It looks like TSN/NBC analyst Pierre McGuire is up to his old tricks. Once again he has taken the opportunity to lambast long-time Capitals winger Alexander Semin.
On the July 1 “Free Agent Frenzy” show on Canada’s TSN (and simulcast on the NHL Network), McGuire and the apparently anti-Semin panel launched a blistering attack on the Russian, who is now a free agent.
The firebombing started with ex-NHL coach-turned-analyst Marc Crawford who referred to Semin as “a loser,” without giving a single reason why he deserved such an appellation (barring Crawford’s own disdain for him). He continued the barrage, saying that although Semin’s point production was greater than fellow UFA Zach Parise’s, he does not help his team at all, while Parise helps “in every way.”
Marc, could you be a little more vague with those comments? Is there any proof to this accusation, or did a Russian rub you the wrong way at some point in your career? Because, calling somebody names on a national network simply isn’t professional journalism.
Not wanting to miss his chance to bash Semin, McGuire eagerly jumped in with equal venom, saying he ”is not a great teammate” and describing him as the “ultimate coach killer.” Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic, Pierre?
Clearly, McGuire has a short memory. He sang Semin’s praises during one of the better playoff runs the Capitals have had in years. In fact, Semin was the talk of the NHL during the first round as we reported on this website in April.
Playoff performance aside, lets look at the stats. Semin been an amazingly solid producer since he arrived in Washington. Looking at his numbers, one would never guess that he has been riddled with injuries each year. He has done everything his coaches have asked him to do. And he has even been hailed as “caring too much” by his former general manager George McPhee.
He has been a loyal teammate. He is never late to practice. He does what is asked of him and doesn’t argue with the coach or management. He’s not a prima donna with huge demands, nor does he expect special treatment. One can’t even accuse him of being a one-way player, as he’s proved that this certainly isn’t the case. No, he simply wants to play.
Why then, do members of the Canadian media wage war against this player? They certainly would never talk about one of their “own” this way, no matter how detrimental that person was to their team. It would be unacceptable. Why is this any different?
Members of the Canadian media, including Pierre McGuire, seem to enjoy denigrating Russian players.
Maybe Semin turned down a request for an interview or perhaps he refused to give McGuire his private mobile number so they could exchange text messages and give Pierre another name to drop. Or maybe his discomfort with the English language makes him somehow less human and, therefore, easier to excoriate. Or, as I’ve often thought, there may be a more sinister reason for trying to ruin his reputation. The NHL is still very much an Old Boys club, and anyone different is not well received.
Whether they are motivated by xenophobia or some other reason, the attacks on Semin’s character are unacceptable and unethical behavior on the part of TSN’s “expert” panel. Yet I don’t see it stopping any time soon. Bashing Russians seems to be a time-honored tradition in certain circles and it seems the people who do it will not be happy until all of the Russians have gone home to the Kontinental Hockey League. And while Semin is far too talented to play in that league, Sergei Fedorov, the new GM for CSKA Moscow has said he will make a play for him.
Yes, the Cold War still rages on the ice. It’s time for a change. It’s time for the old ideas of what a Russian player is to change. It’s time for some in the Canadian media to forget the contentiousness of the 1972 Summit Series, get with the times and do some rethinking. Do those old stereotypes of the stoic, unfeeling, passionless Russian still apply? And, perhaps more importantly, did they ever? Until this relatively small, but influential segment of Canada’s press corps is willing to look at their own biased attitudes and commit themselves to a little fairness, I fear hockey slip further into the realm of “niche sport.” Certain big name, absurdly suited and coiffed commentators are already laughingstocks. It’s time for a change, before the sport we love becomes one too.
Photographs: Alexander Semin by Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine; Pierre McGuire from Wiki Commons.
Too late to break out Kovalchuk's Kombat Kilt? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, divas dress to kill.
I have to say I gasped, then laughed like crazy when I saw the latest in Ilya-gate. The arbiter ruled in favor of the National Hockey League! WHAT?! As the late, great Johnny Carson would no-doubt have said (if he’d been a hockey fan), “that’s some weird, wild stuff.”
What is it with these ex-Atlanta Thrashers who become drama queens when they leave the team? Maybe Kovy has always been a bit of a diva (yeah, he has been), but we’ve had a string of interesting former Thrasher players all mixed up in the drama: Hossa-gate (and all the unnecessary rudeness surrounding it, of which I disapproved), Dany-gate (and all the rudeness that he did deserve), now this. A high-profile player cannot leave the Thrashers without drama ensuing — either immediately, during or after his departure. (So we stand on alert waiting for Kari Lehtonen to implode, get thrown from a bucking bronco at a dive bar in Dallas and tweak his groin, or eat himself into a fast food coma.)
Kovy, Kovy, Kovy. You could have avoided all of this ages ago by just taking the sweetheart deal the Thrashers begged you to sign.
This is all very amusing to me. Is it just me?! Perhaps “drama queen” is overstating it, but really. This is crazy. Kovalchuk is a free agent again! A little more than a month after he became a UFA, Kovalchuk could flit off to the Kontinental Hockey League and join the super team SKA St. Petersburg seems to be amassing over there. He could crown himself a Los Angeles King after all. Or, the humble and loving Thrasher fan in me naively, somewhere in the back of her mind thinks, he could come home to Atlanta. Yes. Go get him Dudley! (Oh! Silly me. We are not a “class organization” in his eyes, so never mind the bollocks!)
Am I spiteful? Just experiencing a wicked case of schadenfreude and am all giddy? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know. Until then … LOL Kovy. Oh dear!
Photo: Ilya Kovalchuk from kiltmen.com. If I am not mistaken, that photograph originally appeared in a fashion spread in a magazine many years ago. The Hockey Goddesses regret not knowing the original copyright owner, but would welcome this information (as much as we would welcome knowing how the author of the story and/or photographer persuaded him to pose in this garb — delightful and oddly sexy as it is.)
Afinogenov is reportedly headed to the greener pastures of the Kontinental Hockey League.
Another flashy Russian is apparently headed back to the Motherland. Reports say former Atlanta Thrasher Maxim Afinogenov off to the KHL, joining former San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeny Nabokov in St. Petersburg, signing a deal with SKA. The report is that he’s getting five years for an unknown sum of money. My Russian is OK, but not that good.
The Thrasher fan in me continued to hope that Mad Max would bring his razzle dazzle back to the ATL. He looked good in Thrasher blue.
I have a couple of Russian colleagues who are looking into the story further, but the Russian site Sovietsky Sport seems to indicate Afinogenov to the KHL is a done deal. If true, that’s likely the last we’ve seen of Afinogenov in the NHL, which is sad. First Jagr now this!?! Horror! :-)
I hope that our brilliant and talented Russian gurus will have a better update for you later. Until then, do svidanya Max. It was fun while it lasted.
What do you think of this exodus of players from the NHL — is it worrisome to you? Let us know what you think!
Photo: Maxim Afinogenov by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Bob McKenzie has the right idea. A few days after the opening of the free agent market, he took himself off on vacation and, other than a couple of Kovalchuk comments, has mostly Tweeted about his hammock and golf game.
Other NHL media folk would be wise to follow suit. Or at the very least, as my mother used to say, think before they speak (or type, or Tweet).
Unfortunately, too many hockey media, with too much time on their hands, too eager to listen to any whispered rumors (whispered by whom? Agents, perhaps? Perish the thought!), are too ready to pass along any ridiculous crap they hear and call it “news.”
Case in point: The Boston Bruins are interested in Bill Guerin.
The Bruins could be welcoming back a familiar face to the Hub as the team is speaking with Bill Guerin about a potential return to Boston, according to Radio host and St. Louis Blues writer Andy Strickland.
“The Bruins are talking to veteran Billy Guerin,” Strickland Tweeted Tuesday. “They need to make a roster move before they can sign him…”
OK, obviously nobody stopped to ask one simple question. No, not WTF? (though I’ll admit that’s the first thing that crossed my mind.) The question would be “Why?”
The Bruins already have their Designated Old Guy. They’re in cap hell, and are going to have to move a player or two even without signing any free agents. Though they haven’t hung out signs saying “We’re going with a youth movment,” it’s fairly obvious to anyone paying attention that they’re aiming to get younger and more dynamic, with Tyler Seguin only the tip of their young prospect iceberg; they’ve got some real talent knocking on the door.
In a nutshell, signing Bill Guerin would make no sense whatsoever.
Meanwhile, that bastion of sports journalism The Bleacher Report picked up the story, with an added twist:
Reports from NESN have stated that the Boston Bruins have significant interest in veteran winger Bill Guerin.
Oooh, so now it’s “significant” interest!
The story grew, making it onto both of Boston’s sports radio stations, as well as ESPN’s web site. For 24 hours, Bruins fans hotly debated the pros and cons of the Return of Bill Guerin.
Until Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com came along:
…A Bruins source told CSNNE.com Wednesday [July 28] there was no interest on their part in the 39-year-old free agent winger.
A Bruins source. Imagine that. A member of the media picked up the phone and, y’know, actually asked someone in the Bruins F.O. about it. Responsible journalism – who would have thunk it?
We've got our Designated Old Guy (Mark Recchi), thanks.
(And when you’re praising Joe Haggerty as a bastion of responsible journalism, you’re in trouble. But that’s a commentary for another day.)
Is Ilya Kovalchuk's future once again hazy? Looks like it.
Much like Nelson Muntz (of “The Simpsons” fame), I had to let out a tiny giggle at the NHL bringing down the banhammer on Ilya Kovalchuk’s new contract. I know that there have been a few others like this in the last few season; but I asked the same question of them that I did of this one … Does our pal Kovalchoo really need a deal that would last until his oldest child graduates college and would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of the Gross National Product of a small African nation? (For more puzzling questions, see fellow Goddess Kaatiya’s piece: Kovy’s Contact Rejected — Why?)
To be honest, I am not a Devils fan in the least. Not only am I a Pens fan and still have a bit of a grudge against Scott Stevens for laying out my boy Paulie K in Game 6 of the 2003 Finals; but the beating of my Ducks in that series make them not too friendly around these parts.
However, Ilya has always fascinated me; and after he was traded to New Jersey, I was actually kind of happy for him. Things in Atlanta have never quite gotten off the ground, so with Los Diablos, Mr. Kovalchoo was finally going to a club that had the same level of talent to match his own. And that is a problem with this contract; they might not be able to keep all of it for as long as they would like and at the price tags that talent would be asking for.
Anyway, I thought I would leave you with a few pictures from today’s press conference in New Jersey.
A greeting from one of his alternate captains (Patrik Elias)...
and one from his goalie (Martin Brodeur)...
The posse sits in support or in wait to speak to Lou Lamoriello about this huge-ass deal that THEY would like to have as well; or maybe a bit of both...
Little do these guys know what lies ahead in the next few hours?
Kovalchuk poses outside the Devils' arena this afternoon; but will he still be there if they cut down his deal?
Photos: Ilya Kovalchuk by Getty Images and The Associated Press.
One of the best Russian goalies in the NHL — Evgeni Nabokov — has signed a 4-year contract with SKA (Saint Petersburg), Sovsport.ru reports.
On Wednesday we sorted out the last small difficulties, and Zhenya [a nickname for Evgeni in Russian] signed the contract with the SKA. The agreement was e-mailed to him. Now Zhenya is going to set up him home problems — he should close his house in San Jose, to sell all the unneeded stuff… He moves to Russia with his whole family. The sum of his contract suits him. And KHL is satisfied – to have such a player means to raise the prestige of the league in the world, — said Nabby’s agent Sergei Isayev.
SKA refuses to name the contract sum. And the club denies that this agreement with Nabokov will prevent them from fighting for Ilya Kovalchuk.
Photo: Evgeni Nabokov from Sovsport.ru
Evgeni Nabokov goes to Russia
One of the best Russian goalies in the NHL – Evgeni Nabokov – has signed a 4-year contract with SKA (Saint-Petersburg), Sovsport.ru reports.
- On Wednesday we sorted out the last small difficulties, and Zhenya [a short for Evgrni in Russian] signed the contract with the SKA. The agreement was e-mailed to him. Now Zhenya is going to set up him home problems – he should close his house in San Jose, to sell all the unneeded stuff… He moves to Russia with his whole family. The sum of his contract suits him. And KHL is satisfied, too, because to have such a player means to
- said Nabby’s agent Sergei Isayev.
В НХЛ Набоков выступал только за «Сан-Хосе». В американском клубе он провел десять сезонов, за пять последних зарабатывал по шесть миллионов долларов в год.
– Объявлять сумму контракта Набокова мы пока не собираемся, – заявил генеральный менеджер СКА Андрей Точицкий. – Вот примет КХЛ закон обнародовать все договоры с игроками – тогда пожалуйста. Пока могу лишь сказать, что Евгений уже давно принял решение выступать за СКА. И сумма контракта его полностью устраивает. В среду, поставив подписи под документом, мы поговорили несколько минут, поздравили друг друга…
– Почему контракт подписан сразу на четыре года? Чья это была инициатива – игрока или клуба?
– Я бы сказал – по обоюдному желанию сторон. Теперь вратарская позиция в нашей команде полностью закрыта.
– Ясно, что сумма контракта Набокова – очень приличная. Означает ли это, что СКА отказывается от своих притязаний еще на одну звезду НХЛ – форварда Илью Ковальчука?
– Давайте пока без подробных комментариев. Ковальчук остается в сфере наших интересов.
– Поставлю вопрос иначе – контракт Набокова будет выведен из-под потолка зарплат, что позволяет регламент КХЛ, или этот резерв сохранится для Ковальчука?
– С этим мы определимся чуть позже.
– Остается ли в СКА Алексей Яшин?
– Мы сделали Яшину новое контрактное предложение. Алексей пока не ответил.
Отметим, что от контракта Набокова со СКА выиграл не только питерский клуб, но и сборная России. Наш тренерский штаб получил в свое распоряжение опытнейшего голкипера на ближайшие чемпионаты мира и Олимпиаду в Сочи.
Kovalchuk has said he just wants to win, but is it just lip service?
As I’ve watched the Kovalchuk bonanza (note slight sarcasm), the thought has occurred to me repeatedly that perhaps he will be the next Alexei Yashin. Some of the warning signs might already be there.
Yashin. Awesome player, but a guy maybe too many people expected too much out of. Maybe they expected more leadership than he could give. Hey, some guys just aren’t made that way. Maybe he was overpaid. (Maybe, they all are, but we won’t go there.) But being deemed an “overpaid” player brings massive pressure and expectation. Yashin was a captain for two different NHL teams — that’s a heaping helping of stress and responsibility for pretty much anyone, but for some it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Some guys are best left doing what they do best and no more. In Kovalchuk’s case, wind up, shoot, score, sneak out of the area and slip off to Morton’s in your sweet baby blue Bentley. No questions asked. As captain in Atlanta, he was never the media guy or the go-to-for-a-quote guy, which is part of the captain’s gig.
But what does Kovy have to do with Yashin? You’re probably thinking I am crazy. Maybe you’re right, but I am thinking several steps down the line. Let’s say Kovalchuk signs with the New York Islanders as is now the tasty rumor of the day. (The Islanders are, coincidentally, Yashin’s last NHL team. I won’t even mention the coincidence that Kovy and Alexei have the same patronymic, er, middle name: Valeryevich) Anyway. So, he signs with the Isles, he gets massive dollars, massive term. With it he gets the scrutiny of the New York media. He also gets the love (and hate) of the New Yawk fans. Whereas in Atlanta, he could slip out the back door without answering questions, in New York (or any other hockey haven) he’ll be held to account. A quiet night at The Cheesecake Factory (a Kovy fave)? Fuggetaboutit. In New York the fans will put him to the test even as he tries to enjoy that triple turtle cheesecake with extra whipped cream. Nobody will be polite. Nobody will call him Mr. Kovalchuk. It’ll be right up in his face with something like this: “What the [bleep] were you [bleeping] doing in last night’s [bleeping] game you [bleepity-bleepity-bleep]?! You bum!”
Kovalchuk has said in the past that he prefers anonymity and after years of watching how he handles himself around Atlanta, I am inclined to believe it. He’s spent years ducking the two or three reporters who make the ATL locker room scene. How will it feel to have a face full of ultra pushy reporters every single night and no way to sneak off into the darkness? Will he wilt? Thrive? Get angry? Or get “Yashin-ed” (that is to say, blamed for everything)?
As exciting as Ovechkin, left, Kovalchuk differs from his friend and countryman in some important ways.
Let’s say he is made captain of his new team. Can he handle the pressure? People might argue that sure he can. Of course! He’s held up under the gun of the Russian national team. He’s even excelled. But I argue, this is different. Much different. As a member of the national team, he’s among friends and fellow countrymen. He’s at home. In North America, he’s a bit of a fish out of water. He doesn’t seem to have the same comfort level here as, say, an Alexander Ovechkin (or his NHL-trailblazing forefather Sergei Fedorov), for example. He’s a bit of a homebody. Married young, with three young kids. Yet … like Yashin, he has a wife who was somebody once. Where Yashin has former supermodel Carol Alt, Kovalchuk has Nicole, who sang in a popular Russian, all-female group before settling down. Maybe she’s pushing to jumpstart a career here in the U.S.? If that’s the case, L.A. or N.Y. would be A-OK from her standpoint.
Alexei Yashin was vilified for holding out for more money when he was with the Ottawa Senators. Kovalchuk is painted by many here in North America as a “greedy bastard” — all about the money, not about the winning. Is it true? The jilted Thrasher fan in me has a tiny “yes” peeping inside. If he wanted to win, he could have done what Marian Hossa did: Hand-picked teams he felt had excellent chances of winning. Instead, if rumors are true, and that he’s asking for the sun, the moon AND the stars, he will have a limited number of teams able to pony up that kind of money. And, by all accounts, the number of teams is quite limited (teams in the Kontinental Hockey League notwithstanding). At the moment he seems to be proving the all-he-cares-about-is-money crowd to be correct. People said that about Yashin too.
Yashin was a solid player, really, but he could not shoulder the heavy burden of expectation that his contract placed on him. Some players thrive under such burdens, some break their sticks in frustration, cast them into the stands and get suspended by the league (hello Kovalchuk!).
Yashin is all but forgotten in North America -- except by the Isles who will continue to pay him until 2014.
Let’s say he gets his big NHL pay day. He gets his long-term contract. He gets the sought-after no-trade clause. Let’s say he’s playing in the pressure cooker of a New York or under the bright lights in Hollywood. How will he hold up? One could argue that he didn’t hold up particularly well in Atlanta, where the spotlight isn’t as bright and the pressure is, well, close to nil. Sure he got his goals, but he was prone to brooding and fits of immaturity, particularly when things weren’t going well. (He was prone to moments of brilliance as well, no doubt about it.) One could argue that he didn’t lead Atlanta to glory. As a matter of fact, one wouldn’t need to argue that. It’s a fact. One could argue he’s a sniper, pure and simple, not a leader. One could argue — and many have — that he’s obsessed not with winning, but with money. Time will tell the true tale.
Five or six years down the road, I think we could be talking about one of two things: Kovalchuk being “Yashin-ed” — bought out and essentially forgotten by the league; or he experiences a modicum of success, but not as THE leader of whatever team he is playing for. If Kovalchuk wins anywhere, he will be a key piece, but not THE piece that seals the deal. He’s just not that kind of guy.
A third option — and one I still consider a possible scenario — is that he does go ply his trade in the KHL, spurning whatever offers come his way here in North America and going for the really big dollars the KHL can offer. I believe superstars like Kovalchuk are leaned on heavily by the powers that be in Russia and Kovalchuk recently supplanted Alexei Morozov as the captain of Team Russia. I could see Kovalchuk returning in glory to play in the KHL. Coincidentally, the KHL team said to be the front runner for his services? SKA St. Petersberg — Alexei Yashin’s team.
Photos: Ilya Kovalchuk; Alexander Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk; and Alexei Yashin by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2007-2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mike Modano had a storybook ending to last season (the Dallas Stars failing to make the playoffs notwithstanding). His final home game saw him get an assist, a goal and the game-winning shootout goal. His last game took place in Minnesota, where his career began. The crowd cheered his shifts (after years of booing), the Stars won, and after the game he came out in an old Minnesota North Stars jersey, once again receiving thunderous applause.
The Stars produced video tributes. People flew from all over North America to be a part of Mike’s final games. Hockey pundits lavished praise upon the career of America’s greatest scorer. The problem is, Mike Modano wasn’t and isn’t ready to retire.
Now, what does an organization do when they are ready to turn a corner, but the face of their franchise isn’t? According to GM Joe Nieuwendyk, you don’t even offer the player a contract.
Legions of Dallas Stars and Mike Modano fans have taken to the talk radio airwaves and the Internet to voice their displeasure about the organization’s decision. You see, in the South, we’ve been brought up with better manners than that. Up North, you can get away with letting a Saku Koivu (or any other player that has spent his entire career with one team) go. But with Modano … this one is going to hurt.
Mike Modano's good looks, easy charm and incredible play helped sell hockey in Texas.
When Mike and the former North Stars came to Dallas, Modano was the one the organization used to sell tickets. His was the face on the billboards. Pretty enough for the big-haired Texas woman to pay attention to, and talented enough to keep even the most diehard Cowboys fan watching in amazement as he weaved his way around defenders with his hair and jersey flapping in his wake.
As for me, I had hoped Mike would retire. Not because he doesn’t still have more hockey in him, but because I felt, in some ways, the Stars needed to move on, both on and off the ice. I’m also someone who hates seeing an athlete’s skill diminish as he struggles to keep up with the game he has played all of his life.
Sadly, few remember how feared Chris Chelios was. New York Rangers fans watched Mark Messier become a shadow of the player he had been. Even beloved Vancouverite Trevor Linden was a healthy scratch many times during his final season.
Mike Modano is my favorite player. He took that position the very first time I saw him skate. (Sorry Neal Broten!) I’ve watched him his entire career, even when he didn’t have his familiar No. 9 on the back of his sweater. As he and I take on different roles for the first time in more than 20 years, I hope he goes somewhere that will make him happy once again. You could see his frustration last season at how he was being utilized; and when Mike isn’t happy, he doesn’t play as well.
So, Mike, as you embark on this new chapter in your career, I wish you nothing but clean, fast ice … and may your jersey forever flap behind you!
Jaroslav Halak will don the blue note this season.
It’s not even July 1 yet the frenzy has already started. June 15 marked the first day teams could begin to buyout contracts, and indeed no time was wasted with Montreal buying out Georges Laraque. And that’s not the only frenzy. Teams are either signing or releasing prospects left and right, trying to make some financial decisions before free agency begins.
One thing none of the goddesses banked on was the potential for some big trades prior to free agency. Yet that’s exactly what has happened. I mean, who would have thought Jaroslav Halak of all players would be traded? Being a restricted free agent, Halak was going to get a raise and playing in the salary cap era I guess Montreal figured he wasn’t worth it with Carey Price waiting in the wings. In their defense, they got a highly touted Swedish prospect in Lars Eller, so perhaps it will prove to be a shrewd move.
As usual, the Avalanche have continued to offer one-year deals to no-names and mediocre prospects, so I’ll have to continue to live vicariously through other teams that are making real moves. I can still pretend they’re going to go after Ilya Kovalchuk on July 1.
Speaking of Russians, there has been little news on other UFAs such as Slava Kozlov and Maxim Afinogenov. Kozlov is rumored to have a KHL deal in the works, while Afinogenov has been mysteriously quiet, apparently refusing the one-year deal the Atlanta Thrashers offered him. Of course, we have to remember they’re all still under contract and won’t be available until free agency officially starts.
And let’s not forget the NHL draft is now just a week away. Not only are we looking forward to our teams drafting some hot prospects, but many a big trade has been made on draft day and we are hopeful that there will be some additional excitement.
So maybe it’s not July 1, but we goddesses are enjoying the little bit of foreplay before the main event.
Photo: Jaroslav Halak by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserverd.
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.
The Sporting News wrote a quick and dirty piece with this juicy nugget: Ilya Kovalchuk is close to signing with SKA Saint Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.
The article also mentions Alexander Frolov will follow as well. My favorite player, Slava Kozlov, too, is reportedly going to be headed to the K (as Goddess Sasha and I took to calling it when we were in Moscow). Frankly, I think it’s sad to see this exodus — and I’m only exaggerating a little when I use that term — of Russian players back to their native land.
Sergei Zubov, Sergei Brylin, Sergei Fedorov (any other Sergeis I am missing?), Viktor Kozlov, Dmitry Kalinin, Nikolai Zherdev, Anton Babchuk, Oleg Saprykin, Oleg Kvasha, Alexander Radulov, Alexei Morozov, Alexei Yashin, Alexei Zhitnik (could Alexei Kovalev be far behind?!) not to mention non-Russian Richard Zednik, a Slovak, who broke my heart when he left last year. Add Kovy and Frolov and Slava Kozlov and you’ve got a pretty impressive list there.
I am sure people will say “good riddance.” That it will give good, old-fashioned North Americans more jobs. Maybe that’s true, but I think the league, in many ways, will be less interesting without them. What do you think?
Image: Ilya Kovalchuk by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2008-2010. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve long supported and loved you, but I am a bit exasperated by the quotes you’ve been giving about Atlanta. Please just quietly go and say no more about the team and fans who love you. That way, I can love you still.