No. 71 … and a half

Berman, who joined the Penguins ticket division in 1999 after emigrating from Ukraine eight years earlier, was told he might need to accompany the young Russian to dinner at Mario Lemieux’s house to translate.

“But then they called again and said hello, Sergey Gonchar is going,” Berman said, adding with his usual hearty laugh, “It makes sense. Better offer.”

Berman ended up meeting Malkin the next day, when then-Vice President of Communications Tom McMillan brought him into the locker room after practice.

In the years that followed, of course Sidney Crosby And the Chris Letang They were Gino’s two brothers – one Canadian and one French Canadian. But Gonchar and Berman were like parents to Malkin, providing support in all aspects of life.

So, on Wednesday, the penguins included them as part of a celebration honoring 1,000 ownersThe tenth Game. The team surprised Malkin by flying Gonchar from Dallas, where he is staying with his family, after bringing Evgeny’s wife Anna and son Nikita to Chicago.

“The last three days, I cry every single day. Because the team gives me so many surprises,” said Malkin. “My wife and son come to the game in Chicago, before the game I have no idea. Gonch is coming tonight, I have no idea either. Lots of good stuff. I’m excited.”

Then after the game, Malkin Berman surprised with a special jersey that was a nod to their early days.

After Malkin first began translating in 2006, the ticket department had T-shirts made in Berman’s honor that read “71 ½,” George being half. A day or two later, when Berman accompanied Malkin to his first television interview on AT&T SportsNet, announcer Stan Safran pulled the shirt off and put it on during a taping.

And during the Penguins’ internal media day right before training camp, Malkin brought up that interview and how much he enjoyed it. The memories inspired the team to get a jersey made for Biermann with his name and “71 ½” on the back, and Malkin gave it to him in the locker room. After wed celebration.

“I have a gift for you,” he said to Berman before handing her over. In it he wrote in Russian, “To my best friend.” At first, Berman couldn’t believe what was happening, and then he was speechless.

He was told, “It’s the least we can do for you, George.”

Gonchar’s role in helping Malkin is well documented, but Berman’s role has been behind the scenes all these years. He offered Malkin assistance with anything and everything he might need, especially from a logistical point of view, such as understanding subtleties in contracts and being the liaison between the team and his family. And, like Gonchar, Berman also opened his house to two owners, where George and his wife Valentina invited him to meals with his two sons … And Evgeny became almost the third.

“I feel like he really needs that support,” Berman said. “A lot of people who know me and know him say, How are your kids? And that includes Gino. He’s part of my family.”

Berman is a kind, jovial man who is loved by all who know him – his family, friends, colleagues and customers in his role as Senior Manager of Club Seat Sales and Retention with the Penguins. Everything he did for Malkin was out of the goodness of his heart, as he remembers how difficult it was when he first arrived in the United States in 1991.

Berman barely knew the first five letters of the English alphabet, and it was very difficult for him. There was a moment when Berman was about to go home, but this moment passed, and he decided to continue fulfilling his dream of participating in hockey. He has been playing sports all his life in Ukraine, working with a team there. But Berman knew it would take a few years for him to acquire the language sufficient to work with a team here, so he began learning by immersion in everyday life.

Berman’s jobs included assisting his uncle, a plumber. Work in a car dealership. and work at Kaufman’s Store. He faxed his resume around that time, and after George and Valentina married on July 3, 1999, he received a call from the Penguins the following Monday about coming in for an interview.

Hired as a telemarketer in the midst of the team’s bankruptcy struggles, he worked every hour until the team eventually offered Berman a full-time job a few months later. He recalls being in the office on the day of the 2004 NHL draft lottery, where then-CEO Ken Sawyer hung out after the Capitals won the right to pick Alex Ovechkin.

“He was like, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t get our first overall pick,'” Berman said. “But he said, ‘I’ve talked to people,’ and they said in the long run, you might have a better player with Malkin then Ovechkin. That combination, Geno and Sid, I mean — you can’t script any better than them, because one cares a lot more about the other. It’s a no-brainer.” Believe “.

And Malkin couldn’t have asked for a better support system when he arrives in a completely foreign country where he doesn’t know the language, or how to simply navigate everyday life. Having two great people like Gonchar and Berman help Malkin feel at ease after Evgeny had to leave his loved ones in Russia is a big reason he got to this point.

“I remember at the end of the first year or two, Tom McMillan sent me an email saying, ‘Thank you for helping Gino. You’re a big part of who he is,'” Berman said. “He’s the one who plays on the ice. He’s the one who wins and scores goals. But I remember that first trophy, I have a video from the Russian media where at the end of the game, I almost jumped on him, and I remember that hug.

“For Gino to win three Stanley Cups and everything else, I think good things happen to good people. That’s what he is. For me, what happens to him, playing 1,000 games – that’s very much deserved.”

Berman stopped coming to the locker room to translate around 2010, but he has remained instrumental in many ways for the Malkins and Penguins. He has curated several congratulatory videos, including those of Malkin’s parents and brother, and he also helps Evgeni and Anna on a personal level whenever they need it. Their families often spend time at each other’s homes, and the plan is for Berman to host Evgeny, Anna, and Nikita for Thanksgiving today.

“He’s my best friend in Pittsburgh,” Malkin said. “He’s a sweet family man, a good man. He’s a really good friend of mine, and still is.”

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