Ruth and Bill Garnett: Chalyabinsk has fantastic fans!
Couple of words about Michael’s childhood, how did he get to play hockey? Who
discovered his talent?
Ruth: He wanted to play hockey since he was about 5-6 years old. We had a boy who lived across the street named Zenan who was four years older than Michael. He was Michael’s hero and looking at him, he decided to play hockey himself. He always wanted to be a goalie. As for your question about who discovered his talent, I can say that I don’t know much about hockey, so it was not me who discovered it, but rather his coaches.
What about Michael’s brother?
Ruth: Michael’s brother is two years older, he played hockey but didn’t love it as much as Michael did. And looking at Michael’s achievements, now he’s saying: ‘Darn! I should’ve worked harder’. He was never a goalie; he would throw tennis balls, sponge pucks or anything he could at Michael, and Michael would catch.
Tell us more about Michael’s time in high school.
Ruth: As you might know, our high school is from 9th to 12th grades, so by the time he was getting to the high school, he knew he would have to leave Saskatoon, so he took most of his academics in advance. When he was in 11th grade, he tried to sign with two elite teams of thecity but didn’t make it. So he went to a small town of Swift Current which is a two and a half hour drive to play for their team, and one of the families from Swift Current billeted him. When the season was over, he would come back home and finish his high school. It was kind of hard on him because he had to leave his friends, but he was determined all the way and was mentally prepared for that, and we supported him all the way as well.
Bill: We drove to each of Michael’s games. It was usually a three-hour drive, and we had to go to work the next day after the game.
Ruth: They usually had home games on Tuesday nights, and we returned home at around 2 a.m., and the next day we had to go to work, so we did a lot of driving.
What did you say when he decided to play on his own?
Bill: We were supporting him all the way.
Ruth: He did all of this on his own. He phoned up GMs of different teams when he didn’t make it to the two elite teams in Saskatoon, and he did this without even telling us. I was a bit worried at the time because I thought it was a difficult decision to make, and but that was what he wanted, and you can’t take your child’s dreams away.
Bill: When he approached the Swift Current team, they offered Michael to go for an away game with them. When he was on the team, I had to pay team fees (ice rental, equipment, buses) that amounted to $6000 a year, and that included the money we paid to the family that billeted him.
Ruth: The most interesting thing here is that you get invited for a tryout by a team, but he didn’t wait for that and phoned the teams himself and said that he wanted to play for their team; and Swift Current took a huge risk with him, but it paid off.
When did Michael begin to get paid for this job?
Bill: It was when he got drafted by Atlanta Thrashers in 2001. By the way, we went to the draft ceremony that took place in Florida. There we met Brent Sutter who was Michael’s coach back when he played for Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, and it was a great experience. Sutter is a well-respected man in the hockey world and a powerful figure as a coach. The guy won more trophies that he has fingers to put the rings on (laughs)! Sutter helped Michael a great deal back in the WHL, so we respect him for that.
What was the next stage of Michael’s career?
Bill: He was drafted by Thrashers and first went on to play in Greenville, SC for the team named Greenville Grrrowl of the East Coast Hockey League; then he played for Gwinette Gladiators for another year or so.
Ruth: Then he went on to play for Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
Bill: And by the way, just an interesting fact – Ilya Kovalchuk got drafted the same year Michael was drafted. Ilya was #1, and Michael was #80 (3rd round) in 2001 draft lottery.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about how Canadians perceive Russian hockey. What’s the general attitude towards KHL, for example?
Ruth: I think the Canadian media thinks NHL is far superior to KHL. Last year there were comments about the fastest shot contest at 2012 KHL All-Star Game. Canadian media was mocking this, saying that the calibration of the gauges must have been inadequate or something like this. However, they love Russian players when they come over to NHL. I myself think that hockey here in KHL is much better; the ice surface is also bigger, and KHL players pay more attention to team play and puck control.
How do you follow Traktor’s games?
Ruth: We watch them live; usually we go to websites like livehockey.ru or onhockey.ru. It’s not the best broadcast, but still good to watch.
Bill: Three years ago the quality of broadcast wasn’t this good, but now it’s much better with different camera angles etc.
You’ve been in Chelyabinsk for two weeks now. What’s your impression of the city?
Bill: I think Chelyabinsk has a great hockey arena; nice wide streets, no huge traffic jams, good restaurants, everybody around here is friendly. I like it here! Hotel service is very good as well.
Ruth: I wish the weather would be a little warmer because then we could spend more time outside, but that’s ok. We went out several times anyway; Sergey, one of Traktor’s drivers, is at our disposal, if you will; he gets us around the city.
Did you get to visit any of Chelyabinsk’s sights?
Bill: Not yet.
Ruth: Because it’s been so cold, we haven’t really had a chance to do this. I was here last year, and Michael and I walked around the city; he showed me some of the monuments, parks. I also find it exciting that you have this amusement park in the city center; that’s great! We’ve also been to some of the malls.
Bill: Yeah, we’ve been to Rodnik; and man, this place is huge!
Do you think it’s possible for any foreigner in general and Michael in particular to stay in Russia and to live here?
Ruth: As far as Michael is concerned, he is prepared to stay here. He feels himself appreciated and valued here in Chelyabinsk. Of course as a mother I would like him to come home, but you see, the world is different now – it’s easier to travel and just to be in another part of the world. Anyways, all I know is that he’s been here for two years and he’s been very happy; he likes the team, he likes the fans, he’s in a good place. He also likes the size of the city; it’s not too big, not too small. He bought a car too, so it’s even easier for him to get around the city and feel himself at home.
Your general impressions about the All-Star Game that took place a week ago right here in Chelyabinsk.
Ruth: I think it’s nice that it was a two-day format because it makes it a bigger celebration for the fans. I’m sure Michael had a great time as well. This is the thing I like about the All-Star Game – all the players are from different teams, and yet they laugh and have fun and so on. For example, Michael played with Kovalchuk back in Atlanta, and now they meet here in Chelyabinsk and get the opportunity to talk about the old times.
Bill: And then Datsyuk has to score his penalty shots! Nah, I’m just kidding. He’s incredible, isn’t he?
Ruth: Datsyuk was genius; but we were a little disappointed that Malkin and Gonchar didn’t stay here as it would have been a more star-studded match. Fans would have appreciated them staying as well. And still it was fun to watch, even though without Malkin and Ovechkin.
Bill: The organization of the match was top notch as well! Great job!
Why do you think there were empty spots in the stands during day one?
Bill: I think that people were just busy doing other things like buying groceries, washing a car or something (smiles).
Ruth: And still there were many people in the stands! You see, maybe you are a little upset because you’re not used to empty seats in the arena, that’s all.
One more thing – a couple of words to all of loyal Traktor fans.
Ruth: Chelyabinsk crowd is one of the most electric in all of KHL, so say to them – keep believing in Traktor, and one day they are going to hoist the coveted Gagarin Cup!