Evgeny Kuznetsov is having a rough time. He has had no points in the last five games and has been left off the national roster for the Channel One Cup, suggesting a slim chance of making the Olympic team.
Now it seems the hometown fans have turned on him.
Traktor Chelyabinsk’s coach Valery Belousov briefly mentioned it talking to Alexey Shevchenko of KHL Fan-Zone:
Alexey Shevchenko: What’s with Evgeny Kuznetsov this year?
Valery Belousov: That injury at the beginning of the year really put him out of step. He came back then, started scoring but the consequences are still felt. His physical shape is just not there. We gave him a couple games of rest, he scored again, but the problems are still there. Our fans shocked me too. I’d never think they can do anything like that.
Alexey Shevchenko: What happened?
Valery Belousov: They started to whistle him [whistling in Russia is like booing in the US]. And I’m telling Evgeny to not pay attention to that. Because these very same people will applaud him if we start winning. But now they whistle as soon as he gets the puck. I’m telling him: “Zhenya, you can’t step on the ice [without whistling], but I feel embarrassed to go to the store”. This will pass.
Talking to Shevchenko, Kuznetsov said he wasn’t the only one greeted unkindly after a 2-0 shutout loss to Yugra, which extended his team’s losing streak to five games: “They whistled at me and other guys. And when we exited after the game, they were trying to insult us, talking trash. I’m not offended though. Fans want to see wins and they’re emotional. It’s okay, it’s a motivation to play our best.”
In the same interview, Kuznetsov said the Olympic roster– not the money (reportedly he’s made a total between $7.6 to 10 million over the life of his contract)– was the determinant factor in his decision to stay in Russia for two more years. “I understand, that first of all Bilyaletdinov will be picking from those who go to the [Channel One Cup]”, Kuznetsov told Shevchenko, “but there’s still a chance to make a team. The rosters will be submitted on January 7th, and I’ve got time to show that I didn’t regress. My dream to play at the Games stays. I stayed in Russia for two more years for a reason. Everyone thinks it’s because of money, but they’re mistaken. I stayed to play in Sochi.”
Speaking with Sport-Express’ Igor Larin, former NHL enforcer Andrei “The Russian Bear” Nazarov, currently coaching Donbass Donetsk and the Ukrainian national team, had encouraging words for Kuznetsov. “Sometimes to make a good jump you need to make a step back to take a run at it,” Nazarov said. “I think that’s the temporary setback we see right now. Most importantly, this young master is just 21.”
When asked about about a discussed trade that might have sent Kuznetsov to Dynamo Moscow during Traktor’s firesale, Nazarov refused to discuss rumors, but added that, “In Donbass we’d find the deserved spot for him”. Wishful thinking, Naz.
Yesterday, Traktor snapped their losing streak by beating Atlant 3-2 on the road. Kuznetsov’s and Traktor’s woes appear far from over, but this big win has propelled them back to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re tied in points with Admiral now, with one game in hand.