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Old 11-18-2006, 12:47 PM   #56
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Join Date: Oct 2004
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Default Malkin has a hungry heart

BUFFALO -- Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack.

I went out for a ride and I never went back.

Just like a river that don't know where it's flowin'.

I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin'.

-- Bruce Springsteen, Hungry Heart


There's no wife and kids back home in Magnitogorsk, just a mom and dad. And, after all that's happened this fall, it's hard to argue Evgeni Malkin took a wrong turn.

But he sure as blazes went out for a ride and never went back.

Ever since the second week of August, Malkin has been a travellin' man. From Helsinki to Los Angeles and a dozen other cities in between.

Last night it was Buffalo and it was hardly his finest hour as a fledgling NHL star. In a 4-2 loss to the Sabres, he didn't look much like the kid who has lit it up in his first month, more like a guy who was a little road-weary.

He was pointless for only the fourth game this year, took a big hit that left him a little wonky in the third period and took a dumb penalty in the third period while his team was coming back.

To add insult to injury, in the final minute, after Sidney Crosby had scored his second goal of the game to pull Pittsburgh within one, Malkin's stick shattered while trying to keep the puck in the Buffalo zone, allowing Buffalo an empty-netter.

"We played well in the second and third," said Crosby, "but two out of three periods doesn't cut it, especially against a team like Buffalo. If we want to be competitive, we have to be better."

Malkin has been better, and will be better. The guy has been through a lot.

When the Iron Curtain fell, we all figured the cloak and dagger stuff involving Russian players had ended. You live in Moscow and you want to play in the NHL? Hop in a cab, go to the airport and, you know, take a powder.

Not so. At least not in Malkin's case. With no compensation plan in place between the NHL and Russia, his masters at Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the Russian Super League weren't going to give up.

After team officials showed up at his house in the middle of the night early in August and, according to Malkin, forced him to sign a renegotiated contract under duress, then withheld his passport in case he might flee, Malkin phoned his Canadian agent, J.P. Barry, and a plan straight out of a John LeCarre novel was hatched.

A week later, the Metallurg team flew to Helsinki for pre-season training. Malkin got off the plane with his teammates, but when they got to the bus outside the terminal, the 20-year-old had vanished.

For five days, the Russians searched high and low for Malkin in Helsinki. He was secreted in two different safe houses by a team of Finnish mercenaries while his American visa was processed.

Then, on Aug. 16, with Russian officials still in determined pursuit, Malkin slipped out of the country on a flight to New York and on to Los Angeles.

Not long after that, he signed with the Penguins who had drafted him second overall in 2004, paving the way for a magical beginning to Malkin's NHL career. After a shoulder separation delayed his start to the season by four games, Malkin scored in each of his first six games.

Malkin is making a prophet out of his fellow countryman, Alexander Ovechkin. At last year's NHL awards, where he was presented the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year, Ovechkin predicted Malkin would be receiving it this year.

Hard to argue: In 13 games, Malkin has scored nine goals and assisted on six more. Included in those points are some highlight reel plays that have elicited comparisons to Mario Lemieux.

"These guys, they see the ice so well," said Lemieux, referring also to Crosby. "That's why they're both world class players. They don't need to speak on the ice. They see the ice, they see exactly what they want to do."

Given the mood of the boys back in Metallurg, Malkin may not be able to go home any time soon. In the meantime, it looks like he's busy making a new one.
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