NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Malkin scores big off the ice

Penguins ace secures hat trick at NHL gala

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LAS VEGAS -- Evgeni Malkin took a quick look around and could hardly believe his eyes.

There sat the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy -- all soon to be inscribed with his name after Malkin completed an impressive hat trick at the NHL's awards show on Wednesday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins centre struggled to describe his emotions before calling it the best day of his life.

"It's a special day to me," said Malkin. "I hope it's not the last one. I try to work every year and I hope to be here again."

There could be no more fitting star of the show on an evening that saw every major award go to a first-time winner.

Malkin has been among the NHL's elite players since entering the league in 2006, but this was his first real twirl in the spotlight. Twice a runner-up for league MVP, Malkin was a runaway champion this time around after a season that saw him hit the 50-goal plateau for the first time and finish with 109 points.

It left the Russian in a reflective mood. He thanked former teammate Sergei Gonchar during an emotional acceptance speech because of the great lengths the veteran defenceman went to early in Malkin's career to help him make the adjustment to life in North America.

"I remember six years before, when I come, it was a different life, you know?" said Malkin. "I (didn't) speak English. First (person) who took care of me, it's Sergei Gonchar -- he's a great guy, unbelievable player. It's my best friend here.

"Thanks to him and his family, he always supports me."

Malkin edged New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos for both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. Neither of those players arrived at the Wynn Las Vegas expecting to knock off the Penguins star.

"I think Malkin deserved it," said Lundqvist. "He was just outstanding this year. Dominated for a long time this year, and personally I was just happy to be nominated."

The Rangers goaltender didn't go home empty-handed. He won his first Vezina Trophy after a season where he posted eight shutouts to help New York claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Lundqvist had been nominated on three previous occasions before finally getting his hands on the trophy -- a running theme this year. Veteran St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock also won his first Jack Adams Award after previously being a finalist in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Over time, he stopped thinking about ever being labelled the best in his business.

"As you get older, you stop doing things on the promotional side and you just focus on you and the players," said Hitchcock, who led the Blues to a 43-15-11 record after being hired in November. "So I mostly just forgot about it."

It was a big night for Swedish-born players: Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy while Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog took home the Calder Trophy.

Both seemed genuinely shocked to hear their name called.

"I don't really think I understood how it works and how big it was until I came here," said Karlsson, who forgot to thank his parents during a brief acceptance speech. "And once I sat down and saw that the first prize was mine, I didn't really know what to do."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 C2

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