Fedorov: “I still love the game”

Sergei Fedorov is alive and well and living in Columbus. In his 17th NHL season, the 37-year-old center is averaging just over 17 minutes a night, taking key faceoffs, serving as an assistant captain, and sitting one point away from 100 in a Blue Jackets uniform. Although he lacks the explosive acceleration of his glory years with the Detroit Red Wings, this three-time Stanley Cup champion and former Hart Trophy winner is still a beautiful, fluid skater. His seven-game point streak (1-6-7) that ended November 12 was the lengthiest on the Blue Jackets so far this season. Under coach Ken Hitchcock, the club is hanging tight in the Western Conference playoff race, and that’s gratifying to Fedorov, the first Russian to hit 1,000 points and 1,000 games in the NHL. However, in a 2-0 loss in Vancouver on November 29, Columbus couldn’t solve netminder Roberto Luongo, who established a new Canucks record by extending his shutout streak to 193 minutes and 56 seconds. Afterwards, HockeyAdventure.com caught up with Fedorov for an exclusive, wide-ranging conversation.

HockeyAdventure.com: Will you guys look back at this game as just having a tough night against a great goalie?

Sergei Fedorov: We had shots on net, but Luongo saw how everything was developing, and there were no surprises, really. I think we rushed a little bit into shooting the puck on net. We were going for rebounds, but when the goalie sees it, he usually freezes it pretty well, and he wasn’t giving up any rebounds. Overall, we had chances, but that extra second or two to put a little interference in front of the goalie would have helped us. We rushed too much.

HockeyAdventure.com: It was a tight game, though. And this club is much better defensively than you were last year.

Sergei Fedorov: I agree. We’re a bit better defensively. But it’s a hockey game. You’ve got to make plays, key passes, to catch the goalie off guard. Unfortunately, tonight I don’t think we had any 2-on-1’s or 3-on-2’s. Maybe we did. But it looks like we were giving each other difficult passes to shoot off.

HockeyAdventure.com: Still, what is it with the overall defensive improvement on this club? Your lineup is pretty similar to last year, although you’ve added guys like Mike Peca and Jan Hejda.

Sergei Fedorov: I think it’s experience from last year. Guys have played a lot now under the new coaches and management. Hitch [Ken Hitchcock] has been with us from the beginning of the year. It helps in terms of playing the system right.

HockeyAdventure.com: Hitch is known as a guy who preaches the same message all the time. If there’s one sentence you’d hear coming out of his mouth more than any other, what would it be?

Sergei Fedorov: Well, I guess it’s not very pleasant at the moment! But you know, we’ll keep that among us, and hopefully we’ll regroup and get a better game next time. But you’re absolutely right. He’s very consistent with the things he wants you to do, and that’s why we’ve played a bit better defensively than last year.

HockeyAdventure.com: What do you tell a guy like Gilbert Brule, who’s having some difficulties finding his groove as a young center in the NHL?

Sergei Fedorov: Keep skating. Keep digging. Be excited about it. I know it’s very tough to play six or eight minutes a game. It’s almost impossible to accomplish something because you’re obviously pretty cold out there after waiting a long time on the bench for a shift. But hopefully his talent and the way he sees the game will take over eventually. Hopefully he’ll learn a lot from what’s going on. One day, I’m sure he’ll be a great player in this league.

HockeyAdventure.com: Speaking of being put in a tough position, last season you were asked to play on defense for a stretch, which you’d done before with the Wings.

Sergei Fedorov: I didn’t have a choice. I had to play defense because of a couple of injuries to my arms. I wasn’t quick enough for me to play offensively at the time. On the blueline, it seems to me, I had that extra second to move the puck and make the right play.

HockeyAdventure.com: You don’t really like playing defense that much, though, do you?

Sergei Fedorov: That’s not my top choice. I like to play center forward. That’s where I got my wings.

HockeyAdventure.com: Jimmy Devellano once said he thought you could have won a Norris Trophy if you stuck with defense.

Sergei Fedorov [chuckles]: I think that was a long time ago! Obviously I feel comfortable playing defense. It’s a no-brainer with the speed I have as a forward and the ability to pass the puck. I wouldn’t say it’s that difficult for me. At times, it could be. But I’m a natural center forward. I can play defense part-time. Scotty [Bowman] asked me many times when we had injuries in Detroit, and then again it happened last year, like I said. You make your choices and hopefully you’re happy with them. I certainly was, because I had the chance to go back and play.

HockeyAdventure.com: Let’s talk about Russia. Earlier this week, Gary Bettman indicated it’s unlikely the NHL will participate in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. What are your thoughts about that, as a guy who played in 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City?

Sergei Fedorov: I don’t know what to think of that, to be honest. It’s out of my league. I haven’t thought that far ahead. But I’m sure it’s a bunch of politics going on again between the Russian Federation and the NHL. Who knows?

HockeyAdventure.com: So you think if they managed to iron things out a bit, it might be a different story?

Sergei Fedorov: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s a big business now. It’s not only a hockey game, unfortunately. You have to make compromises in terms of the Russian structure, the way we were brought up. We’re like the stray dogs, I guess.

HockeyAdventure.com: Then again, the Russians aren’t the only ones who are unhappy about the IIHF-NHL transfer agreement. It sounds like the Swedes may be looking to pull out because they don’t feel they’re getting enough money for their young players either.

Sergei Fedorov [chuckles]: Oh my God. I can’t really talk about finances and money and the Swedish federation. I’m just giving you my personal, overall perspective. Like I said from the get-go, it’s a little bit out of my league to talk about, say, 2014.

HockeyAdventure.com: Not trying to get you in trouble with anybody!

Sergei Fedorov: No, it’s not about getting in trouble. I just haven’t thought about it or got enough information to really talk about it. But overall, knowing the Russian mentality and how people think, I believe the federation has some kind of a problem with the NHL as far as transfers and money, saving this and saving that. That’s the background. Like I said, the NHL will probably have a certain strong position about 2014.

HockeyAdventure.com: On a more personal note, your brother Fedor is doing well with Dynamo Moscow this year, leading the club with nine goals. Do you think he has a shot at coming back to the NHL?

Sergei Fedorov: I think that’s a nice thought. But we’d have to ask him what he wants. He was trying for quite a few years to break into the NHL. I don’t think he had a legit chance for whatever reason. We should ask people who worked with him. But our family kind of never doubted he’s a good player. Unfortunately, it’s out of our hands to say or do something about it now. I know he’s playing well in Dynamo, and he’s happy there. He signed a one-year deal, and he’ll go from there. He’s working hard, and he made the national team. They played some tournament in Europe recently [the Karjala Cup in Finland] and they won. He played well, according to the media I’ve read. I’m cheering him on. What can I say? As a brother, you always worry about your siblings.

HockeyAdventure.com: Anaheim won the Cup last year, and you knew quite a few of the guys in their locker room from playing with the Ducks and being in the league for years. Who were you happiest for?

Sergei Fedorov: Definitely Teemu Selanne. But I’m also happy for the younger guys, some of whom I got to know a bit, like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. I like those guys. They’re feisty and they work hard. It was great for Jiggy too [J-S Giguere]. I think he deserved to win, and he did. Ilya Bryzgalov did a good job part-time for them in the beginning, too. I was just happy to see those guys get it done at such a young age. Now they know what it takes. Now they have so much experience. It’s in their computer bank. I knew too, after we won the first time. You know how to prepare yourself and what you’ll be going through. It’s just easier to anticipate what’s down the road.

HockeyAdventure.com: Thoughts on Bryzgalov getting picked up by Phoenix?

Sergei Fedorov: I think he made the right move. He’s playing well and he’s excited. He’s been a backup goalie for the longest time. The way he’s playing, obviously he’s happy with the move. You can only do so much when you’re a backup. Now he’s getting his feet wet, and I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully he’ll play well for Wayne [Gretzky].

HockeyAdventure.com: How about you? You’re unrestricted at the end of the year. How much longer would you like to play?

Sergei Fedorov: I don’t know. Hopefully a couple more years.

HockeyAdventure.com: Still hungry?

Sergei Fedorov: Yeah, I still love the game. I like the challenges and the communication with the younger guys. Obviously they have quite a few questions about what’s going on. It’s still fun for me.

HockeyAdventure.com: Off the ice, what’s going on with Sergei Fedorov these days?

Sergei Fedorov: Not much. Just talking to my mom and dad all the time. Once in a while I’ll call my brother in Moscow. Trying to get ready for the games every other night. We’re pretty much very busy. When you’re turning 38 years old, you’ve got to get some rest. That’s the main focus.

HockeyAdventure.com: On the other hand, you did go flying with the Blue Angels in the summer of 2006. Would you do that again? Or would you go for a plane ride with Alexei Kovalev?

Sergei Fedorov [grins]: No, that’s not the same. Eight G’s and half a G, that’s different, you know? Anyway, I would definitely love to fly again. I’d need more experience in terms of how to prepare myself. Because quite frankly, it’s just like you’ve got pressure of 2500 pounds per square inch when you’re up there with some eight to ten G’s. It’s pretty interesting. It was quite physically challenging. I’ve got to say, I didn’t feel so hot after the four or five maneuvers we did. But it was a lot of fun.

HockeyAdventure.com: Tougher than riding a roller coaster, no doubt.

Sergei Fedorov: Yeah. Basically, I personally saw the end of the tunnel two or three times. I saw all black. And I recovered pretty well. You’re not getting hurt, you’re just losing your consciousness. But you can’t do it every day. They said not to eat breakfast beforehand, so I didn’t eat breakfast. But maybe before they didn’t say you should eat a big dinner, so you have some strength to go through with it! [laughs] It’s a long process. You get there at 9 and you only get up in the air at 11. Four hours with no food, just a cracker and some water.

HockeyAdventure.com: But it must help being a guy who’s in good shape?

Sergei Fedorov: Absolutely. But the pilots themselves told me right away that a woman would beat any man out there because they handle the G-forces better. For some reason, women have more blood. That’s what they told us in the briefing.

HockeyAdventure.com: You learn something new every day. Thanks for this, Sergei, and enjoy the rest of the season.

Sergei Fedorov: Thank you.

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