting. I had to learn a lot, because [in Russia] short-handed play is very different. And I enjoy the work.
Shevchenko: If it weren’t for Russian journalists, the season would have been perfect.
Zaitsev: It was perfect. I can look my partners in the eye—no one will tell me anything. I can explain every single one of my bad moments. Really, I’ve become stronger.
Shevchenko: You’ve come to the World Championship. You could’ve refused, after such a hard season.
Zaitsev: I’ve missed the guys, the national team locker room. I didn’t even think of declining the offer. We have a very passionate team here and we’re going to fight for the highest spot.
Shevchenko: For the first time, your wife published a photo of you where you’re smiling. I’ve never seen that.
Zaitsev: It’s happiness. We were watching basketball, seeing an NBA game—I had always thought basketball was a slow game. But there, sitting right next to the court, I realized how cool it is. They battle just like in hockey. So I smiled.