- The Washington Times - Monday, November 9, 2015

When Evgeny Kuznetsov arrived at a dinner in Riga, Latvia three years ago to honor the all-stars of the Kontinental Hockey League, he didn’t have any idea how to act or, more importantly, where to sit. He was 19, in the middle of his second full season with Traktor Chelyabinsk, and so he thought it would be appropriate to sit near the captain of Team Fedorov, the legendary center of the rival club.

“He’s very much like a gentleman, you know?” Kuznetsov said Monday, reflecting upon his brief conversation that night with Sergei Fedorov. “He said a couple of good words to me.”

Fedorov, whose 18-year NHL career concluded in 2009 after he spent parts of two seasons with the Capitals, was part of the seven-member class inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. The Detroit Red Wings will host their own ceremony for Fedorov on Tuesday, honoring the center prior to their game against the Capitals.

It will likely be a special night for Fedorov, who played his first 13 years with the team and still owns a home in the area. It could also be special for the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, who that evening could surpass Fedorov’s mark of 483 goals scored by a Russian-born player.

“I would say it’s going to be cool,” Ovechkin said. “It’s going to be like, you know, something — a special moment for me. Obviously, it’s going to be nice to see him up there. It’s a good moment for him and for me as well, if I’m going to break the record. You never know.”

Ovechkin was 5 years old when Fedorov broke into the NHL during the 1990-91 season, and he grew up a fan of the center’s style of play. On Saturday, during nationally televised Canadian broadcast of the Capitals’ game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a photo was shown of a smiling Ovechkin, then 12, wearing a shirt bearing Fedorov’s name and number.

The Capitals acquired Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline in 2008, and he finished out that season, and played one more, on a team that included Ovechkin, right wing Alexander Semin, goaltender Semyon Varlamov and center Viktor Kozlov.

Washington acquired Fedorov not just for his talent, but also so he could provide a degree of mentorship and guidance — especially for Ovechkin, Semin and Varlamov, all of whom were 23 years old or younger.

“He was almost like a dad because obviously, Bruce [Boudreau, the first-year coach] didn’t have experience in the playoffs as well and he kind of was a player and a coach at the same time,” Ovechkin said. “He obviously gave us the right thoughts with what we had to do on the ice.”

Others learned from Fedorov, too. Left wing Brooks Laich was in his third full season with the Capitals when Fedorov was acquired and noted that the center’s poise “was something that I hadn’t seen before.”

“The first thought that went through my head when we traded for Sergei Fedorov was, ‘Wow, I used to play [with] this guy on my Sega Genesis,’” Laich said. “I was a big fan of his. He was my No. 1 center. I remember waking up and seeing the trade and being very excited. You knew his ability and his resume coming in, and to play with someone so cerebral was something.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner, who played 30 games for the Capitals as a rookie in 2008-09, knew he could learn from how Fedorov carried himself around his teammates. One time, Alzner said, after he dumped the puck and headed off the ice for a line change, Fedorov approached and asked if he saw him streaking down the far side of the ice.

When Alzner apologized and said he didn’t, Fedorov said it wasn’t a problem.
“That’s just something that I’ve really kept with me: Never to get on a guy too hard for something like that,” Alzner said. “That could have just been because I was a rookie, a D-man, who knows? But, the way he handled that situation was something that really stands out, and that, to me, is a sign of a good pro, a good leader, and I’ve taken that with me the rest of my career.”

Fedorov finished his playing career with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, retiring after that 2011-12 season. His effect on the next generation of Russian players was evident: When Kuznetsov accessed the Internet for the first time as a teenager, he remembered scouring it for videos of Russian-born players in the NHL, which usually led him to Fedorov’s highlights.

Asked if he’s looking forward to the chance to meet Fedorov again, Kuznetsov smiled and nodded.

“After the game, I’ll probably see him,” he said. “He’ll come to the locker room, for sure, and maybe a picture and post it [online].”

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