Mikhail Grabovski: Wherever I may live, will always remain a Belarusian
This year, Belarusian striker Mikhail Grabovski earned recognition as the best hockey player of Belarus for the fourth time in his career. He shared here his first reaction to the news and spoke about how negotiations are going with the Washington Capitals in the North American National Hockey League (NHL). He also talked about who he thinks should lead the Belarusian Hockey Federation, and spoke about how, even after living many years overseas, he still feels Belarusian.
– Before you, only Andrei Mezin was ever recognized four times as the best hockey player in the country. Congratulations on repeating his record. For you, does this mean something?
– Recognition is important to everybody. I’m no exception. That’s not to say that this achievement is the same as a gold medal at a world championship. But it is very nice, and I’ll always remember the appreciation. Not only me, but my family will as well.
– Fourth time as the best, and second time in a row. I remember a saying from a cult cartoon: “Yesterday, tsar; today, tsar…” Is this the same situation?
– I can’t say that I’m eager to be a tsar – they often get overthrown. But seriously, I’m not bored with the achievement. I think this is an exceptionally nice confirmation that I’m still growing as a hockey player, that I’m not a car skidding to a halt – I’m actually working to improve. Stagnation is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a player. There are enough competitors racing against me out there.
Grabovski also expressed his opinion on the current crisis in Belarusian hockey.
– There are problems, I’ll not argue with that. Belarusian hockey has been rebuilt, and now it is trying to find its direction. It’s important that it continues to care about people – everyone from the citizen to the president. We held the World Cup here, and that was great. I am sure this will push more than a thousand boys to take part in collegiate hockey. The main thing is that this impulse to support something worthy doesn’t just stop, and that building up Belarusian hockey is not later left in the sand.
– I know that Mihkail Zakharov, former coach of the Belarusian National Ice Hockey Team, does not share your optimism for resolve the crisis in Belarusian hockey.
– He just wants to work and help to develop Belarusian hockey, and he has his own views on the matter.
– Do you agree with his views?
– Just try to disagree with them! But I’m not kidding when I say that actually Zakharov’s opinion is valuable to me, and I find his advice is often useful.
– Lets open up on the topic about changes in the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation (FHRB). Who do you think would be a good successor to Evgeny Vorin as Federation president?
– You are trying to get me to commit on political issues. If Mikhail (Zakharov) agrees to be the successor, he would be the best option.
– Last summer you were involved in some not so very pleasant events. Your wedding (with long-term girlfriend Katelyn Van Alstyne) took place against the backdrop of the Toronto Maple Leafs buying out your contract, and cutting you loose as a free agent. Today, (after a year of play with the Washington Capitals), you seem to again be at a crossroads about which team you will play with. Does this concern you?
– It bothers me a bit, but my thoughts are that I need to work to prepare for the next season. I need to work on my legs, my arms, my head and teeth. All the rest of the issues I leave to my agent.
– I understand he’s purposefully entrenching you with Washington.
– Yes, if only because I have no contract to go anywhere else. But he’s permitted to try to reach out to others if this team doesn’t work out.
– Your wishes, of course, also are to be taken into account?
– And not only mine: I still have a wife, a father, a grandfather, a grandmother… I’m kidding, of course. But I’d be happy to stay in Washington. I’m already settled there, I’ve made friends with the guys… it’s a great team.
– And what about Toronto?
– I would go back if it weren’t for my “favorite” coach (Randy Carlyle). Also, the club would have to close its eyes to my salary; I’m still getting compensation from the “Leafs” for the early termination of my contract. So a return might someday take place, but certainly not in the near future.
– What do you like about Washington?
– They are cool and collected. It’s a quieter and much more comfortable place than, say, New York. Although I like New York and I wouldn’t mind to live and play there. In Washington, though, there are a lot of places you can go to get away from hockey: theaters, clubs… the kids love the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Michael Grabovski remembers his worst day of the season.
– Do you recall your clash with Georgijs Pujacs in the match against Latvia at the World Championships (in April)?
– You bet! I overplayed it. Ideally, I should have passed, but instead I took the puck and thought I’d take it into the opponent’s ice… that failed. This proves that in hockey, even little things can fail. I stepped away from the science of the sport – I received the puck and made it my own. It didn’t go where I wanted, and I didn’t make the goal. On the other side, the opponent played, and that much isn’t against the rules. Whether he fouled or not, only the referees know better. Although it seemed to me that he fouled, just because the NHL would not have allowed any defender to do what he did. He actually sat down under me. Perhaps that is allowed in the junior leagues. In general, the Latvians in that match frankly were humiliated. Just before I fired off the final shot, the puck flew a couple times at my head, and once one of the Latvians barely missed my knee in a shot. I understand that this was their tactic. But the refs, I think, missed this. They missed at least half of Latvia’s fouls.
– Well, they were there with their own complaints, especially after Latvia’s second goal was dismissed (Czech referee Antonin Jerebek disallowed a goal by Kaspars Daugavins near the end of play because teammate Gints Meija appeared in instant replay to have a skate within the Belarusian goalkeeper’s crease). That goal could have cost us a place in the playoffs.
– I was very surprised when they canceled the point. The cancellation was right, no question – (Meija) was in the goalie’s area, and this score would not have counted in the NHL. But considering how the referees were through most of the match, it felt like in that moment they finally came back to reality.
– A recent discussion in sports forums asked how many years of living in another country does it take for a person from Belarus to cease being Belarusian. It seems clear that it is likely that at the end of your career, you will choose to remain in the New World.
– Oh, that’s a very deep question. I will say this: wherever I may be and however long I may live, I will always remain a Belarusian. In the end, a man, along with his other senses, lives by simple memory. And you have a debt to your homeland that you must give back when she needs you. Those who raised you, trained you, fed you, your relatives and friends – it’s all forever. And you shouldn’t wait just until you are asked for help. You should provide your service at every opportunity that you feel inside you. I have something of the same feelings for North America. This is not my first year there, and it is the birthplace of my wife and children. But my home is something that I will never stop feeling for inside.
by Vyacheslav Fedorenkov