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Quiet Markov one of NHL's best

by John McGourty
If there were an award for the quietest player in the NHL, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, an Eastern Conference starter in the Jan. 25 NHL All-Star Game at the Bell Centre in Montreal, would be a leading candidate.

He's also one of the most effective defenders in the League and he adds significant offensive contributions. Markov is tops among NHL defenseman with 29 assists and is second with 36 points. Three of his seven goals have been game-winners and he has a plus-12 rating through 45 games.

Markov leads his team with an average of 24:26 of ice time per game, and Canadiens defensemen in goals, power-play goals (3), assists and points.

But if defensive partner Mike Komisarek, also an NHL All-Star Game starter, has his way, Markov will soon be losing his "Quiet Man" ways.

"It's no surprise he's been named an All-Star for the second year in a row," Komisarek said. "I think he's a guy who makes not only myself, his partner, a better player, but all four guys on the ice with him. He's an elite defenseman, one of the best in the league and the world.

"I'm riding his coattails into this All-Star Game. He's a tremendous player and a great teammate and he makes it so easy out there. He's truly talented. We need a guy like that."

Markov, 30, is in his eighth NHL season, and 2007-08 was his best. He had a career-high 16 goals and 58 points. Ten of his goals came with the man advantage to help the Canadiens lead the NHL in power-play efficiency and even had a shorthanded goal. He enjoyed playing in the 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta and appreciates the Montreal fans support in sending him back this year.

"It's a great feeling," Markov said. "I want to thank our fans for their support because I know it's going to be fun. It's a great honor to be selected to play with the greatest players in the League. I was nervous last year but I had fun. I got comfortable there and I got some more confidence.

"It has been a great thing for me to play in Montreal. I have never played for another team in the NHL and I think that Montreal is the greatest city in North America. It has great history. It's a fun place to play but you can be a hero one day and then they think you're not so great on another day because they care about hockey here.

"You have to keep yourself in great shape and you have to stay very focused but when you step on the ice here, it's a great, great feeling. We have 21,000 fans rooting hard for us every night."

Markov and Komisarek will be joining goalie Carey Price and right wing Alex Kovalev as Canadiens' starters in this year's All-Star Game. Kovalev is five years older than his fellow Russian and has watched him develop since joining the NHL in 2000.

"The way he's playing, the way he handles the puck and the way he sees the ice, he's one of the best defensemen in the League and he proves that every year," Kovalev said. "You can say so much about him. He's just a great player. He wasn't a guy who talked a lot when he first got to Montreal but he's gotten more comfortable every year.

"After he got Mike Komisarek for a roommate and a defensive partner, he started to open up a little more because he's more comfortable with English. Now, he's a fun guy. He's always been comfortable on the ice. He knows he can't be perfect every game and there will be mistakes but he does a lot more good things than he does bad. He knows what he can do well and he prepares himself. That's why he's so good."

In their own way, Komisarek and Markov are not unlike "Jay and Silent Bob," the protagonists of several Kevin Smith-directed movies. Komisarek, like Jay, loves to talk. Markov, like Silent Bob, says little and misses nothing. Markov, though, enjoys Komisarek's friendliness and openness and has, in his own way, been influenced by him.

"Mike is a great player and a great guy," Markov said. "He's one of the leaders of our team and he deserves to be there. I like to play with him and I feel comfortable on the ice with him. We get along great off the ice too."

"He's really come into his own the past couple of years," Komisarek said. "He's comfortable with the language and with the city. He likes going out in Montreal. He's not a guy who is going to be extremely vocal in the dressing room but his game speaks volumes about his attitude and how much he wants to win. Other players see that and they're motivated.

"The way he's playing, the way he handles the puck and the way he sees the ice, he's one of the best defensemen in the League and he proves that every year."
-- Alex Kovalev on Andrei Markov

"You get him one-on-one, sometimes he's kind of quiet, shy and reserved but he's got a good personality and good humor. He likes to joke around more these days."

Markov hails from Voskresensk, Russia, the same hometown as Igor Larionov, the great Russian player who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November. Players like Larionov and Slava Fetisov risked a great deal in pushing for the personal independence that allowed them to join the NHL in 1989, when Markov was only 11 years old. He realizes their courage changed life for him and many younger Russian players.

"When I was young, I never thought about the NHL," Markov said. "I would just go to practice or games and play the games I was involved in. Later, as I got better and better, I started to realize I might be good enough to play in the Russian league. Then, I was told I was good enough to play in the NHL. That is the dream of most young players now because it is the greatest hockey league in the world.

"Larionov was a legend in Russia, our greatest player. People would watch them all the time, the starting five with Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov, Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov.

"It was a great feeling to see the Hockey Hall of Fame induct a Russian, one of the greatest Russian players, and it was a great feeling to see someone from my hometown go into the Hockey Hall of Fame."

The Canadiens won the Northeast Division and had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season and they are on pace for a similar record in 2008-09.  But the Boston Bruins have run away with the division and lead the conference. Playing catch-up has been frustrating for Markov and the Canadiens.

"Our power play is not working well so far this year but we are working on it and I think it's been better lately. It could be better," Markov said. "Our record is a little better than last year. Everybody is working hard and trying to play better than last year. We want to go far into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you want to go far, you have to keep getting better and better. I'm hoping our best games are in our future."

Markov said it has been interesting to watch the development of the Bruins over the past two seasons.

"They have a good team and some players are better than last year," Markov said. "They have a good coaching staff. It's a challenge for us. We have to beat that team. To do that, we have to be mentally stronger."

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