NHL

“My dream has come true”

“My dream has come true”

“My dream has come true”

It was a delayed debut for the young superstar after his long-awaited arrival on September 4, 2006. He signed his first NHL contract with the Penguins the next day, and just over two weeks later, Malkin make their long-awaited NHL preseason. debut in Moncton, New Brunswick, where the Penguins were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in a neutral-site exhibition game.

Unfortunately, in the second period of play, Malkin and teammate John LeClair collided behind the net, with the rookie catapulting over the veteran before falling to the ice. Malkin lay there for a few minutes before skating on his own and being taken to a local hospital, eventually learning that he had dislocated his left shoulder.

Malkin had risked everything to come to America to play in the NHL. He left his hometown of Magnitogorsk, Russia for a foreign country, a land where he could not speak the language and had no family. And just when he was on the verge of living his dream, everything seemed to be falling apart.

“I think it’s maybe the hardest time of my life,” Malkin said. “Since I’m coming to the United States, everything is new: the game, the practice. I try to work hard every day, and the first exhibition game against Philly I got really injured.”

So despite everything Malkin had gone through to get there, he found himself reevaluating his future in Pittsburgh and the NHL, and whether he had made the right decision to leave his old life behind.

“I think a couple of things, like bad things, in my head. Like maybe I need to go back to Russia,” Malkin said. “Because it’s not my game, it’s a hard game, it’s just an exhibition game and it’s already an injury. I called my parents, friends and said maybe I’m not ready to play here, you know? Sometimes I think in that, maybe I’m not strong enough.”

Fortunately, these thoughts and doubts began to dissipate after getting an MRI the next day and meeting with the medical staff. While one doctor thought Malkin might need surgery, another said he would be fine — he just needed to recover a bit and then work on strengthening his shoulder. And once Malkin began the rehabilitation process, his determination returned.

“After I started (rehab), I said my dream was to stay here, get stronger and it’s good,” Malkin said. “I came back very quickly. I missed the first four games, but I’m back and the first game, the first goal, it’s pretty amazing.”

The Penguins were hosting the New Jersey Devils on October 18, 2006, and everything about that day is still so clear in Malkin’s memory. Starting with waking up and eating breakfast, then stopping by for a morning skate before returning to Mellon Arena in the late afternoon.

When Malkin got into his gear, he was incredibly nervous. As if making his NHL debut wasn’t scary enough, he had the added stress of coming off an injury. But the 20-year-old’s inner confidence came pouring out when it came time to line up to leave.

Sidney Crosby it had been second to last before moving on at the end of its first season. Now in his second year, after his 102-point campaign, Crosby figured he would continue to come up on the back end.

“I didn’t even think about it, I was about to come out and Geno was still standing,” Crosby said. “There’s a bit of a language barrier, but not much when it comes down to it. I could tell I wanted to go last. I just said, ‘Do you usually go last?’ And then he said, ‘Three years of Superliga’.

“The three years of being a pro in Russia, I guess, was more than the year I played in the NHL. He hadn’t moved at all. I was trying to, like, ‘rock-paper-scissors every game?’ And he said: ‘no'”.

That story, which has been well documented, still makes Crosby laugh every time he tells it. Malkin also laughs and says: “We know how superstitious Sid is, he does a lot of little things. I know it’s important to him. But in the Super League, I always go last. It worked! We won three cups, he’s the best player . . Happy, because we did a good job.”

So as Malkin followed Crosby down the tunnel and off the court, he had an experience he’ll never forget.

“When I step on the ice, I look around at the fans and everybody’s standing up and cheering,” Malkin said. “It’s an amazing time, everybody’s supporting me. I think all the fans were waiting for him to come into town. Because there were a couple of stories in the magazines, they’re saying Geno’s in town, he’s back.

“It’s my first game in the NHL. My dream, it’s come true. People love me and people are waiting for me and supporting me. It’s an amazing moment because I look around and everyone got stood and applauded.”

With 1:22 left in the second period, the 17,030 fans in attendance rose to their feet again as Malkin scored his first point, scoring over Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s amazing because you’re nervous, for sure, the first game, after the injury,” Malkin said. “But this goal gives me confidence, for sure.”

Malkin has racked up hundreds of goals in the 16 years since, and still celebrates each one as if it were his first.

There’s nothing better than seeing how excited he is on the ice when he’s able to score goals, because I think that’s his way of feeling good about himself and what he brings to the team.” say Malkin’s colleague and friend. Kris Letang. “He wants to make a difference every shift. That’s his way of helping the team win.”

What amazes Crosby the most when he watches Malkin play is how easy he makes the game look. “The way he nails guys, or end to end, or you’ve seen the spin-o-ramas he’s had over the years … I mean, they’re one-of-a-kind plays and you appreciate them, you know?” Crosby said.

Teddy Blueger he said that sometimes, guys will start laughing when they watch him from the bench, because they can’t believe what Malkin just accomplished.

“I think with Geno, obviously, he has all the skills,” Crosby said. “He’s got all the tools. He’s got the size, he can skate, obviously his hands are amazing. But I think it’s just his ability to take over a game, and that’s probably more mental than physical. I mean, it’s a mindset. He’s got that passion, that fire, and he’s unstoppable when he gets in that mode. It’s got to be tough for other teams to play against him.”

Malkin has also had some more serious injuries, including two major knee surgeries. The first came after he tore his ACL and MCL in February 2011. Malkin was able to return for the following season and ended up winning the Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer), the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and the Ted Lindsay Award. (outstanding player as voted by his teammates).

The most recent followed a similar script to the shoulder injury he suffered as a rookie. When Malkin hurt his other knee in March 2021, he was again told he could have surgery or wait. At first, he tried to play with it, but eventually had to go under the knife that June. After returning in January, Malkin finished last season with 20 goals and 42 points in 41 games.

“To have the career that he’s had and fight through the things that he’s had to fight through — he’s had two ACL repairs — that’s very difficult,” Crosby said. “One of them could derail someone’s career. It’s not easy, and that’s understandable. But he’s still fighting and still wants to be the best.”

Malkin’s work ethic and determination is something that continues to impress his former teammate, compatriot and close friend, Sergei Gonchar, and has done since the beginning. Gonchar noted how Malkin came into the league as, he said with a laugh, “a tall, skinny guy.” But he spent countless hours in the gym to get stronger. Now 36, Malkin has started his 17thth season in his typical beast mode, more motivated than ever to prove he can still play at an elite level.

“Sometimes people think he’s a talent, everything comes easy to him. But I can tell you he works hard,” Gonchar said. “He’s watching his diet, what he eats. It’s not always the talent he has, but also the dedication to make sure he’s healthy and still competing at this level.”

And Malkin’s dedication to a city, to a team and to his “favorite player, favorite guy,” as Geno calls Sid, is also incredibly special.

“The fact that we’ve played as long as we’ve played together, I think that’s a pretty rare thing these days,” Crosby said. “With so much turnover in the league, it’s easy, there are other motivations. Sometimes when you get to certain points, guys want more of a role, or they want a change of scenery, or they want to try a different team. And those are all valid reasons, but to be committed to an organization, to a group, and still continue to play at a high level and still want to win, that says a lot.”

Bryan Rust He tried not to upset Malkin too much about his contract situation, not wanting to add to any stress he was already feeling. But like the rest of us, he saw the comments Malkin made at his late-season mid-availability heading into the summer about not wanting to go anywhere and said those feelings were actually probably amplified 10 times for Geno.

“It’s my second city, for sure. This city, this team and the fans, they’re in my heart forever,” Malkin said. “There’s no question here. I know I’ve got a couple of serious injuries, but I’ve met a lot of nice people here, a lot of new friends. It’s an amazing city for sports, not just hockey, like baseball and football too. I’m enjoying being here for the next four years, just being on a team forever, you know?

“I hope we get a chance to play in the finals again. I play with Sid and Tanger, I hope all my life. Happy to be here again. Like, it’s not a question, for sure. There have been more good things (than bad things), for sure. Good memories, and I enjoy being here every day.”





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