Evgeni Malkin Would Like a Word With You

An exclusive interview with the Penguins’ enigmatic superstar.



(page 1 of 4)


Photos by Frank Walsh
 

 

Evgeni Malkin knew about 10 words in English, and none of them were appearing in Pittsburgh International Airport. As he took off his iPod headphones, the white noise buzzed around him. He was living inside a broken television. Static.

Malkin was 19 years old, 4,500 miles away from home and, theoretically, a missing person. Back in Magnitogorsk, Russia, his face was plastered on the proverbial milk carton. He had been pressured by officials of his hometown team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League to sign a contract extension despite being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins the previous year. They played to his heartstrings: family, friends, country. His passport had been confiscated. He was a hockey hostage. Then, one night, the Penguins got a call from Malkin’s agent. The falcon had left the nest.

Websites were rampant with speculation on the whereabouts of a lost national treasure, but Malkin’s dramatic departure was that of a simpler time. He fled throwback style, into the wind. There were no Facebook updates. No phone calls.  His childhood friends did not know where he was. He had left his Russian teammates not with a hug, but with a bathroom break.

Two weeks earlier at an airport in Finland, where Metallurg Magnitagorsk was playing in a preseason tournament, Malkin grabbed his hockey-gear bag and a small bag of clothes and disappeared into the night. Malkin was not defecting. He didn’t flee for Coca-Cola and MTV. In Russia, he was already a millionaire and a hero. This wasn’t about green. Or red, white and blue. This was about black and gold.

“I was not scared to come to America,” Malkin remembers. “I was scared what my friends would think of me. I love Russia. It is my country, my home. It was a tough time. But I had a dream, and that was to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL.”

After hiding out in a Finnish apartment for a few days, Malkin secured a fast-tracked Visa and boarded a plane to the United States. He didn’t smile until he felt the engines tremble. No one stopped the plane. The easy part was over.

 

Boss Wants to See You


The stillness. That’s what bleary-eyed expats remember when they first arrive in a strange land. The radio chatter in the car transporting Malkin through the winding green aisles of the highway became a sea breeze, a nothing. The jetlag became delirium. Trees and trees and trees and a warm bed. After a while the snaking road was swallowed up by a giant tube. Pale, blinking strobes and Soviet gray walls. And then it happened. Everyone remembers their first time. Malkin’s eyes flicker when he remembers his.

“The lights,” Malkin smiles. “Wow.”  They appeared small at first, gold and silver flecks at the end of a kaleidoscope. Then, as the tunnel yawned wider and wider and the car raced through its mouth, the Pittsburgh skyline exploded. Towers levitating on the shoulders of endless bridges. A ghost of the city reflecting in the waters below. “I never been so surprised when I see all the lights,” Malkin says. “So many lights! And the bridges, the most I have ever seen. Downtown looked so amazing. Not bad place to be for a new home, I think.”

In the car, the translator assigned to help Malkin had some news. He spoke in Russian, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was Mandarin. This was a universal language. After five planes, a safe-house, 4,500 miles and three continents, a warm bed would have to wait. And Malkin couldn’t have been happier about it. “He tell me we’re going to Mario Lemieux’s house for dinner,” Malkin says. “It was so surprising for me—I come first day, and Mario meet me.”

The car drove through the ornate gate of Lemieux’s sprawling Wayne Manor estate. At the top of the winding drive, a silhouette stood in the electric gold of the doorway. Then another appeared. And another.

“Mario’s whole family was there and Crosby, too, and Gonchar, too—all there waiting for me,” Malkin says. “I’m not speaking English, but I’m so excited. Gonch translated for me, and Mario said, ‘Welcome, we’re glad you made it.’”

Malkin’s new boss fired up the grill and emerged from his fabled wine cellar with a few bottles for the special occasion. “I remember we eat steaks and drink good wine,” Malkin laughs. “Very big house. Very good family.”

Gonchar remembers the night fondly. “Mario is a person who does everything in a first-class way,” he says. “Everyone left the house with a warm feeling. What Evgeni went through to get to the United States was not easy for him. I believe it really helped him to see that he was welcome and that people were waiting for him.”

“Big surprise for me,” Malkin beams. “Mario, I love this guy. He’s my hero.”

Next: Malkin in the Middle

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

The video is part of the city's effort to snag Amazon's second headquarters, which is expected to bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment..

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Executive Chef Kevin Sousa and Pastry Chef Kate Carney are cooking sourdough pizza in an outdoor brick oven.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

While we all know and love the grandeur of the fountain at Point State Park, there are many hidden fountain gems throughout the city. These are a few of our lesser-known favorites.

Comments


A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A review of "DODO," the immersive-theater production currently taking place at the Carnegie Museums by Bricolage Production Company.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

The team is more than capable of beating the Bengals Sunday, but are they willing to keep their eye on the ball long enough to begin stacking victories again for a change?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Reviews of "Only the Brave" and "The Florida Project," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

In honor of fall, we’re showcasing three couples whose proposals involved one of the best things about the season: pumpkins.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Interior designers share their tips on creating easy, elegant décor that will take you from Halloween through Thanksgiving.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module