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As soon as Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar arrived in Moscow last month to help train Evgeni Malkin for the upcoming season, they went straight to a place that’s become very familiar to Kadar.
No, they didn’t go to a restaurant or to any of the numerous tourist attractions Moscow has to offer. They beelined straight for Malkin’s local fitness club.
“From the day I got there, as soon as I landed, we were at the gym,” Kadar said. “In the six years that I’ve known him, I haven’t seen him as focused as he has been the last couple years. It’s been unbelievable.”
Malkin’s work ethic hasn’t slipped one bit since last summer, when Kadar traveled to Russia to help the Penguins center strengthen the injured knee that ended his 2010-11 season prematurely and to improve his overall conditioning.
Malkin’s injury – damaged ligaments sustained in an on-ice collision – had been an eye-opener for the young Russian. It made him realize just how badly he wanted to be on the ice with his teammates and how much he wanted to play his best for them.
So with Kadar’s help, a committed Malkin trained relentlessly to rehab back from knee surgery – which typically takes about 18 months to fully recover from – to dominate the NHL as the league’s best player.
Malkin put together a magnificent season that saw him earn the Hart Trophy (league MVP), Art Ross Trophy (scoring champion), Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by peers) and score 50 goals in a season for the first time.
But despite all of that success, don’t think for a second that Malkin is lightening his load this summer – because he’s got unfinished business.
What Malkin truly wants has nothing to do with the individual accolades he’s accumulated. It has to do with that 35-pound silver chalice he hoisted above his head three years ago. The Stanley Cup is what he wants, and he’s hungrier than ever to lead his team back.
Malkin knows what he must do to return to the elite level he reached in 2011-12. Pair that with the sting of an early playoff exit, and you’ve got one extremely motivated and focused individual.
“I think Geno, after the year he had, he realizes what he needs to do to stay at that level,” Kadar said. “He wants to win. I think that even with everything he’s accomplished in his career, it’s still team-first for him. I think once you get that taste of success at that level, it’s hard not to want that again. He knows what he needs to do to make sure he’s there and I think he’s well on his way to being there again.”
The goals for Malkin last summer centered around building strength and stability in his knee. And since Kadar was there just two weeks, he had to incorporate twice-daily workouts to make sure Malkin rehabbed properly.
This time, with the knee no longer being an issue and Malkin coming off such a monstrous year, the focus was certainly different (but the commitment wasn’t).
“This year was more of ‘let’s see where his fitness level is and let’s see how to progress him,’” Kadar explained.
With Kadar in Russia for four weeks this time instead of two, twice-daily workouts were no longer necessary. They worked out six days a week and each day varied from the last.
“Every day was a little bit different,” Kadar said, who added that Malkin will start skating this month. “We definitely hit lower body and upper body twice a week. We interjected that with some medicine ball work and some anaerobic conditioning in the pool.”
What did remain the same from this year to last was how much fun the two of them had working together – and the way Malkin and former Penguin Sergei Gonchar treated the visiting Kadar like family.
“’Gonch’ and Geno were unbelievable. They were so hospitable,” Kadar said. “They always looked after me and were always looking after my best interests no matter where I was, even if I wasn’t with them. They were always checking in. It was just an honor and a pleasure to be a part of their family and be able to experience what they experience every day.”
Kadar spent lots of time with Malkin, Gonchar and their friends and family, going to lots of dinners, a Chinese circus, another yacht trip on the Moscow River, a Madonna concert and a trip to the amusement park.
“Gonch and his wife Ksusha aren’t fond of the rides, so I was the guy to take (Gonchar’s daughter Natalie) on all of them and I think we hit every one in the park,” Kadar smiled. “But it was awesome. We had a lot of fun doing it.”
Kadar returned home Aug. 10, but even with his trainer and close friend is back in the States, Malkin is continuing with the early mornings, endless hours of sweat and dense workload training alongside Gonchar.
“As we inch on toward the season, he’s getting more and more fit all the time,” Kadar said. “He has his program and he’s going to continue to work at it. I know he has a training partner in Sergei, who’s extremely dedicated and extremely professional. He’s well-looked after in that way.”
Just like Kadar was.