I snapped this picture of a bubble-blowing Kovalchuk in February 2006 during warmups before the Thrashers took on the Panthers. In later years, he still chewed his gum and blew the bubbles -- even with his visor on!
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice…
So sings the great Geddy Lee. So what’s up Kovy? Nothing yet? I must confess, this Thrasher fan is waiting in suspense with the rest of the hockey world, though I am not sure why. Maybe it’s the true child that lurks in all of us — that part of you that really believes ice cream for dinner is, indeed, a fine idea. The naive child who hopes against all hope. And, shhh … I still hope for Kovalchuk to come back to the ATL. I said shhh! Stop laughing! It could happen. Hope springs eternal, after all. Now if you are here and laughing at me, just get on with it. Meanwhile, I will give you a few shots of Kovalchuk that I’ve taken over the years. I’ve practiced my hockey-shooting skills on Kovy and the Thrashers for years, so herewith are just a few of the many. By the time you get to the end maybe you’ll have stopped smirking at me. Feel free to let us know you were here (even if you came, you saw, you laughed) — holla!
Kovalchuk got one in on the goalie in warmups prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Lighting -- this is typical Kovy (a rascal!). (October 2009)
I was psyched I got this shot! The incident became known in some circles as 'Point-gate.' Ilya Kovalchuk, who had just made Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby pay for taking a bad penalty, turned to him as he exited the penalty box and gave him 'the business,' earning him the wrath of Don Cherry who suggested he deserved to have limbs broken for such an audacious display of bad sportsmanship. (January 2006)
Kovalchuk was the man of the hour at the 2008 All Star Game in Atlanta, walking the red carpet in style. I shot this from the press pit, and when a reporter asked him what designer he was wearing, he grabbed his lapels and said, 'I don't know, but I look good, yes?'
Ilya Kovalchuk walks the red carpet at the NHL All Star game. Hey! Look! Fans in Atlanta. Yeah, that's right. They exist, regardless of what *they* would like you to believe.
Lean into it! Ilya Kovalchuk warms up prior to a game against the Edmonton Oilers. (October 2009)
A portrait at practice. Buddy Slava Kozlov was showing Kovalchuk something and they skated around in little circles talking about it. (October 2009)
Vintage Ilya Kovalchuk -- his face lit up with excitement as he moves up ice, deking the heck out of the Nashville Predators. (January 2006)
Kovalchuk at the Thrashers' annual Casino Night. Asked to pose with a hockey card depicting teammate Slava Kozlov, here's his humorous non-verbal commentary.
One of my favorite pictures even though it's not the best quality. Kovalchuk on his knee after a big slapshot versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Circa 2006)
Kovalchuk during a break in the action as the Atlanta Thrashers take on the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center in January 2009.
Ilya Kovalchuk at the 2008 All Star Game in Atlanta.
This is how you guard against Kovalchuk, just hang on as he goes for the net. (January 2006)
As of this writing, both of these UFAs are still unsigned. I snapped this photo of pals Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk at Thrashers' Casino Night in 2009.
Numerical counterparts line up for a faceoff -- Ruslan Fedotenko of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ilya Kovalchuk. (January 2006)
Though he’s just a memory…
Some memories last forever.
OK. That was cheesy. But you know what? I don’t care. We, in Blueland, loved Kovalchuk. There’s no sense denying it, as many try to do these days. Anyway …
Wow! Going through my old photos, I can’t believe how long it’s been. I see progress in my photography and also in Kovalchuk. Thinking back on all of the games I’ve watched him play — hundreds live — some of that spunky, devil-may-care attitude (pun intended) still exists, but over the years he has grown up a lot. He’s still occasionally temperamental. He’s still a cherry-picker at heart. But still … He would absolutely rip up the Kontinental Hockey League if he chose to go there. Without the bone-crunchers of the NHL to stop him, he’d dance and deke and run up the score. I can tell you from having seen KHL action live, defenders wouldn’t know which way was up. He’d be unfettered and free to dazzle. They do that in the KHL. Lots of fancy moves — and Kovalchuk has moves stored away that he hasn’t even used yet.
In my heart, I think I’ll always love Kovalchuk a little bit. It’s going to be so hard to see him in another NHL uniform. I am looking at the news with my hands over my eyes, knowing that once he signs, he’s really gone … even if, in reality, he left us a long time ago.
Photos: All photographs by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2006-2010. All Rights Reserved.