Evgeni Malkin Would Like a Word With You
An exclusive interview with the Penguins’ enigmatic superstar.
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Evgeni signs an autograph for photographer Frank Walsh's sons. "My first globe," he jokes.
Here’s Geno now in the plush players’ lounge of the CONSOL Energy Center. He’s got a Stanley Cup and a playoff MVP trophy—and the scars to prove it, including an enormous one on his right knee from ACL surgery last season. It’s a long way from the static of Pittsburgh International Airport. The winding green aisles have become familiar, the highways well traveled (“I have navigation, never lost,” Malkin says. “Only one time when visiting the kids in hospital I lost my way.”) Mario’s house is now “Mario’s house,” and Geno’s got a house of his own with a yard and a cat named Dixi. The Mellon Arena’s sparse corridors have been replaced by CONSOL’s carpeted rec rooms, bubble hockey tables and espresso machines.
Much has changed in a few years. The static cloud that once hung above Geno’s head has lifted. He’s talking in English, laughing as he recounts a now infamous story featured in HBO’s “24/7” documentary. Somehow, it’s funnier when Geno tells it—pausing every once in a while to Google-search a word in his mind and emphasizing minor points with giggles like a middle-schooler rhapsodizing a lunch table full of preteens with a tall tale.
“One time I see Flower and Johnny, two goalies, do re-around ... re-arrange of Lovejoy and Letetsu’s room. TV, beds, everything. Out! Put new room around elevator. Hotel people very confused. Very funny joke.”
This is the Geno who’s sometimes hard to see. On camera, he’s shy and intensely earnest. In person, he’s the best kind of adult: a big kid.
“One thing people might not see is how funny he is behind the scenes,” Gonchar says. “He doesn’t say much, but all of a sudden he’ll come from out of nowhere with a joke that cracks everyone up. One thing I’ll always remember about Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was Geno making fun of Max Talbot for missing the empty net after Max just won us the Cup with two goals.”
On Twitter, which Malkin joined at the start of the season, he responded to an earth-shattering nutritional discovery by asking for verification from his 79,000 followers: “Just read that tomato = fruit? True???”
And when a conversation with Phoenix Coyotes tough-guy Paul Bisonnette, nicknamed Biz Nasty, ended with Bisonnette jokingly telling Malkin he would see him at the All-Star Game, Malkin retorted, in flawless broken English, “Sorry Nasty, you play in rookie game,” then added the follow-up disclaimer: “Russian humor.”
And don’t get Malkin started on the Steelers. He’s a convert, a full-fledged Cope-a-Nut. “I don’t understand all the rules, but I love this game,” he says. “My favorites now are Mike Wallace and Troy Polamalu. I think he’s the best defenseman.”
After Polamalu returned a fumble for a game-breaking touchdown against the Colts early this season, Malkin feverishly sent a tweet to the Flyin’ Hawaiian: “You best!!!!”
Malkin’s comedic stylings may invoke Balky from “Perfect Strangers” or perhaps Steve Martin’s “Saturday Night Live” wild-and-crazy-guys schtick, and maybe the caricature isn’t lost on Geno himself. After all, his Halloween costume this year involved a spread-collar silk shirt, a plume of fake chest hair and an absurdly bushy Doobie Brothers mustache.
Malkin’s hilarious, hirsute costume is a kind of living metaphor for the view many hockey fans have of the mercurial star, and that caricature misses the point entirely. Because underneath the goofy exterior is a man whose bravery is unmatched and whose loyalty to Lemieux and the Penguins organization is limitless. If Malkin has a fault, it’s that he cares too much.
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