Center Mikhail Grabovski is doing what he can to make sure he joins fellow Belorussian forwards Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn as regulars in the Montreal Canadiens' roster. Grabovski started the season with Montreal before being sent to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, where he promptly injured his ankle in early December. The 24-year-old has decimated the AHL in his limited action with the Bulldogs in 2007-08 and is not content to be in the AHL while his younger countrymen are in the NHL. McKeen's recently had the opportunity to chat with Grabovski before he was recalled by the Canadiens at the trading deadline. The talented forward talked about his AHL exploits, splitting time between Hamilton and Montreal, coming back from injury, playing in Russia, representing Belarus, and his overall game.
McKeen's: You were the AHL Player of the Week February 17 and now you have 17 points in your last four games. Tell me about that last week and what has helped you do that.
Grabovski: I don't know. I did not play seven or eight weeks and have injury and after this I need to come down. I come and play very good and I have good linemates in [Matt] D'Agostini and [Duncan] Milroy and [Eric] Manlow. The team plays a good powerplay, and maybe this is key, my key.
McKeen's: You touched on this slightly; you suffered the high ankle sprain December 7, tried coming back on Dec. 28 and re-aggravated it. How did that injury happen in the first place and how is the injury now?
Grabovski: The injury now is good. Every game I tape, have tape. The first week when I injured it, there was big pain and it hurt. It was very difficult, because I no play and no skate and stay in Hamilton and live in hotel. I could relax, because last season it was very long and Hamilton finished in June and I only have two months, and maybe now have seven weeks to relax and now I'm good to play well.
McKeen's: You started the season in Montreal, played 12 games up there and were kind of in and out of the lineup. How did you feel about your first two months in Montreal.
Grabovski: They were good because it's a big team, a team that has big history and a lot of good players. When I was young I liked Saku Koivu, and I played together with him. That's my dream. I have short time on the ice, I play a short time on the ice and it made it very difficult, because when I only play eight minutes, just for me, it's no good. I don't know why. Maybe for other players, this is not important, but, just for me eight minutes, maybe I need a little more. But, it's a nice city and I have a lot of friends in Montreal.
McKeen's: You mentioned playing until June last season, and you guys won the Calder Cup. How did you feel the season went for you?
Grabovski: When I play in Hamilton, it's a great. Last season, in my lifetime, it was the first cup or championship. This season, I feel great, because Hamilton is team number one every game. We come on the ice and are expected to win every game.
McKeen's: What were some of the biggest adjustments you had to make coming to North America after three seasons in Russia?
Grabovski: It's very difficult hockey, because Russian hockey is a big rink and this is a small rink. When I play here, there's more games in the month and it's very difficult. I love Canada hockey and I love Russian hockey. I try this and maybe after, when I'm old, I go to Russia and play again.
McKeen's: In the Super League, you followed Vladimir Krikunov first to Nizhnekamsk and then when he moved to Dynamo Moscow, you went with him. Tell me a bit about the relationship that you have with coach Krikunov.
Grabovski: He's a great coach. He was my big coach, when I play big hockey in Nizhnekamsk. Coach [Krikunov] had a lot of physical exercises in the summer training and after training camp I felt good on the ice.
McKeen's: When you moved from Russia, what were some of the biggest adjustments from Belorussian hockey with Junost Minsk over to Nizhnekamsk?
Grabovski: Belarus was my young hockey and play on the junior team. In Russia, it's big hockey, maybe the second league in the world. My junior team in Minsk, we had a big coach, too, in Zakharov.
McKeen's: Ah, Konstantin Zakharov's father.
Grabovski: Yes, you know Konstantin? He is my friend. He's a good player. Mike (Mikhail) Zakharov is the coach.
McKeen's: Yes, I remember he coached Belarus at the World Junior Championships.
Grabovski: Yeah, yeah.
McKeen's: Along those lines, you also skated with the Kostitsyn brothers (Andrei and Sergei) who are also Canadian prospects like yourself. What is it like to have two other Belorussian teammates in the system, because it's rare for one team to have three Belorussians?
Grabovski: Yeah, I know, but those two guys play in Montreal, and I play in Hamilton. I am older but they are with the Canadiens. In Europe, I am the older guy. But, it's good. For the history of Belarus, it's great. But, I like playing with Konstantin Zakharov, my friend. He played in Peoria last year? (pauses), but I don't care who plays who.
McKeen's: You represented Belarus a number of times at the U18s, the World Junior Championships, World Championships, and even the Olympic qualifiers. What are some of your favorite memories representing Belarus?
Grabovski: At the 2002 U18 World Championships when Belarus played Canada. I scored the winning goal and Belarus win over Canada 5-3. [Andrei] Kostitsyn played, and Zakharov played, and I played. I remember the game.
McKeen's: Yes, that was the year Belarus finished ahead of Canada in the standings.
Grabovski: Canada six, Belarus five!
McKeen's: You were amongst the leading scorers for Belarus, in fact the leading scorer in a couple tournaments. What was it like not to play for them at the World Championships last year?
Grabovski: The national team has good players. They play good and have lot of young guys. Maybe this World Championship, Canada is better. Good coaches, good system, because now they're under Canada's system on the national team (Curt Fraser is currently the head coach for the Belorussian national team). When I have time, I go to the Internet, and I know the scores.
McKeen's: Just follow it the best you can and play where you are at.
Grabovski: I miss playing with my national team, because every time I play, I play good. Good team, good guys, good friends.
McKeen's: You have skated with Andrei Kostitsyn more than Sergei. What are some of the strengths of Andrei's game?
Grabovski: Ask maybe Alexei Kovalev, maybe he knows about Kostitsyn, because I play here. He's (Kostitsyn) a good player. A good Belorussian player.
McKeen's: And Sergei?
Grabovski: Sergei, too, but Sergei is younger. Ask Kovalev. Kovalev knows about guys.
McKeen's: We have talked about other guys a bit, but what are the strengths of your game and what are you working on improving?
Grabovski: I'm a good skater, smart player, I move it forward and I make smart plays. I need good linemates, because I like fast hockey, very quick. Maybe I need to work on faceoffs, because sometimes I am losing. When I play NHL, I lose a lot of faceoffs, and the defensive zone. I remember [Rod] Brind'Amour is a good forward and very good player at faceoffs. I need to work on it every time and train and train and train.