Not so long ago, soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk was one of the subjects of a television program here in Russia called “Millionaires on Ice.” Will he stay in North America? Will he come home to Russia? This clip gives some interesting insights into Kovalchuk the player, as well as Kovalchuk the personality.
Below is the video, along with my translation.
Translation by Goddess Thorkhild.
Ilya Kovalchuk: I have a lot of American acquaintances, but as for friends or people with whom I communicate with, they are very few. Because the mentality is different anyway.
At IIHF Worlds in Quebec in 2008 our hockey players won the title for the first time in 15 years. We won’t have this victory without Ilya Kovalchuk. The decisive final seemed to be lost to Canada. But 5 minutes before the end of 3d period Kovalchuk scored and equalized. 4-4. And in the overtime the precise shot by Ilya was the golden.
In the hot American state of Georgia, Ilya Kovalchuk arrived from Tver in 2001. He was just 18, and he went to Atlanta alone. His father, who had always accompanied his son, refused to fly with him this time. He thought Ilya wasn’t mature enough for the NHL, but he proved the opposite. He became the most recognizable player on the Atlanta Thrashers at once.
Ilya Kovalchuk: [At first] I always wanted to go home, and during the first two or three years after the final whistle, I took my things and ran away from here and flew to Moscow –- I missed my friends and parents.
Lyubov Kovalchuk: When he goes to Tver, he immediately phones [asking] “mom, will I have potato with mushrooms?” You will, you will.
The Americans at once shortened the surname “Kovalchuk” to a name short and convenient for them: “Kovy.” Ilya got used to that rather fast. But he is still grated by relations among people in America.
Ilya Kovalchuk: [Here] you go to the restaurant — you pay for yourself, and you pay for yourself. It’s unacceptable for us, right? What a man would let a lady pay for him?
His father taught him to skate. Valery Nikolaevich taught his son to work till exhaustion on hockey tricks and shots. Since age 15 Ilya trained in Tver in the mornings, and went to Moscow in the evenings to play for Spartak’s junior team. In Atlanta Kovalchuk plays wearing number 17, on Team Russia he wears number 71. On Team Russia, the number 17 is retired forever in memory of the legendary Valery Kharlamov. He is Kovalchuk’s idol. Professionals notice -– Ilya, like Valery once did, is able to take the game on himself and to decide the result of any game. If you’re compared with Kharlamov you’re a true superstar.
After three years of bachelor life in America Kovalchuk decided to marry a Russian only. Nicole is half Lithuanian, half Russian. In 2003 she sang with the pop group Mirage. Then she met Ilya. They had common friends. Nicole still sings.
Nicole: In the shower, in the car, for the children, to the smallest I sing lullabies, of course.
Ilya and Nicole married in church in Moscow in Novodevichiy Monastery.
Nicole:: Yes, it happened after three years after our first meeting, after birth of Carolina. You know, I never asked “When will it happen? Let’s get married.” I think the man should come to this decision himself.
Ilya Kovalchuk: My mom and dad lived together for 30-35 years, and they had such a united family, that’s why they grew us in the same way. So I knew that if I was making such a step, I should do it only once in my life.
Ilya Kovalchuk: I have my family, I have my small world in Atlanta, because I try not to get scattered, and to pay as much time as possible to my family, wife and children.
Nicole thinks that the main thing for a hockey player’s wife is a skill to have patience and wait. But then the meetings are especially joyful.
At IIHF Worlds in Switzerland in the final game against Canada team Russia hardly scored to lead in the second period. To keep such a tiny lead during the rest of the game is almost unreal. Our team was exhausting in front of us. And only Kovalchuk hardly the ice. He literally brought team Russia to the first place on his mighty shoulders.
Lyubov Kovalchuk: And in the end there was his gesture, he showed, I said “you weren’t so happy this year as last time.” He said, “mom, I was flat-out.”
Ilya’s father didn’t see the beautiful victory of his son. In 2005 Valery Nikolaevich died from a painful disease. He wasn’t even 60. Ilya still hardly perceives his father’s death.
Lyubov Kovalchuk: When Ilya started to practice, his father started a diary. The famous phrase which is often quoted now, is written in the beginning of the diary, “Our goal is the national team.”
When his father died, Ilya offered to move his mother to Atlanta. But she refused categorically.
Lyubov Kovalchuk: Why don’t I want to live with him constantly? I must have my own life.
In this Tver hospital she works already for 30 years. She gets to work by tram at 8 a.m., though she could have the most expensive car. Patients do not have any idea that she is the mother of a millionaire and a Russian superstar from the NHL Ilya Kovalchuk. It is not accepted to brag about fortune at the Kovalchuk’s.
Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.