Nine days ago, on KHL-TV’s “The Icing Show,” 19-year-old Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov revealed that he would stay in Russia next season.
“To be honest, my decision has been reached,” Kuznetsov told host Igor Larin. “It is my intention to continue my career in the KHL. At the same time there is no clarity as to which club it will be.”
Since then, no context has been gleaned from his statement until now.
Earlier today, Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice, including the game-winner, to help push Traktor Chelyabinsk to the Eastern Conference Finals. In an interview with Rossiya 2 TV after the game, Kuznetsov admitted that his statement about staying in KHL was not serious. “I said that I am staying so they’d leave me alone.”
Below the jump, I offer a complete translation of his comments.
Renat Ibragimov: What were the keys [to victory] in the series against Ak Bars – aside from the Evgeny Kuznetsov being the hockey genius?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: First of all, our goalie. Misha [Ed. Note – Michael Garnett] played a solid game. Even though he had a bad game in the [previous] series with Yugra, he pulled us along later. We were helping him, helping the defensemen. All together, little by little. We never panicked, and we succeeded because we played as a team. But I think our main task is ahead of us, and we need to prepare for that.
Renat Ibragimov: Following one of the games in Kazan, you said that no one expected much from Traktor this season, and it helped the team. But now the expectations are high…
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I still think SKA is the favorite. Seriously. That’s what I read on the internet – many [people] think so. And many did not believe in us – they were betting on Avangard, Ak Bars. Thank God we won. Now we need to prepare mentally for the first game, and then take it one step at a time. Hopefully we’ll get by [laughing]
Renat Ibragimov: How did you recuperate after the last [triple OT] game?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Nothing special. We had a nap in the evening, then got together an flew to Kazan. Everybody understands, nobody needs a pep talk. We go to see a doctor, do a massage. We have a great team, coaches, president, GM, administration – everybody is great.
Renat Ibragimov: Were you surprised that toward the end Kazan stopped playing?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I would not say that. They kept pressing, but we scored a timely third goal. In my opinion, they were exhausted from their series with Salavat. They had a very tough series, most of all emotionally. I am glad we made it past Ak Bars. They are a very strong opponent, one of the most successful teams in the KHL. Of course they missed their captain Aleksey Morozov. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
Renat Ibragimov: How did you manage without your captain Vladimir Antipov?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was tough to play without him. He is our leader in the locker room. Kills penalties, scores goals. It’s good we have a guy like him. Many people did not believe in him earlier in the season. I got tired of telling everybody that he is going to show up in the playoffs. One agent was even arguing with me [about him] and other players. I think when he reads this interview, he’ll realize I was right.
Renat Ibragimov: In spite of the victory, coach Valery Belousov sat through the press conference with a stone face. Did he show any positive emotions in the locker room?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: There are positive emotions. For the first time in a long while he smiled and clapped. He is a very calm person. Maybe he is more emotional when he is home alone. But with the team he is not emotional, and it’s better that way. It’s easier when the coach is calm.
Renat Ibragimov: Traktor defeated Ak Bars primarily due to confident and composed defensive play. Are you hoping to succeed with the same style in the next round?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: There is a saying: “Offense wins games, defense wins cups.” We have to work together defensively. And take our chances when we get them, like today. That’s how we win.
Renat Ibragimov: The first goal today – your individual skills, or a goalie mistake?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I was skating right up the middle, like we practice. I didn’t try to stickhandle, wanted to go for a change. Turned around, and saw that Ak Bars players were changing too. So I entered the zone and had a glance at the goal just before the shot. I was thinking “Maybe I’ll het lucky” [smiling] I’ll be honest – it was just a matter of luck. It’s nice to score a goal like that.
Renat Ibragimov: You said in one of your interviews that because of hockey you were a mediocre student in school. How did you learn to answer questions so well, being only 19 years old?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: I am not shy to tell it like it is. Yeah, my tongue is my enemy, but that’s who I am. I am always direct, never hide anything. Yes, many dislike me for that, but I will remain myself.
Renat Ibragimov: Was the decision to remain in the KHL final?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Honestly, I want to be left alone with this question. It would be better. I said I was staying so they’d leave me alone. And you just asked me the question for the first time in two weeks [laughing]
Renat Ibragimov: Can you say Traktor before and during playoffs are two different teams?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: Of course, many of our players never played in playoffs, including myself. I still don’t fully understand what it means. That’s just how it is. I prepare for every game and don’t think about the series as a whole. I think we are improving our game, but if we want to make it to the finals, we need to improve our defense and aggression. Everything is in our hands.
Renat Ibragimov: In this series it’s mostly the homegrown players from Chelyabinsk who are scoring – Zaripov, Kuznetsov…
Evgeny Kuznetsov: In the playoffs it does not matter who scores. Even if Valery Konstantinovich (Belousov) scores himself. This is the team of our city. We are fighting for Chelyabinsk.
Renat Ibragimov: Some fans in Chelyabinsk are unhappy with your game in the playoffs. Is the ceiling for your abilities even higher?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: The fans are always unsatisfied – when we lose, and when we win. You can understand them. They have a right, but I don’t show up at their job and talk about it. They should support us in every situation. I always accept their criticism. But let them not take offense when I criticize them. I speak from my heart, and don’t mean any harm. I love it when they chant “Kuznetsov!” or “Traktor!” You want for that to go on for entire game. They don’t even realize how it cheers us on, how you get goosebumps from it.