Rambler's Top100

28 2011 . 
Alexander Semin is starting to speak up // "Washington Post

By Tarik El-Bashir.

In his first six NHL seasons, Alexander Semin dodged interviews in English as deftly as he sidestepped defenders.

It left his fans wondering what he was thinking. It annoyed teammates who were asked to speak for him, whether it followed one of his electrifying hat-trick performances or a scoreless one. It meant reporters had to use interpreters and second-hand translations to cobble together accounts about the Washington Capitals second-best goal scorer.

All that, however, slowly is starting to change.

At the urging of General Manager George McPhee, his agent and team officials, Semin, Washingtons longest-tenured player, has agreed to speak to reporters and, by extension, his fans in English.

It was time to speak English, Semin said in a one-on-one interview at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before the team headed to Nashville for Wednesdays preseason game. This is important year for Caps and for me, too. I want to try to speak English.

Semin, 27, understands almost all of whats said to him. Its articulating a response in English that sometimes proves to be a challenge. When it comes to doing interviews, it doesnt help that hes more than a bit self-conscious about the way he sounds speaking his second language.

We felt that Semin is at the point where hes progressed enough that he could handle it, McPhee said, and people would like to hear from him. Hes a good kid with a good sense of humor, and wed like to get people to know who he is.

Sergey Kocharov, the teams director of media relations, first broached the subject with Semin in the first round of the playoffs last season. There was considerable demand from local and New York-based media outlets for an interview with Semin, who insisted that Kocharov interpret for him. Kocharov, who immigrated from Russia with his family when he was 11 years old, was hired at the start of last season.

I told him we should do things differently next season, Kocharov said. And hes come in with a new mind-set.

Semins turnaround comes about a month after his character was called into question by former teammate Matt Bradley, who said on sports radio in Canada that Semin just doesnt care.

Shortly after arriving in Washington for training camp, Semin refuted Bradleys comments in an interview with Yahoo Sports, which translated his response from Russian into English. Then later that day, a video was posted on the teams Web site featuring Semin addressing Bradleys criticism in his own words, in English.

I dont worry about this, he said in the video. Different people have different .?.?.

Semin trailed off, looked up at Kocharov, who was off camera, and asked for a translation. Opinions, Kocharov told him. With that little bit of help, Semin finished his thought.

A few days later, Semin was interviewed by Comcast SportsNet, also one-on-one and in English.

Who knows me, my teammates, the coaching staff, he knows how much I care, he said when asked about Bradleys comments.

Asked Wednesday why it has taken him so long to begin giving interviews in English, Semin smiled and shrugged.

I did not need to, he said.

During the 2008-09 season, in fact, Semin could speak in his native language to fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Semyon Varlamov.

Semins English-speaking teammates, meanwhile, have applauded the effort he has made.

Its more for the fans and the general public, but it helps us communicate with him, too, defenseman Mike Green said. Its nice that hes being aggressive in this situation and is being accountable.

Its tiring when we have to answer questions for him. But he is our teammate and we did it for him. Hes trying, but its not going to happen overnight.

Linemate Brooks Laich added: Were happy that hes stepping out. If he makes a mistake, were not going to judge him on it. Its his second language and thats not easy. Hes a guy that cares, and Im glad hes going to voice his opinion.

I dont live too far from him and quite often we ride to the airport together, Laich added. We have good conversations. He can speak pretty well. But in front of a camera and microphone its a little bit different. You dont want to say something that could end up on the [bulletin board] in the oppositions locker room.

The team is going to take things slowly with Semin, meaning there are no plans to put him in a public service announcement or give him a speaking role in a team promotion. Semin also wont be asked to speak before dozens of cameras and microphones just yet.

Were taking some small steps, McPhee said. Were monitoring how he does. If he does well and he can handle it, well do more.

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