Friday, November 30, 2007

Big Steps for Geno

A player talks to hockey reporters......No big deal, happens all the time right? Well, yes.

But not when that player is a 21 year old Russian who's clung to a translator for over a year in America.

I'm older, but not much older than Evgeni Malkin. I've thought about this, and personally I can't imagine picking up a language like Russian, completely foreign to me in this short a time. Of course, Geno has more motivation; this was the country he clearly chose to be in (as his defection from his Russian club team would indicate) and he's making and going to make a lot more money than me this year and in the years to come.

But still, it takes a lot of courage to branch out like he did yesterday, talking to American reporters....Not for the first time, but for the first time without the complete aid of an intermediary.

"My favorite food is spaghetti, chicken, beef. I like sushi," Malkin said.

And his road roommate, forward Maxime Talbot?

"Yeah. Max funny guy," he said. "We see movie."

Malkin halted when asked about his favorite movies, until he was asked about "Transformers," and his face lit up.

"I see two ... " he said, looking at [translator George] Birman for assistance before finishing, "Two times."

Asked how he is learning English, Malkin said, "I see movies. Gonch helps me translate."

It's no coincidence that the Penguins assigned Talbot to be Malkin's road trip roommate, and not his closest friend on the team, fellow Russian and guy who's house he's staying at (Gonchar, of course). Like Malkin, Talbot's second language is English. Unlike Malkin, Max is a very talkative, very chipper personality that is constantly buzzing around, on or off the ice.

"I like New York," he said. "It's shopping. It's big city, beautiful city."

And Pittsburgh?

"It is a good city," he said. "Good fans. They like hockey. They like football."

He has become a Steelers fan.

"Yeah, three-zero last game. I see it," Malkin said.

How about that, a Stillers fan to boot!

A lot of Pens fans soured on the fact that Malkin did not seek an English tutor this summer to improve his grasp on our language. My thoughts were this young man just went through the longest, most physical season of his life (and put up 85 points [33g, 52a] in 78 games too). Give the kid a break.

Obviously granting an interview is a huge step in Malkin's personal development, even if he understandably needed Birman to navigate a word or two for him. We've long heard teammates say just how much Geno understands, how he orders for himself in restaurants (at Gonchar's urging) and how he laughs and jokes around with them in the locker-room pretty freely.

It's good to see him continue his development on the ice with these steps off the ice testing the waters and starting to talk a little bit to the media in English.....Seemingly in both realms the sky is the limit for Geno and it's going to be a joy to watch him to continue to take steps to grow all around. We certainly applaud him.

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