International Ice Hockey Federation

Russia’s mystery man

Russia’s mystery man

Syomin talks about Worlds, Ovechkin, Krasnoyarsk

Published 14.03.2016 19:50 GMT+2 | Author Pavel Lysenkov
Russia’s mystery man
Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Syomin celebrate after winning the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Helsinki. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The most mysterious Russian forward, Alexander Syomin, shows us how to rebuild the career after leaving the NHL.

3rd March was the birthday of Alexander Syomin. He turned 32.

On that same day, his new club Metallurg Magnitogorsk won in the first round of the Gagarin Cup. Alexander Syomin collected 4 (3+1) points in a six-game series against Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. Not so bad for a guy who was left out from the NHL.

His former coach in Montreal, Michel Therrien, said: “Syomin was not able to adapt to the speed of our team. We took risk with his contract.”

Earlier, the Carolina Hurricanes had bought him out of his contract for $14 million.

While both teams are several points short from a playoff spot in the NHL, Syomin could win the Gagarin Cup this spring. Nobody knew that the fate of the player would take such an abrupt turn after he said less than a year ago that he never thought of going to the KHL and felt too young to return to Russia.

This is what he has to say about his speed: “It is the opinion of one man. Well they fly next to the net, they run along the boards. Look at Pavel Datsyuk. He doesn’t skate fast, does he? He still gets to the net and scores. What is important in the NHL is not speed, it is how you think on the ice.”

Recently the Russian national team played two exhibition games in the Czech Republic. In Ostrava he was named captain and said to journalists with a big smile: “I have never had the С even in junior teams.”

In the first game against the Czechs, he was named the best player. In the second game he scored and made an assist. Syomin once again looked like that player who scored a pair of goals twice when winning gold at World Championships: in 2008 in Quebec City – although fans remember better the two goals from Kovalchuk – and again in 2012 in Helsinki.

“Quebec – that’s a very long time ago,” says Syomin. “And when I scored my goals, nothing was clear yet. It is a good thing that luck was on the side of the Russian team. We had nothing to lose. We played with a light head. What choice did we have? Either you win the final or you lose.”

Could Syomin repeat two goals in a gold medal game for a third time, and even on home ice in Moscow? It would be a very ambitious dream. He just wants to play in a big tournament for the Russian team, something he did not do since February 2014 when he just had an assist in five games at the Olympics.

“I’m doing everything I can to show what I have in me. The rest is the decision of the coaches. Oleg Znarok will have the last word. If they call me, I will play with pleasure. If not – no offence taken,” he says.

Syomin is loved by Russian fans not only for the World Championship finals but also because he played in Washington with Alexander Ovechkin, the most popular athlete of the country. Syomin recalls many funny stories.

“Once we went to swim in Miami. There was a storm, and we began to splash. I turned back and saw Ovechkin rushing to the shore. I thought then that he had seen a shark. I ran after him. Sasha was yelling like crazy: ‘Something bit me!’ I then noticed that I also had burns. But his were worse – from his hands to his feet. That’s how we got acquainted with jellyfish.”

And this is a story from Ovechkin: “Once I came to visit Syomin in his hometown of Krasnoyarsk. We went to a remote forest and reached a hut. And we met an old woman, who was working in a shop there. I was amazed that she knew us: ‘It's Ovechkin and Syomin!’ Can you imagine, people watch hockey even in such a remote place!”

Ovechkin is known for his collection of hockey sticks. And Syomin?

“Come on, is that a collection he has? Only a few sticks,” he says with a smile. “I have only one stick – the one I scored two goals with in Quebec. I keep that one.”

Syomin often falls into funny situations. Once he gave an interview through a translator. The reporter from Washington asked him: “Is it important for you to win the Stanley Cup?”

“Hell, I do not know,” Syomin told the translator in Russian. “Tell him something.”

He could not have imagined that this would be a hit on YouTube. Same as the fight with Mark Staal. “This is all in the past. I refer to these moments with humour. What else can I do?”

In 2012 during the lockout many NHL players flew to Russia to sign good contracts in the KHL. Syomin went to his native city, Krasnoyarsk, instead to play for Sokol in a minor league and for free.

“I spent my childhood there. How can I forget? As a kid I first played with the puck and later moved on to bandy. I played three games a day! With my worn-off gloves and my favourite stick Titan. There was a terrible shortage. We moved to Sokol at the age of ten, where grown-ups played. The teams started to fight and they threw away their sticks. My friends and I picked them up and ran away,” he remembers.

“I was violent as a child. I broke windows, had bad grades. There was a time when everything was fine in the family. Then my father was fired from the factory. Our life was hard. We grew cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes in our garden. I helped my parents at the dacha.

“I spent my first salary on a mobile phone when it just appeared. I bought the first model of Nokia, and it was stolen from me in Chelyabinsk. I lived in a hotel within a palace. The door there could have been opened by anyone.”

He later played for Lada Togliatti before moving to Washington. He built a network there which he called a mini-Russia. “I had Russian TV shows, dumplings, Russian music. Everyone around spoke Russian. I was in the USA and didn’t have to know English,” he says.

And now he’s back in the middle of Russia after 11 seasons in the NHL. Metallurg Magnitogorsk is also doing well in the second round leading 3-1 against Sibir Novosibirsk and being one win shy from reaching the final of the KHL’s Eastern Conference.

Can Syomin imagine going back to his hometown of Krasnoyarsk to play there one more time?

“Theoretically yes,” he says. “Although, I do not know what might happen tomorrow.”

 

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