February, 20, 2011:
It's a Hockey Day in America and Todd Bertuzzi was just interviewed on NBC after scoring a game winner for the Red Wings in his 1000th career game. He thanks his parents, rightfully so, but it is all was made possible by Andrei Nikolishin, who saved Steve Moore's life and yes, Bertuzzi's career, almost seven years ago.
Nikolishin will be 38 in March, he still plays in KHL, and here are excerpts from his interview with Yuri Golyshak and Alexander Kruzhkov of Sport-Express.ru:
Dmitri Yushkevich told us how he unknowingly went against an enforcer and the fight ended in two seconds. Have you ever made a mistake like that?
When we left for the NHL, we didn't know anyone. Who's the enforcer? Who's the scorer? If you'd run into a tough guy, it was only a half of a bad luck. If a tough guy was sinistral, you couldn't do anything against such guy. And you were serviced in full from them.
God had mercy. But I was involved in the fights.
What was the one you remember the most?
Oh, man, I'll tell you. It was 1994 in my first NHL season. It was an exhibition game, we dropped the gloves, started grappling, had a couple of punches and fell on ice. When we fell, I was on top. I got to the bench and everybody congratulated me, "Well done, good start!" And the oldest player on the team Brad McCrimmon, nicknamed the Beast, slapped me on the shoulder and said, "When you fall, try to elbow him in the eye, so that he won't return to the ice."
Another memorable one was my debut for Hartford, we played with the Buffalo. The background to this was that it was the same game that ended last season. After that game Hartford was celebrating with the river of alcohol. Everyone got drunk so much that after that coach Paul Holmgren was forcibly treated for alcoholism for a month.
The start is mesmerizing.
So we are in Buffalo and Holmgren is on the bench. Someone from Buffalo skates by and says, "Hey, alcoholic...". And Holmgren was himself a fighter of the highest category. He hears this, gives the command "Fass"[Russian/German command for attack for a dog -- tj], and something beyond starts. The first line change and we have five on five fight. The second change, the same thing. The game was finishing with seven players on one side and seven on another. All others got game misconducts before the end of the game. The penalty boxes were crowded. I've never seen anything like that again.
Did the former fighter use his hands in a locker room?
He could hit you in the head. After the defeats Holmgren was raging, the trash bins, sticks were flying throughout the locker room.
Ron Wilson in Washington did not keep you too bored either.
Yeah, he was eccentric sometimes. Once he declared during the training, "Russia did not support the American attack on Iraq, so Nikolishin and Gonchar will skate two more loops!" Another time we played against New Jersey some funny stuff happened. In our zone someone knocked out my stick. I skated to the bench, and the puck bounced to me. Without any thinking I grabbed it and threw it towards New Jersey goals. Got two penalty minutes and New Jersey scored. But Caps still won 3:1. The next day Wilson has put the team in the center of the ice and gave everyone the puck in hand, "Let's find out who will throw the puck further..."
Chris Simon made a huge impression on us after just two hours of conversation. And you played with him for years...
Six years on the same line! We were traded by Washington to Chicago together. I was struck by how different Simon was in life and on the ice. Calm, balanced, thoughtful and once on the ice, furious and unpredictable. You could expect any kind of mean play from him.
Although it is believed that you must win at any cost, I hate dirty hockey, boarding, the hooks, sucker punches, diving... it is disgusting! We had a fighter Kevin Kaminski. He did notches with a knife on his helmet, so that another tough guy would smash his hands to the bone. In my opinion it was vile too.
What do you think about Nazarov's revelations that in the NHL almost everyone uses anabolics?
It is a complete nonsense. We were always repeatedly tested. In U.S. steroids are mostly used in American football. And in the NHL it was somewhat relevant in the first half of the 90's. The tighter control was introduced by the NHL from the day when the NHL players started to participate in the Olympics. The hockey players were tested by NHLPA and the League.
Do you have anything left in America?
I have friends. And this is most important thing.
When you sleep, do you see your Washington house in a dream?
I am pleased when I recall it, but it's all behind. The last time I was in Washington a year ago, and specifically went to look from afar at my house. We planted nearly a hundred trees in the garden. It was interesting, have they taken roots?
What did you see?
They were awesome! Eight yards tall!
What about your correspondence with Bill Clinton?
Oh come on, it was just one letter. Got to find it, it's somewhere in the house. Sergei Gonchar had a friend, Ron Partimor, who worked in security service. Thanks to him we often visited the White House. We could go where wanted, Oval Office or to the roof. Prior to 9/11 it was possible. It was before Christmas, my and Gonchar's parents went to the White House tour. All of a sudden they meet Clinton in a T-shirt who comes to them and shakes hands with everyone. My father in law was already in the state of prostration when Clinton asked him something.
Did he answer?
He didn't know a word in English and stood silent. Clinton waited, waited and walked away. I had some dolls (matryoshkas) at home, so I handed them over to Clinton via Ron. "Here," I said, "give it to the president, and please say thank you for a walk in the White House." Soon I received a letter from Clinton with gratitude, and with his autograph...
Someone who was at a reception in the Kremlin, was struck down by unusual and unbelievable toilets. What surprised you in the White House?
Incredible simplicity. I can not imagine in my wildest dream that I can easily wander into the Kremlin, walk past the office of the president. And the White House I even looked into the kitchen: Yeah, that here? Then the room where they make fresh flower bouquets. I stood up at small stand where the president holds a press conference. I even felt weird of such freedom. Then it struck to me: in America anything is possible.
If your father, a miner, lived through the rubble in the mines, your grandfather survived two plane crashes?
Are you talking about Fred? Oh, it's a terrific story. My ancestors are from Ukraine and after the revolution the brother of my grandfather went to serve in the Polish army. From there he ended up in the Canadian army. During the war his plane went down twice and from both crashes he was the only survivor. Then he settled in Edmonton. I have a ton of relatives there. In 1978 Fred got visa and flew for the first time to Russia. I still have that polaroid photo from that time, Fred and me, as a kid. But after he left the connection was broken again. When I arrived in America, first thing I did, went through the phone book. Found nine people with the Nikolishin name. I called all of them and they all were my relatives!
And what about Fred?
He was still alive! He knocked 95. I visited him in Edmonton, we talked very warmly. A year later he died. Fred bequeathed to his children to visit his homeland. The younger of his two sons came to Moscow four years ago when there was the world hockey championship. He lived with us a whole month. We went to watch hockey, to the Victory parade on May 9th and Canadian Nikolishin was ecstatic.
via Joe Pelletier's blog
Andrei Nikolishin's father in the Stalin's era was arrested and sentenced to labor camps. He was deported from Ukraine to Vorkuta, above Arctic circle, where he worked at the mine and for 25 years had no right to leave Vorkuta. He never told about this to his son when Andrei was young, because he was afraid it could harm his future career.