-- Leafs Game Day Magazine
Alexander Mogilny has been bringing fans out of their seats with his thrilling play for more than 15 seasons. However, earlier this season he was grounded by a hip ailment that required surgery. Though he won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2000, the prospect of sipping from it again in Toronto is what keeps Mogilny motivated to still play this game.
Here's Mogilny in conversation with Josh Cogan of LEAFS GAME DAY.
LEAFS GAME DAY (LGD): How hard was it for you as you missed 40 games this season?
"It wasn't about the game at that point. It was about getting healthy and getting back playing again. It's a game that I've been playing since I was six years old. It's all I know how to do. It was been very difficult, very difficult."
LGD: Did it help that your teammates had success despite your absence?
"I mean, it's not a surprise. We have a very deep club in here as weve proven over the last few years. There's not surprise at all. There are no irreplaceable people anywhere, so at least in that regard, they've been fun to watch."
LGD: You're known as one of the guys in the room who likes to joke around and keep guys loose. Were you able to do that from the sidelines?
"No, not really, because when you have an injury like this and with the team being so successful on the ice, you just want to keep away and not distract anybody. You want to do your rehab to try to speed up your recovery and at the same time you don't want to get in the way and do something that might distract the club."
LGD: What was it like deciding to go through surgery?
"It was very difficult, because I basically couldn't do anything with my left side. There was no strength in my leg and it was impossible to play the game like that. So, in that regard it was very easy to make a decision, because there was no other way out."
LGD: Long-term, how will it benefit you?
"I don't know. At this point it's too early to say. I'm certainly working hard towards that goal, but it's too early on."
LGD: Talk about your rehabilitation program and what it involved?
"There was a lot of strength work around the hip and all of the muscles around it. I was working to get the mobility back and range of motion and all of those kinds of things."
LGD: Yet, you didn't seem to miss a beat at the Bell-Toronto Maple Leafs Skill Competition when you nailed four of five targets.
"Ah, that's easy those kinds of things. Anybody can do it. You can put me in a wheelchair up front and just slide me the puck and I can hit it. In that regard it was easy. But, being in front of the fans and just being on the ice was fun."
LGD: The year 2000 was a big year for you. You won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils and a month later were sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Talk about how important both of those accomplishments were for yourself and your family.
"It was very nice and good year in that regard. Winning the Stanley Cup was an unbelievable experience, but it's way behind me now. I'm not one to look back. I just want to look forward."
LGD: You have been in the NHL a long time, but what did you learn about the game and what it takes to win from the Stanley Cup experience?
"Well, I've won Olympic Gold before and the World Championships, so its not like I haven't been in a winning situation, but winning the Stanley Cup is very rewarding at the end, because it's such a long playoffs. It's not like a World Championship with just five, six or seven games. That is just a long two months and when it's done you really appreciate what you went through. It's an incredible experience."
LGD: Youve also had many personal achievements in the NHL - 76 goals and two 100-point seasons among them. How do those compare to winning it all, or do they?
"Seventy-six goals were very special. I'll never forget that. It was a lot of fun, but the Stanley Cup is a different experience. It's more a team accomplishment instead of 76 goals, which is an individual accomplishment. When you're raising that cup above your head it's amazing."
LGD: Having accomplished the aforementioned feats, what still keeps you motivated to play at the elite level you've been able to maintain?
"Well, it's very easy, because it's a game you've loved and played since you were a child and it's all you know, pretty much, in life. For me, I have my family and the game, and those are what I love."
LGD: Was it a difficult decision to leave the Devils to play in Toronto after winning a Cup?
"No, not at all, in fact, it was a very exciting time. It was a new situation and Toronto is probably the best city to play hockey in, regardless of where you're coming from. It's unbelievable. Anybody who doesn't get to play in this city is missing a lot as a hockey player. This is where you want to play."
LGD: How much did your previous relationship with Pat Quinn in Vancouver play into your decision to sign with the Leafs?
"In Vancouver, he was the GM for the most part when I was there. Here, it's been wonderful. I never hear anybody complain about him. Well, you hear a lot of different things in the media that are very unfair against Pat and he proves, year after year, that he's a very successful coach. He's just a very nice man."
LGD: You've played with many great players here in Toronto, but of all your teammates past and present, who is the most talented player, you've played with?
"Pat LaFontaine was by far, well I mean, not by far, but because of the success I had individually, no question it was him."
LGD: Was there a particular player you looked up to when you were starting to play hockey back in Russia?
"Not really, but I watched those fantastic Red Army teams that I was apart of before I came over to North America. It was very special to watch those guys play. That line of Larionov, Makarov and Krutov was a treat to watch. It really was a treat to watch. It's something I'll never forget."
LGD: Talk about getting to play for Red Army as a 17-year-old with all of those great players you just mentioned.
"What I'm saying is it's just a treat to watch and be part of something with those guys and learning how to understand the game and play the game. You experience some things in your life that you cherish and that's definitely one of them."
LGD: Do you ever think about your early hockey accomplishments from your days in Russia - becoming the youngest Soviet player to win an Olympic Gold medal at the Calgary Games in 1988, playing the World Juniors the following year, playing with Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov and so on?
"Winning on a national level was a lot of fun, just like it would be for any guy in Canada, the United States or Europe, anywhere growing up playing in tournaments. That's a great time and I really enjoy watching those World Junior Championships. I really enjoy watching those games. You have all the talent from so many different countries getting together and it's really fun to watch. I think anybody who's taken part in it will say the same."
LGD: What did it mean to you to get the chance to play with one of your former line mates, Pavel Bure, with the Canucks in Vancouver?
"It was good, but my first year when I got there after about 15 games he tore his knee and was out for the year, so that was a wash. It was very difficult for him. I remember he was so down because he couldn't play and be part of the team. For us too as well, it was really hard, because he was such a great player. We lost to Colorado in the playoffs that year in six games and they went on to win the Stanley Cup, so it was very difficult."
LGD: You didn't really seem to be in awe about playing in the NHL when in your first career game, you scored a goal 20 seconds into your first shift.
"It wasn't very quick success actually, it took me a while to get going in the NHL. But, it was one of those lucky goals. Pierre Turgeon made a nice play from behind the net and I drove to the net and it was a spur of the moment shot and it went in."
LGD: What does it mean to you as you look at 1,000 NHL regular-season points, something your injury stalled, thereby allowing Fedorov to pass you as the first Russian to get there?
"It doesn't mean anything, because it was just a matter of time until somebody passed me. It was nice (to be in front of all other Russians for so long), but it's not exactly why I'm playing this game."
LGD: Yet when Fedorov reached 1,000, he paid tribute to you, saying you would have gotten there first if not for the injury.
"That was really nice of him to say. It shows what a class guy he is."
LGD: You've always been a winger, but with all of your talent, did you ever consider playing centre?
"I played centre before when I was about 15 or 16 years old, but at the NHL it's only happened sometimes, way back in Buffalo."
LGD: What would it mean for you to be able to hoist another Stanley Cup with your teammates here in Toronto?
"That's why we're here. I'm telling you, when you experience it once you want to make sure you share it with the people who have never experienced it. It's a great joy and it's a real team accomplishment. There's no one individual award that can overshadow winning the Stanley Cup. It's incredible - it really is."