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Habs prankster Markov has much to say, in his quiet way
11 июля 2015 года. Stubbs, Dave. Montreal Gazette

 All things being equal, Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov will reach two milestones in the coming season.

His 54th game will be his 900th regular-season NHL match, coming in his 15th season with the only club he's known. Seventeen games later, he will play his 1,000th, including playoffs.

Markov considered these big round numbers noon-hour Thursday at a downtown restaurant, nodding silently. And he considered a June 1998 day in Buffalo, the city where he could play No. 1,000 next March 16.

On his first trip to the U.S., tired of waiting to hear his name called that NHL draft day in 1998, the 19-year-old left the Marine Midland Arena and went shopping, returning in time to hear the Canadiens make him their sixthround choice, 162nd overall. It's fair to say that he would prove to be a gem uncovered from deep in the earth of that draft.

"When I started, I didn't think that far," Markov said of the milestones on his horizon. "Right now, I'm just trying to have fun. Maybe one day I'm going to reach those numbers. Maybe more. You never know what's going to happen."

Hockey has changed dramatically during his career, rules rewritten to entirely change the way defence is played, young skaters arriving in bigger, stronger and faster waves.

The Russian's game has evolved along the way, and continues to do so. It remains a work in progress, he suggests, and will continue to be so until he hangs up his skates.

"If you want to be comparable with them, you have to work harder," Markov said. "But I also try to be who I am, not someone else - not to change the style of my game, but to adjust to new rules.

"Of course, it's fun. As long as you still have energy to challenge yourself, you must do that. It's fun to do something better each year. That's been my goal before each season, to play better or do something better than the year before." At age 36 last season, Markov averaged 24:55 ice time per game; only twice before in 13 previous seasons did he play more. He spoke at season's end of knowing the playoffs weren't his finest hour, perhaps worn down from the grind of his 81-game regular season.

The off-season signing of Jeff Petry, the continuing development of Nathan Beaulieu and the massive workload shouldered by P.K. Subban should dial those minutes back a little this season, keeping him fresher in crucial situations.

Markov took two weeks off after the Canadiens' two-round, 12-game playoffrun, visited Russia for a couple weeks, returned to his off-season Florida home then came north last Sunday to Montreal, where he'll train for a month before heading back to Florida until just before the start of September's training camp.

He's working out five days a week at Lachine's High Performance Sport, run by elite trainer and former Canadiens strength and conditioning co-ordinator Scott Livingston. With Olympic champions and high-end athletes from many sports, Markov is stretching, jumping, lifting and cycling, and running the punishing stairs on Mount Royal once a week as well.

It was Livingston who realigned, refurbished, even reinvented Markov in summer 2012, following his second ACL knee reconstruction and followup scope. The partnership has been hugely successful as the defenceman has missed only two games the past three seasons - both as late-season healthy scratches - after playing only 65 games from 2009-12.

"Scott has great experience working with many different athletes, in many sports," Markov said. "Whatever he does with my program, I like it. I feel strong and comfortable. Each year when we start training, I feel more comfortable. It gives me confidence in my strength and health." The twice-rebuilt knee is so far in Markov's past that he gives it not a thought until a reporter might go there, having seen him hang his brace in his stall after a game.

It's that question, and one other, that he says he could do without.

"I don't like to hear about my injuries," Markov said plainly. "Some people will always ask how I feel, 'How's your knee?' I don't like to look back. If someone thinks about any athlete (being) an iron man, not missing any games, if they think it's easy for that athlete, believe me, it's not easy. You need to do so much work to be there, to play all those games, to deal with the different injuries, prepare your body. And mentally, too.

"It's a big challenge, but it's fun. I have fun right now playing the game every time I step on the ice. I also realize it's not going to be forever. One day, it's going to be over. ... "And I always don't like the question, 'What do you think about your game?' " he continued. "What am I supposed to answer? Either I'm so good or I'm so bad? To me, it's someone outside or upstairs (in management) or other people, reporters, they're supposed to answer that question. I'm always not talking about my game. We always have room to improve."

It is this frankness, sometimes viewed as an impatient brusqueness, and an economy of words in dressing-room scrums that has built Markov an unfavourable reputation with some over the years. He neither encourages nor discourages it; if you didn't realize long ago that this man marches to his own beat, you haven't been paying attention.

A conversation with Markov is not listening to a stream of consciousness. Neither a snappy sound bite nor a punchy quote, he sometimes paused for 20 seconds or more during our talk this week to formulate a thought or reply.

Markov says almost not a word about family, having long ago drawn an uncrossable line between his professional and personal lives, and those who know him understand he won't be engaged in that discussion.

If that fails to satisfy the curiosity of others, well, so be it. It is Markov's play on the ice and insight into the game, not his life beyond it, for which fans know him.

"I'm not trying to hide anything about myself," he said, shrugging about the idea that some view him as a dark mystery. "It's probably the way I grew up in Russia: I have my work, my job is hockey. And I have my personal life.

"I try to stay not secret, but it's my personal life. I don't want to open that. That's who I am.

"At the end of the day," he said, brightening, "the people have to know I can be a funny guy and that I like to have fun."

And indeed, Markov is by many accounts a very funny guy behind closed doors, having grown looser as he grew more comfortable with North America.

It was Markov who delivered the towel full of shaving cream with which countryman Alexei Emelin plastered Carey Price after the Canadiens' final regularseason home game in April, the goalie having recorded his franchise-record 43rd of ultimately 44 wins for the 2014-15 campaign.

"It just came to my brain in seconds," Markov said with a tight grin, admitting his role in the messy caper. "That was a great day for Carey and for history and the organization.

"Of course, it's much easier (to prank) than when I started. I feel comfortable now. I try to have fun on and offthe ice. Those type of jokes we can do for many years and they're still funny."

Teammate Tomas Plekanec says that Alex Galchenyuk is a regular Markov victim, though the defenceman says there's never a favourite target, and suggests that things "just happen." If he's not precisely the same player he was earlier in his career, Markov remains a quarterback on the ice, a gifted passer who single-handedly has the ability to change a game's pace.

He wears Montreal well, three times having decided not to test free agency and instead sign fouryear, three-year and three-year contracts in 2007, 2011 and 2014, and he grins when asked about his next one.

"I will be happy if they sign me for the same amount of money after two more years," he replied.

Pause. "I'm just joking!" Upon expiration of his current deal, Markov will have played a full decade for the same annual $5.75 million salary-cap charge. No, he said with a laugh, he never thought of asking for $10 more just so he could say he got a raise.

"I'm not the biggest fan to change something in my life," Markov said about the temptation to at least test the open market. "I was born in Russia, but I've spent a little less than half my life in Montreal.

"I've always said, the feeling you have when you step on the ice here, the crowd and the atmosphere, you can't compare it to any other building. The history and the organization here. ... I always ask myself, 'Why would I have to change that?'" Markov will shrug about the Canadiens' vacant captaincy, more an issue for those beyond the dressing room than inside it.

"I don't see the big problem," said the longtime alternate captain. "It's not the players' call, it's from the top of the organization. You should ask them, not the players. If you want to be successful, you need to have 23 leaders in the room. Twenty-three captains."

Now within a season of his 1,000th NHL game, Markov remembers what he says was perhaps the best advice that's come his way, the long-ago words of a minor-hockey coach in Russia.

"We trained a lot, ran a lot, and at a young age you try to skip something or cheat somewhere," he recalled. "Our coach always told us: 'Do you think you're cheating me or lying to me, or are you cheating or lying to yourself?' "Maybe you didn't understand it at that time, but the quicker you realized it, the better you could be."

 Veteran Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov, in his own words this week, on a variety of topics:

Q So how's your tennis game?

A (Laughs) It could be better, you know? I'm not a professional. Whenever I have the time, I try to play. I still need to improve my game. I play two or three times a week during the summer. I have a cousin in Russia who's got a big house and a tennis court next to it. In Florida (his off-season home), sometimes I play Sergei Berezin (a former NHLer who's from Markov's hometown of Voskresensk). I've tried to play golf, but it's not my game. I prefer to play tennis rather than just walk around the golf course. Maybe someday I'll be interested to play, but not now.

Q Do you play tennis for recreation or conditioning?

A For both. It depends who I play against. I'm lucky, my partners are better than me. They make me play at my high level. I have to run to hit the ball.

Q Your summer seems to be a triangle of travel from Montreal to Russia to Florida and back to Montreal. What's that like?

A It depends when we finish the season. Usually, I try to go somewhere to rest, to a beach somewhere, a little vacation, then back to Russia for a couple weeks. For some reason, I can't take more than two weeks in Russia. It's kind of busy there. (Laughs) Then I'm back to Florida to start a little training. In July the past couple years, I've been working with Scott Livingston (in Lachine), then I'm back to Florida again, start skating and come back here for training camp.

This year, I took two weeks after the season and I didn't do anything. After that I went back to Russia, played a little tennis, nothing special, no crazy workouts, with family and friends there. Then I came back to Florida to start to prepare myself for next season.

Q Are you the kind of athlete who, when he takes some time offat season's end, puts on a lot of weight?

A I used to put on weight, but I guess I'm getting older - right now in the summer I'm losing weight, not putting it on. I'm probably pretty steady during the season. I try to manage that, I try to stay at the same weight all the time, where I feel comfortable.

Q And that would be?

A About 200 pounds. I came to the league at 200, 203, then I picked up some weight for some reason. But I feel comfortable at about 200.

Q This will be your 15th NHL season. Do you look beyond your playing career?

A When that day is going to be there, I'll think about that. Right now I'm focused on my game and our team, and that's my priority. Maybe inside of me I have not a dream, but a vision of the future, where I want to be. But I don't want to talk about it now. (Grins) If one day it's going to happen, I'll let you know.

Q Which of your teammates does the best imitation of you? A No one (he's not laughing).

Q You've played for seven coaches - nine, if you count Bob Gainey and Michel Therrien twice each - who have used many systems. Do you like the way you're used now?

A (Answers with a question) Do you call him Michael or Michel?

Q Michel. Funny thing, the French often call him Mike, the English call him Michel. What do you call him?

A I call him Coach. He's always been open with me, he's always said if I have something to say, his door is open and I can always ask him something or have a conversation with him. There are no secrets here. And I realize he's the coach, he has the main pressure on his shoulders, and however he feels comfortable using myself or the guys, that's his call. Whether I like it or not, I have to take it. He's the boss, in my view. That's how it's supposed to be.

Q Your 24:55 ice-time average last season, at age 36, was the third-highest of your career. What are your thoughts about that?

A I always like to play a lot. That no secret for anyone - every athlete wants to spend more time on the ice or field. But the coaching staff, they decide how much the player is going to play. It's their call, they have to manage that. All we have to do as players is prepare ourselves for the game and play the best game we can every night.

Q It's probably safe to assume that you can't go anywhere in Montreal without being recognized. As a man who's known to be pretty private, do you like that?

A: I enjoy that in this city because one day, people will stop recognizing me and probably I'm going to miss that. I enjoy it, especially in a city like Montreal with the passion the fans have.

Q Mike Weaver wants me to ask you why you never call him.

A I don't have his number in my phone.

Страничка Андрея Маркова на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


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