Penguins center Evgeni Malkin
is home in his native Russia for the summer visiting family and friends and working out in preparation for the 2010-11 season.
Last week Malkin had a visitor check in to talk about the upcoming season – head coach Dan Bylsma.
Bylsma was already in Europe on a family vacation when he decided to take a couple days to travel to Russia to meet up with Malkin.
“I went on a family vacation to Europe and had the opportunity to visit Moscow and see Geno,” Bylsma said. “We had a lot of fun during the two days I got to spend with him.”
The highlight of the trip occurred when Malkin took Bylsma on his yearly visit with the “Penguins Support Crew” – a Russian Penguins fan club which has existed since the 1990s.
Because Malkin is among the top Russian hockey players in the world, it probably comes as little surprise that his annual dinner with the Penguins Support Crew is met with great anticipation. But this year Malkin took a bit of a back seat as the fan club was delighted at the opportunity to meet and talk with Bylsma.
“They talked about their nights of staying up late to watch our games from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m. the year we won the Stanley Cup,” Byslma said. “They also talked about the same things regarding the team that fans over here would talk about – different games, lines, players, power play. It was pretty neat to see how they follow us.
“It wasn’t much different from going to a charity event here with the fans like a golf tournament and then having a dinner after. It was unique to see this group of people in Russia that are such Penguins fans that their schedule sometimes revolves around us playing. That was pretty crazy.”
During the couple hours Bylsma and Malkin spent eating lunch and chatting with the Penguins Support Crew, Bylsma needed help communicating with the natives – which is where Malkin figured in.
“That was probably the best part about the trip – I was the guy who couldn’t speak or communicate,” Byslma laughed. “I leaned on Geno for everything. That was one of those situations where you get to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes. Geno can communicate in English, but I couldn’t communicate in Russian, so I really depended on him to make that happen.”
Throughout the lunch Penguins fans in attendance were both surprised and blown away by how easy it was to talk to Bylsma. They couldn’t believe how ordinary he seemed and they loved his natural sense of humor. To them, it did not seem like they were talking to a Stanley Cup champion head coach.
|Dan Bylsma shares a text-message response with Evgeni Malkin. Credit - blog.sport-express.ru |
Bylsma later signed autographs for the fans, who were such Penguins enthusiasts that they had hockey cards on hand from Bylsma’s playing days.
“They are huge Penguins fans and they have come to Pittsburgh for games before,” Bylsma said. “The interesting thing is it is not just because of Geno or Gonch (former Penguin Sergei Gonchar). They’ll be watching the Penguins long after any of us are gone. They have been watching the team for about 17 years.”
The date of Bylsma’s visit – August 7, 2010 – also marked the 23rd birthday of the Penguins’ other supremely-talented center, Sidney Crosby
– so Bylsma and Malkin took time to wish Crosby a happy birthday before they left, which drew a huge response from the crowd. Pictures from Bylsma’s visit with Malkin are available in a photo gallery
at PittsburghPenguins.com. All photos are courtesy of the Russian website blog.sport-express.ru
, where a text story from Bylsma’s visit accompanies the pictures.
Members of the Penguins Support Crew visit Pittsburgh every couple of years. A group of seven is expected to be on hand for the Penguins’ season opener at CONSOL Energy Center on Oct. 7 and the matchup with Toronto two nights later.