A portrait of Chris Simon taken by the KHL’s official magazine, Hot Ice
After leaving the Washington Capitals in 2002, Chris Simon played for five different NHL clubs over the following seven seasons. He received four suspensions during that time, including a 25-game ban for slashing Ryan Hollweg in the face and a 30-game sit down for tripping Jarkko Ruutu and then stomping on his leg with his skate.
In 2008, Simon opted to have a clean slate and joined the KHL. He signed with the league’s toughest team, Vityaz Chekhov. Known as the “Indian” among Vityaz fans, Simon quickly became a fan favorite and was named captain of the team. With Vityaz, he participated in the mega-brawl against Avangard Omsk, which resulted in both teams accumulating 600 PIM and a cancellation of the match. However, Simon’s scoring totals steadily grew every year in the KHL (eight goals in 2008-09, 13 in 2009-10 and 16 in 2010-11) and he was recently named to the 2011 KHL All-Star Game. Rumors that he would be traded at the deadline were circulating and finally, five days before the All-Star Game, he was traded to UHC Dynamo Moscow, who were looking to add some grit to their line-up for the playoffs. The second seed in the East, Dynamo was upset by Dinamo Riga in the first-round in a heart-breaking six-game series. Shortly after, Sport-Express spoke with the former Cap.
Below the jump, RMNB’s Igor Kleyer has translated the rare Simon interview. The 39 year-old talks about what it was like to learn Russian, who helped him settle in with his new team and why he decided to become a “tough guy” in the first place.
Question – Once you admitted that you had bought yourself a CD for learning Russian. What happened to it?
Chris Simon – Turned out there was not just one CD, but six of them. I opened the box, and got one disc out to start learning. I honestly tried to do the exercises, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I put the disk away. Some time afterwards, I tried to do it again. The same result. A couple of months ago, my family came to visit me. My wife came across the box, opened it, and could not find the third disc. When she asked me what I did with it, it was so funny. I realized that I started learning Russian with the third disk. Why I did not begin with the first one – I still have no idea. I decided that this summer I will try again. This time definitely starting with the first disc.
Q – We have heard a few entertaining stories about your life in Chekhov. Like the one about you trying to pay at a local store. The cashier told you the amount in Russian, you did not understand and started leaning over toward her in order to see the numbers on the monitor. The girl was so scared, she slammed the cash register closed. Is that true?
CS – Total nonsense. You know, Chekhov is a small town. Many people know me. Everybody is very friendly. I never had any problems, including at the stores. If I don’t understand how much I need to pay, the cashier just turns the monitor my way, so I can see the total. That’s all.
Q – Do the media often write things about you that are false?
CS – You know, I have only given a couple of TV interviews in Russia, and the same for print. But when I go on the internet, I see about 50 interviews that I never gave. But, honestly, I don’t care. I am not concerned about what they write or say about me. The most important things for me are my family and my team. If they are all right, I am happy.
Q – Can you give an example of finding an interview that you never gave?
CS – Just take the story about me being traded to Dynamo. I never gave any interviews on the matter, but somehow my words appeared on the internet. I understand that the journalists have a job to do. But I absolutely remember who I talk to and what I say.
Q – Your linemate, Leonid Komarov, has mentioned more than once that he would like to be like Jarkko Ruutu. Given your complicated history with that player, did you explain Leo that he has chosen a bad example for himself?
CS – I never met Ruutu in life outside of hockey. I am sure he is a good guy. We had a lot of run-ins on the ice, when I played for Calgary, and he was at Vancouver. And he always did everything underhandedly. So we had a decent feud going. But he is not a fighter, so I could never fight him. There are some players in the league who are dirty. Ruutu, Hollweg, Avery. The referees don’t give them much attention for some reason, and they get away with everything. By the way, when I see Ruutu playing in international games, surprisingly, it turns out he can score and pass.
Q – And what can you say about Leo Komarov?
CS – He plays a very interesting and physical game. Goes to the net, smashes the opponents into the boards, instigates. That’s how he earned the admiration of the fans. When Vityaz played against Dynamo, Leo played his game. And I always wanted to catch him and make sure he would not bother us anymore. But when you end up on the same team, you realize that you are pulling the same wagon together. And that is great. His style allows us to find the other team’s weaknesses and achieve the needed result. And generally speaking, Leo is a pleasant and friendly guy. He helped me out when I just joined the team.
Q – What do you think about Dynamo’s head coach Oleg Znarok?
CS – I had never met him before. Although Sandis Ozolinsh, who I played with in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup, told me that Znarok is a great coach and a wonderful person. I have not spent that much time at Dynamo, but I already realize Oleg is a coach who is concerned about his team. He cares about his players. And every player pays him back the same way. All players are determined to do as the coach says. During my career, there was only one coach with similar qualities. That was Ted Nolan. He did everything he could for the players to feel a part of the team and give it all they can. It’s always a pleasure to see a coach care more about his players than himself. I think a team like that will succeed sooner or later.
Q – Alex Karpovtsev is proud of having fought you once, and thinks he won that fight. Although he said he would not like to run into you again on the ice. Have you thought about a rematch?
CS – I remember the fight. Karpovtsev fell down rather quickly. He really surprised me by not refusing to fight. Karpovtsev is a big guy, well built physically. If he thinks he won, let him wear the crown and enjoy the glory. I pretty much don’t care what he thinks about that fight.
Q – One of the main characters from Dumas’ “Three Musketeers”, Porthos, answered the question why he fights by saying “I fight because I fight.” How would you answer this question?
CS – Honestly, I don’t know that writer. But to answer the question – I fight because I do it well. When I see my teammates picked on, I understand that you have to punish those people. And if someone runs into your goalie, a fight is unavoidable. You have to be able to do a lot of things in hockey. When a guy can fight and accepts a tough guy’s challenge, I respect that person. To be a tough guy is a serious and respectable choice. Maybe even as respectable as choosing to become a goalie. When a goalie makes a mistake – it’s a goal. When a fighter makes a mistake – it’s a smashed face and a lot of pain. There is a lot of pressure on a tough guy. When I came to Russia, I realized I will have to play different hockey here. I train a lot to improve my game. And I have had some success. For example, during the All Star game I won the shooting accuracy competition. But it wasn’t anything astounding, because I practice all the time.
Q – We heard when the list of players in the shooting accuracy competition was announced, a lot of people were surprised to see your name.
CS – You know, for someone like me to be invited to the All-Star game is a bit unusual. But when people look at your stats, they think – why not? I was a bit nervous coming out for the contest. When I watched the replay, it was obvious that I was a bit shaky. Maybe that’s why I hit the crossbar. But with my fifth shot I made up for it. And won the contest. In any case, I enjoyed my All-Star Weekend. It was a good celebration of hockey. Especially enjoyable was seeing the guys I used to play with.
Q – Like Valeri Kamensky? Did you talk about the past?
We won the Stanley Cup together. A victory like that connects people on the team. I was very hapy to see him again. He is an interesting person, a very strong leader. A very skilled player. But first and foremost – a great human being. His personal qualities left an even bigger impression on me than his hockey skills. He always cared about other people. And we were good friends while playing on the same team. And not just on the ice, but family friends as well. I remember his son often came to the games. During the All Star game Valera told me: “Si, my son doesn’t remember many of those who I played with, but he always remembers you.” I was touched. Because his son was a little kid then. But he remembers me.
Additional reporting by Fedor Fedin and Ian Oland.