Every so often, Rich the trucker shows up at the ferry terminal and hands me his Canadiens magazine, which I appreciate greatly. He’s a big Habs fan, this fellow, he lives in Vancouver, and when he comes through, we talk Habs.
When this happens, my work effort drops from 140% down to 125%. But it’s important. It’s the future of the team at stake. (please note, a few years ago I wrote about another trucker named Rick, in Ottawa. Two different truckers. And Rick in Ottawa is a Senators fan).
Rich’s latest edition includes an interview with Alexei Emelin through a translator, and I’ve been waiting for something like this since the big guy joined the team. I’ve been curious to know what his thoughts are about life here and being in the NHL, and among others things, I found out that he wanted come to Canada and play for the Habs from the get-go, but was lied to by his agent.
The article explains that Emelin wanted to come and play for the Habs right away after being drafted 84th overall in 2004, but every time he asked his agent, the guy told him Montreal didn’t have an offer for him. And it wasn’t until Emelin had spoken to a Canadiens’ Russian scout, who told him how much the team wanted him, that he realized his agent had been less-than-truthful with him.
Emelin’s problem was that by the time he had found out, he had just signed a three-year deal in the KHL, and because he’s an honourable guy, he played out his contract. But once that was finished, he, along with his wife and daughter, were on a plane to Canada.
And yes, he has a different agent now.
Emelin also discusses the plate inserted into his face. He was in a scrap with Avangard Omsk forward Alexander Svitov, and when Emelin was down, Svitov sucker punched him in the face, his orbital bone was fractured, and major surgery was needed, which included a titanium plate put in. Now, if he fights it could damage the plate so although he plays a rough, tough game, he tries to keep his checks clean to avoid penalties and another sucker punch. I don’t blame him.
Speaking of Svitov, I saw him play in St. Petersburg when he was a junior, in a tournament against the Swedes. He was big and dominant, and when my Russian friend asked me during the game which player impressed me, I said Svitov. I liked him then but I don’t now. I’m not a fan of players who sucker punch others when they’re down.
But back to Emelin. He admits in the article that coming to Canada hasn’t been easy, the culture and language is difficult to get used to, and he says the game is much faster in the NHL than in the KHL. Learning English has been a trying experience, and he wants to understand the coaches better and enjoy the dressing room camaraderie more, which can only come when he gets a handle on the language. He first relied on Andrei Kostitsyn to translate, but with him gone now, Andrei Markov is back to pick up the slack.
I noticed at the game in Vancouver that the two of them chatted constantly on the ice, and my Russian wife Luci told me that seeing that tugged at her heart strings.
The hard-hitting defenceman feels he’s making progress in English now and says he understands maybe 40% of what’s going on, mostly thanks to watching cartoons with his four-year old daughter Lesia. Kids naturally pick up languages quickly, and he’s trying to keep up with her. They watch Dora the Explorer together, and all in all, as he gets more comfortable in his new surroundings, he admits he’s really happy in Montreal, happier than he thought.
Don’t forget, North America isn’t always the heaven on earth for others that we think it should be. Their home is their home, and I understand that. But things are working out splendidly here for our bruiser.
Canadiens magazine is a nice read with tremendous photography, and I await Rich the trucker’s next issue. And did you know that Mathieu Darche’s favourite song is Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones?