No offense to Eric Boulton, but he was one of the last guys I’d have thought would show up Ilya Kovalchuk, last night at Philips Arena. But show him up he did — with a hat trick. It was quite the spectacle. A guy who grinds it out every night making mere pennies compared to his former teammate. A guy who has to claw and scratch to earn that money and his place on the team every night.
And you really do have to hand it to him. If Kovalchuk feels humiliated by the way this season is going, having a hat trick scored against your team by a fourth-liner from the team you turned your back on … that’s gotta be hard on the ego. So applause to Boulton!
Special props to “NHL On the Fly” for saying (with great enthusiasm) something along the lines of “We’ll have much more from Eric Boulton later in the program!” Has to be the first time he’s been used as a teaser. Let’s enjoy the moment.
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.
Kabanov from his photo site in which he adds the tongue-in-cheek title, "Kirill Kabanov the new tsar of Russia."
As promised, it’s time to start highlighting some of the Russian prospects you may not have heard much about –guys who will be available for this year’s draft. And since it’s the first of several posts, we might as well start with the most controversial Russian eligible for the 2010 NHL draft to pique your interest.
Kirill Kabanov is riddled with controversy. Google his name and you’ll find rumors that make Alexander Semin’s early NHL drama seem like kids play. I won’t bother to take up room with extensive details, but after a buyout with the KHL, he came to Moncton of the QMJHL this year only to run back to Russia for the under-20 World Championships when faced with little playing time in Moncton. When the coach there didn’t like what he saw, he was essentially cut from the Russian team and left in limbo.
The details are sketchy and rumors abound. Some say his dad is controlling and forced him to abandon Moncton and go back to Russia. Other say Kabanov’s cocky and needs to be brought down a notch. Still others, like his coach in Russia, say that he thinks he’s better than he really is and needs to learn a lesson. Whatever the truth, his stock in this year’s draft has declined greatly.
However, at this year’s combine, Kabanov gave one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever seen from a guy his age. Maybe he was groomed for the interview by his father or his agent, but it’s hard to pull off sincerity in a foreign language unless that’s exactly what it is –- sincere. Take a look at the interview and I think you’ll see a humble, intelligent and honest 17 year old who seems wise beyond his years. Let’s not forget — he’s just a kid!
He admitted he made a mistake leaving Moncton and that he was stupid. He emphasized that point with a Russian proverb, which personally I found quite thoughtful and endearing. He declared his intention to play in the US, wherever that might be. I know we’ve all heard that before, but there was no attitude in his voice, no sneer on his face. He said it all with a genuine smile and the heart of someone who reflects on their mistakes and tries to become a better person for it.
I admit I’m biased. I love the Russians. But I’m also a chronic cynic and have found nothing but honesty and maturity in this kid. Whatever he has gone through this year, he has grown tremendously and will be far ahead of many other picks in that respect in this year’s draft. And let’s not forget, Kabanov is smart, both on and off the ice. Yeah, I know I’ve said I love the personality and cockiness some of these guys bring to professional hockey, but in this case, I’ll take him just the way he is.
Good luck to Kirill in this year’s draft. The goddesses will be wishing him the very best. I predict he will become a star in the NHL and sooner, rather than later and it’s a savvy team that takes a chance on him.
The names of team's legends hang in the rafters at Dynamo's arena in Moscow .
I know nothing is certain in life. The same is true of pro sports. I learned this early when my hometown NFL team — the one I grew up loving and cheering for and singing along to the cheesy “Luv Ya Blue!” song and dressing like a Derrick Doll for Halloween (don’t ask!) moved to Nashville, Tennessee. (RIP Houston Oilers.)
I know Hartford Whalers’ fans felt the same way. The Montreal Expos’ fans. Los Angeles Rams’ fans. Even fans of teams that haven’t even moved yet, but are in jeopardy probably feel this sadness and trepidation. I won’t even mention the Winnipeg Jets fans, who seem to think they are entitled to have the Thrashers or the Coyotes because they allegedly have better fans — that’s an argument for another day. (But suffice it to say, it takes more than a few years to grow a fan base. And these locales have the corporate support that other cities probably don’t and won’t. I know, I know, bring on the hate.)
Maxim Afinogenov in Dynamo colors.
But I must say it is with some shock and surprise to hear HC Moscow Dynamo, former team of such stars as Alex Ovechkin, Maxim Afinogenov, Alexei Yashin, and Alexei Kovalev, is ceasing to exist. Reports indicate the venerable Russian team, founded in 1946, will be merging with another in the Kontinental Hockey League — HC MVD.
The embattled Jiri Hudler (still property of the Detroit Red Wings) has apparently already been released from the second year of his contract and could return to the National Hockey League next year.
When we were in Moscow in January, Goddess Sasha and I took in a meeting of Dynamo Moscow and Atlant Moscow Oblast (itself a remade team from the remnants of Khimik Voskresensk — the former club of my favorite player, Slava Kozlov). Looking back now, we were lucky to see the game at Dynamo’s home area — an old, somewhat decrepit looking building with lots of charm. I can still hear the “DYNAMO! DYNAMO!” chants in my head. The crowds and arenas, compared with most NHL teams are small, but boy are they loud. They put NHL fans to shame. Such passion. NHL cheers may as well be golf claps by comparison.
Russian fans cheer: “Dynamo! Dynamo!”
Dynamo’s implosion (or going away — whatever you chose), hits me where it hurts. Being a fan of a team on the brink, so to speak, it frightens me. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone. Particularly a team like the Atlanta Thrashers whose fanbase has been alienated and led on for years now. Atlanta could be — nay, should be — a fantastic hockey city. The people are there, the owners are out to lunch or just don’t give a damn. Oh! That’s right they have spent years in litigation fighting over a team they seem to care nothing about, just having pissing contests while they piss the team away.
Two of the many they let get away.
Heatley had to leave. I understand he had to run away (no judgement meant or implied, though he’s still running). But squandering years of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard, Kozlov (obviously!), even a brief twirl with the great Peter Bondra. It makes me sick the talent that has slipped through our (yes our) fingers.
I don’t want the Thrashers to be the next Dynamo. Or Montreal Expos. Los Angeles Rams. Or Houston Oilers. Or even the Minnesota North Stars. I’m just not sure what we, the little guys — particularly the die-hard fans — can do to stop it.
Photos/video: Moscow Dynamo stadium and Ilya Kovalchuk/Marian Hossa photo, and Dynamo stadium video: Copyright 2006-2010. Goddess Kaat. Maxim Afinogenov photo: Wikipedia commons, 2009.
I wrote this about a month ago, and now that Calgary is out of the playoffs it seems a little less timely. Still, I felt it worthy of posting. Apologies for the lack of posting here lately, but as you can imagine, with both goddesses mourning (or pouting?) the lack of their teams in the postseason, sour grapes can often distract one.
The poor Steve Moore saga drags on, and the longer it drags on, the more furious it makes me. I’m pretty much a “it’s part of the game” when people unfortunately get injured, but no matter how many times I look at the film, I can’t see any justification for this. And I feel so horribly for the guy, who continued to be directly harassed. Few things in professional sports make me want to cry, but the injustice in this whole scenario I find incredibly depressing. It really gives the league a black eye, more than a few “denigrating” words.
And finally, an unsung hero who is someone I have always respected — Andrei Nikolishin, who was keeping an eye on the situation and immediately jumped on Bertuzzi to stop the attack. He was only in Colorado a short time, but was loved by his teammates, and has wherever he has gone and, if you’re interested, is still playing in Russia, captain of Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL.
I’m not only saying this because I am a Colorado fan. Anyone who knows me knows I try to be completely objective when it comes to the league. In fact, I tend to be more hard on my team than on other teams. But as I’ve said before, I am more about the individual players than I am a team. And when people’s livelihoods are effected, I can’t help but be saddened.