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Titov denies Russian report
By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
MONTREAL - Yes, German Titov said, he wishes Penguins Coach Herb Brooks would let him have some more ice time. And it's safe to assume he'd appreciate getting some of those extra minutes on the power play. But, no, Titov doesn't have a problem with Brooks, personally or professionally. And no - emphatically, no - he didn't make the searing criticisms of Brooks that were attributed to him in Thursday's editions of a Russian newspaper, Sport-Express. At least that's what Titov, the Penguins' second-line left winger, was insisting yesterday.
"I never said [anything] like that," Titov said. "I don't know what happened in the newspaper."
Titov said he hasn't seen the article in question but was briefed on its content during a telephone conversation with his agent, Serge Levin, Thursday evening. It presumably was an earful for him.
The article quoted Titov as saying, "Everyone has his own opinion, but mine is: In training, Brooks always leaves too many things unclear. He forces players to practice in the most idiotic and unreal situations.
"The coach has, at his disposal, players of the highest caliber, but spends his time on sheer nonsense. That means he is either incompetent or regards his players as incompetent. Not surprisingly, our guys are already thoroughly sick of his stupid training."
It would be difficult to take any of that out of context - it's hard to imagine that saying players are "thoroughly sick of his stupid training" could be intended as a flattering observation, no matter how it's framed - but Titov said repeatedly that he never uttered anything of the sort during an interview with a Sport-Express reporter after the Penguins' 4-2 loss in Nashville a week ago.
Their discussion, he said, focused on the changes in the Penguins' style of play since Brooks replaced Kevin Constantine as coach Dec. 9. He added that the subject of Brooks' practices never came up in the conversation.
If their actions yesterday are any indication, the Penguins' strategy for dealing with this controversy is to make it a non-issue as quickly as possible.
Most players were reluctant to say much about it, other than to express their belief that Titov was being honest when he said he did not speak the quotes in question. Many declined to confirm that Titov had discussed the matter with the rest of the club, although Titov said that was taken care of before practice.
"My teammates believe in me," he said.
Titov also said he spoke to Brooks before the workout and, while the details of their discussion are not known, Titov gave the impression there was no lingering problems between the two.
"We had a conversation about this, and it's over," he said. "That's it."
Brooks' only comment on the Titov controversy after yesterday's practice was, "that matter's been addressed internally, and it stays internally. That's all I've got to say about it."
When a TV interviewer in the thicket of media members around Brooks promptly asked a question about the newspaper article, Brooks' put his hand over the offending party's microphone and spoke directly to him in a firm tone.
"You want to be a professional?" Brooks said. "I'll treat you as a professional, OK? Because you are a professional, I'll have respect for you. So, when I say it, I mean it. I'll answer every good question you have. Fair enough? Good. Thank you."
After a brief pause, he added, "I don't mean to embarrass you. I'm saying this to everyone, OK? Not just you. ... No hard feelings."
This is not the first time the Penguins have had to deal with a furor inspired by a media report out of eastern Europe. And, correctly or otherwise, players hailing from that part of the world claim it's not unusual for reporters there to fabricate stories.
"There have been so many times in my life ... that's why I won't give interviews to Russian reporters," right winger Alexei Kovalev said. "I don't believe that [stuff]."
Right winger Jaromir Jagr, the Penguins' captain, has been in the middle of several such controversies in recent years, usually when he was quoted as being critical of Constantine. Invariably, Jagr insisted the quotes had been taken out of context or gotten mangled when translated into English.
"I've been in that situation before," he said. "You know how it is. People just make it up all the time. Most of the time. I don't believe that Tito said anything like that.
"[Reporters] ask you a question and you answer it and they're still going to write whatever they want, especially in Europe. I don't think it happens here a lot, but in Europe, that's what happens a lot."
Defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, a Lithuanian, said he also has had problems with the press in eastern Europe.
"Over my career, I was misquoted a lot of times, or maybe translated [poorly] at different times," he said. "Most of the time, they write the truth. But sometimes, they get their own [opinions] into it. I've been in situations where they write things that I never said anything about.
"One day I said I was going to hit [Dainius] Zubrus if I played, and he's my countryman. They wrote that I was going to kill him, or something like that. My mom was calling me, and his mom was calling my mom, and they were crying, saying, 'How can you say things like that to your countryman?' I never said anything about killing anybody."
And Titov, he said, hasn't uttered a harsh syllable about Brooks to him, which is another reason he doubts the Sport-Express article was accurate.
"[Titov] has never said anything about Herb to me," he said. "And usually, if we wouldn't like the coach, we'd talk [with] each other [in Russian]."
Accurate or not, the remarks attributed to Titov were the dominant topic of conversation after practice yesterday. There was little discussion of the Penguins' game against Montreal at 7:08 tonight at the Molson Centre, let alone the finer points of their game plan.
Like, for example, how they intend to go after Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, who has allowed just three goals during his past four starts.
The Penguins are braced for another barrage of Titov-related questions when meeting with Montreal reporters after the game-day skate this morning, but they contend the whole episode hasn't affected their ability to focus on the game.
"I can't see it being a distraction," left winger Matthew Barnaby said.
"There are too many other things going on to worry about that."