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Another Side of 'Geno'

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
When the Penguins handed out their annual team awards last week, it was no surprise to see Evgeni Malkin named Pittsburgh’s MVP.

And it certainly wasn’t a shock to see him win the award reserved for the player who earned the most “Three Star” nods during the regular season.

Malkin’s leadership qualities on the ice are readily apparent, as the dynamic, gifted center – who also captured the NHL scoring title and is a lead candidate for the Hart Trophy as league MVP – is one of the league’s most dominant forces.

But though it may not be as visible, Malkin has had a significant impact off the ice this season – which is why he also earned the team’s Community Service Award.

“I think I’m a lucky guy because I play hockey,” Malkin said. “I have my family healthy, I’m healthy. We see how people can’t work or have suffered. It’s tough to see. We have money and we need to help. It’s not just one time. It’s all year because of how many need help. It’s very tough.”

The 25-year-old donated a tremendous amount of time and effort this season working on community and charity projects. The one that’s closest to his heart are the initiatives surrounding an unimaginable tragedy that struck the hearts of the hockey world on Sept. 7, 2011.

That day, a plane carrying the coaches and players of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed in Russia. The horrific event claimed the lives of 44 people, including the flight crew, and forever changed the lives of the victim’s families.

It also forever changed Malkin, who was deeply affected by the crash as he grew up in Magnitogorsk, Russia, and lost many friends and former teammates in the crash.

“I knew a lot of guys who played in Russia for Lokomotiv,” he said. “When I heard the news I can’t explain how I felt after. It’s tough to say what I felt. I wanted to help support their families.”

With a sad heart and heavy soul, Malkin began by meeting with Penguins general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma, asking for help in his efforts to aid the families affected by this tragedy – and the team was happy to assist.

Malkin also reached out to his fellow countryman and longtime Penguins rival Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, and from there the two rival teams worked together for a greater cause. 

The two clubs wore jerseys with commemorative Lokomotiv patches in their Oct. 13, 2011 contest at CONSOL Energy Center. The jerseys were then autographed and auctioned off with all the proceeds going to Lokomotiv players’ children and families.

I think I’m a lucky guy because I play hockey. I have my family healthy, I’m healthy. We see how people can’t work or have suffered. It’s tough to see. We have money and we need to help. It’s not just one time. It’s all year because of how many need help. It’s very tough. - Evgeni Malkin
Malkin also spearheaded the sale of “Love for Lokomotiv” remembrance bracelets. "Geno" purchased the bracelets for the wives and girlfriends of the Penguins players and hockey operations staff to sell before and during the contest, which raised $20,000 for the families.

“It’s not just me, the Pittsburgh organization and Alex Ovechkin did a great job too,” Malkin said. “They sold bracelets, jerseys and sticks. Together we did a great job.”

Malkin also hosted A "Flight Team Lokomotiv Benefit” at Bossa Nova in downtown Pittsburgh. Along with Big Dreams Children’s Foundation, the benefit raised money for the widows and children of those lost in that heartbreaking day.

He was deeply touched by the way the people of Pittsburgh came together, raising over $200,000 in support of the Lokomotiv families.

“What was so surprising for me is how people cared about this moment and came to dinner in Pittsburgh,” Malkin said. “They said oh, you did a great job. But we did a great job together. A lot of people came and it’s a surprise for me. People read the news and came and trIed to help to give money or buy something. It’s a very big surprise for me.”

But Malkin, who has worn a Lokomotiv sticker on his helmet all year in remembrance of those lost, said his efforts won’t stop there.

“The season continues but when the season is over, I’d like to do a couple charity events in Russia,” Malkin said. “It’s very important. It’s a big tragedy for Russia. Not just this year. Maybe we try to help next year. Maybe our whole lives.”

Malkin is also actively involved in all of the organization's charity events and special meet-and-greets, always leading his teammates in all Penguins charitable endeavors. He even purchased a luxury suite at CONSOL Energy Center at the start of the 2011-12 campaign to give local youth an opportunity to enjoy hockey games, and always checks to make sure the kids are having a good time.

Malkin genuinely enjoys meeting and working with the less fortunate or those who are contributing to a good cause, and it shows as he always has a big smile on his face when doing so. Helping others brings fulfillment – and perspective – to Malkin’s life.

“Of course I enjoy it because we have one life. It doesn’t matter what we do, if we play hockey or work in the factory,” he said. “We just have one life and we need to enjoy life. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Last year I had a big injury. It doesn’t matter. It’s all done now and I need to enjoy life and smile.”
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