THE FIRST STEPS
NATALIA MALKIN: So many things happened with Zhenya (Evgeni), if you start thinking about it. Once, at age 10, he broke his leg. Shortly thereafter he was supposed to go to summer camp and we were ready to cancel the whole thing, but he went anyway. We were amazed when we saw him… playing soccer. Yes, we're not kidding, he really was. He would pass the ball, hop on his crutches to an open position to get his shot off. He even played tennis on crutches, which we couldn't believe either. And then he wanted to get out on the ice so badly that he asked his friend to cut the cast off from his unhealed leg. Dad was at home when some local guys called him and said, 'Hey, what are you sitting there for? Your son is out here playing!' Zhenya came out on the ice, limping. But he still won the prize for the best forward in that tournament."
Vladimir Anatolyevich Malkin once played hockey himself and when his son, Evgeni, turned 3 he put him on skates. The first coach of the future star was Yuri Tukaserov, and the training took place in the hockey school of Metallurg's hockey club from Magnitogorsk.
VLADIMIR: Later, there was coach Sergei Vitman, who worked hard to get a stipend for our son. Zhenya was just 13 years old, but he was already bringing in decent money to the family. Not everyone at the factory earned as much. When Zhenya won his first Stanley Cup (in 2009), on Sept. 1 (first day of classes in all Russian schools) he brought it to the ceremonial lineup of his school, No. 28, where he studied for seven years.
NATALIA: It was a token of gratitude. Our Zhenya didn't get any C's at all. Only when he moved to another school in the eighth grade so that he could devote more attention to hockey, he got into a computer science class which they didn't teach at his previous school - that was his only C. Other than that, he got all A's and B's. His behavior had always been fine, too. All other kids are running around the school like crazy, but our son left all of his energy in hockey. Practices always started very early, so (by afternoon) he was pretty exhausted.
Malkin's dad laughs when he is asked for the hundredth time to share how he put his son on skates by attaching blades to worn-out felt boots with screws. "We're already letting our grandson, Nikita, onto the ice, and you're still asking about Zhenya!" Without skipping a beat, Natalia makes it clear that her son's first steps on the ice were not a solo effort. "Zhenya has an older brother, Denis, who is a year and four months older. They skated in the same group. Zhenya was energetic, always climbed ahead, became team captain. Denis played as a defender. He has a different personality - a calmer, slower one. Maybe he didn't have the character to go further. But initially they played together on the team of boys born in 1985."
When Russian hockey gets a junior player like Malkin, he is talked about at every corner. It certainly was the case with him. In October 2003, at just 17 years old, he made his debut for Metallurg in the Super League in a game against Lokomotiv (a 7-2 Metallurg win). Soon, he scored his first point, assisting on Alexander Koreshkov's goal against Dynamo Moscow. In the same season he won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship in Minsk, being the youngest player on Team Russia. Malkin would go on to play in three more WJC's.
NATALIA: Zhenya has always hated losing - whether it be in hockey or in table tennis. He gets pretty angry when something he is trying isn't working. He is a leader by nature. Even American analysts were surprised: "Can he really hate losing this much?!" In general, I would say that our son had a happy childhood. One writer observed, 'Hockey is all he thinks about, day and night'. To which I replied, 'Would it be any better if the kid were laying all day on the couch, running around basements, smoking and drinking? Is that what you would call a good childhood?' We must love our children, spend more time with them. We have poured our entire soul into Denis and Zhenya.
COMING TO AMERICA
Scouts and coaches noticed Evgeni early on so Malkin's parents began getting calls from agents. But the parents never pushed their son to outpace his natural development. It would progress naturally, as it should, they thought. It was already evident that Geno tried hard, gave his best and loved hockey. He seemingly added to his skill arsenal every day.
The 2004 Draft took place in Raleigh, NC, where Malkin was picked at No. 2. In polls with many Russian legends of hockey thereafter as to which player in the crop they would want to pick if they were general managers, many picked Malkin.
NATALIA: The most difficult moment in our youngest son's career? His departure to America, of course. We were all very worried. Especially after he got injured pretty much as soon as he left for Pittsburgh. It all happened because of the worrying and the extra stress.
Malkin left for the NHL in 2006. In September, he signed a contract with the Penguins and later in the same month played in his first preseason game against Philadelphia. He assisted on a goal by his older friend Sergei Gonchar. But then he collided behind the net with his teammate John LeClair, fell awkwardly and injured his shoulder. Luckily, the injury didn't turn out terribly serious, but he still had to miss the first four games of the regular season.
Gonchar did a ton to help Malkin adjust to his new life. At first, Malkin lived at Gonchar's house in Pittsburgh. The veteran defender took care of the Russian rookie, often acting as his translator. The American media were so curious to learn as much as possible about Geno that they turned to Gonchar with various questions about Malkin. As much of an NHL star as Gonchar was himself, he was forced to routinely answer questions like, 'What do you feed Evgeni for breakfast?' and 'What color are the walls in his room?'
Vladimir says that he and his wife have been coming to visit their son in America every year. Initially, before Geno bought his own home, they would stay at a hotel. Then they made it a tradition to make the trip every spring and stay until the end of the playoffs.
VLADIMIR: We did not miss a single Stanley Cup Final. We remember the first one against Detroit in 2008, but the Red Wings won it that year. The 2009 Final was so tough. Detroit led in the series 2-0. Then the Red Wings won Game 5 at home with a score of 5-0. But in the next two games the Penguins finally turned it around. Game 7 was decided by two goals from Max Talbot, who now plays for Avangard Omsk. He moved to Russia, so Zhenya met him during the summer.
It took Malkin exactly seven years to win his second Stanley Cup, but those seven years there weren't just filled with wins and losses. There were also terrible injuries. Such as the torn ACL in his right knee, which caused Evgeni to only play 43 games in the 2010-11 season. Here's something else you will rarely see in hockey: a player texting his general manager in the middle of the playoffs: "Forgive me for not being able to play right now. Sorry for letting you down!"
VLADIMIR: Zhenya would have scored those 1,000 points a long time ago, if not for injuries. Because of the (darn) injuries our son has missed two seasons already, if you put all the matches together.
But then finally came the happy moments. In 2016 Malkin won the Stanley Cup for the second time while becoming the playoffs' top scorer. A season later, Pittsburgh repeated as champions.
VLADIMIR: Whether it's the first Cup or the third one, the emotions were equally joyful. The celebration at Mario Lemieux's house was incredible! Everyone was there, about four hundred people. All the players with their wives and children. Parents, grandmothers ... Entire families were there. What an indescribable event!
A LOVE STORY
There is one last topic - Malkin's great love, which gave his career a breath of fresh air. Malkin met the girl of his dreams, Anna Kasterova. She gave him a son, and in the same year he won the Stanley Cup. To be more precise, Geno became a father between Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final against San Jose in 2016. A year later, he won another Cup.
Kasterova is a famous Russian TV presenter. Recently, Malkin posted an Instagram photo of them walking along the ocean coast. They have been together for five years, the post read.
"So many amazing things happened over these five years! The Stanley Cups, the birth of our son. These have been very happy five years."
There is a YouTube video called "A fantastically beautiful kiss of Anna Kasterova and Evgeni Malkin." It was shot in June of 2017, when the Penguins were on the ice celebrating their third championship in recent years. Malkin in his sweaty jersey looks exhausted. But undeniably happy.
ANNA: This moment is very dear to me. You can't even imagine what is happening around the house during the playoffs. How much we worry and cheer for them. It is a huge strain. We all flew to Nashville for Game 6. Obviously, not knowing whether it would be the final game, but when it happened, we ran out onto the ice. What an amazing carnival that was! Emotions of happiness and triumph, great joy for my husband and for our family. It is happiness that you really can't describe with words.
Now, Malkin is at the very peak, when the most amazing things happen both in work and in life, 1,000 career NHL points is just one of them. When you have such parents, such a loving wife and an adorable son, you can move mountains.
Pavel Lysenkov is a columnist for Match TV (http://www.matchtv.ru) and a regular contributor to NHL.com/ru.