I recently spoke with former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Danny Markov. In this interview we will start by taking a trip back to the summer of 1995. That is the summer when the Maple Leafs drafted Markov in the 9th round. Markov played in the NHL for nine seasons and four of those were with the Maple Leafs. During this interview I will be referring to myself as JR and Markov as DM.
JR: What did it feel like when you found out you had been drafted into the NHL by the Toronto Maple Leafs?
DM: It was the Summer of 1995 and we just finished pre-season training week with HC Spartak, Moscow. That day I bought a sports newspaper at a Metro station and that’s how I found out that I had been drafted by the Maple Leafs in the 9th round. It got me excited about it. I mean, that I even was drafted. It was my first appreciation as a hockey player, but I did not have much hope to play in NHL, only desire.
JR: How was your time in Newfoundland playing for the St. Johns Maple Leafs?
DM: It was a great and fun time. We were a gang, young and restless, very united team. I came to beautiful St. Johns with zero English and from the first minute I felt welcomed by the city, teammates and the residents. Team veterans, such as the late Greg Smyth, were helping me a lot to adjust. Greg took patronage over me. If not him and his advice, I wouldn’t make it to NHL. Hockey was different, tougher, we were fighting for the Team until very last second. Those four months were very helpful to me in order to make it to NHL. I am thankful to all my St. Johns Maple Leafs teammates and coaches, Mark Hunter and Al MacAdam.
JR: What do you remember about your first NHL game?
DM: It was an unforgettable game. When I got up to the Maple Leafs, I discovered at the rink that I have no skates. At morning skate I borrowed Sergei Berezin‘s extra pair, but they were two sizes smaller. Brian Pappineau, the equipment manager for the Maple Leafs, went to the store and bought me new Graff skates for the game. To wear new skates for pro-player for the game is nonsense. All my thoughts were about it. It was a home game against the Dallas Stars, one of the best teams then. Of course I was nervous, but all the guys were calming me to play my game. So, I did and even managed one assist. It was great atmosphere, full Maple Leaf Gardens of fans, Amazing!
JR: Who were you the closest with on the Maple Leafs?
DM: I’m very sociable and even though I barely spoke English, I quickly found a common language with everybody on the team. The closest to me was Sergei Berezin. He helped me a lot at the beginning and we are still friends now.
JR: What do you remember about scoring your first NHL goal?
DM: Believe it or not, I do not remember much of the details. My only memory is that it was at Maple Leaf Garden against the St. Louis Blues and I was jumping with happiness. I still have my first NHL puck at my home.
JR: What was is it like when you got traded to Phoenix?
DM: As I said before, I’m very proud to have been part of a memorable and glorious era of great and strong Maple Leafs of 1997-2001. Best period of my NHL career: close knit team of fearless warriors led by Pat Quinn. We were a true dream Team, proudly wearing the blue and white. We played from the heart for our fans and for the Maple Leafs I was sorry to leave, but I was and I’m happy that I got this chance to play for such great club and I had privilege to play along remarkable players from around the World.
It was right before my Birthday, got a phone call from my agent. I did not expect it, but was ready. Honestly it was the right move and great impetus to move forward. I got a lot of ice time, was playing in different situations, got to go to the Olympic games in 2002. For my career this trade was needed.
JR: Who were your favorite teammates to play with during your whole NHL career?
DM: This list of great ones would be very long. Every teammate in my career was remarkable. They were stars on the ice and great, friendly, funny guys off the ice. Unique combo of generations, but if we are talking about defense partners, it would be Nick Lidstrom. When we were on the ice, I played and enjoyed every second of the game of Hockey in tandem with Nick.
JR: What are you doing now?
DM: I am a 43-year-old stay at home father. I have to admit, I’m enjoying my time being a full time Dad. For the past six years I had a chance to co-coach in KHL and always open to offers. Right now, me and my family, wife Anna, 17-year-old son Ivan and 15-year-old daughter Mariya, live in Sarasota, Florida. Ivan is a soccer player in training, three years ago he got invited to join multi-sport IMG Academy and we decided to relocate. We are traveling a lot, watching soccer games, tournaments, exploring colleges with the kids. I like to take part in hockey charity games. During summer break we usually go back to Moscow, Russia, where we spend time with friends and relatives. I love fishing and hunting, it’s my hobby.
JR: What do you think of today’s NHL?
DM: The game of hockey was different when I played. Hockey was a tougher game, more intense and emotional, we had more sports rivalry. Rules have changed over the years. I think at the time when I played, we had more of physical play and to gain points was a harder task. To make a team, to conquer a spot on the team was a much harder goal. The NHL had more “star” players from around the World, players with character and warrior attitude. If your partner was dirty body checked, no one waited until next shift, the whole team was in. Unfortunately, hockey got softer. During my career in NHL I got lucky to play along and against three generations of remarkable players from around the world.
JR: How would you rate this year’s Maple Leafs team?
DM: Offensively the team plays very well, but defensively has to do a better job to make it to playoffs and to show more character in every game.
JR: Danny, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
DM: My pleasure Jeremy
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