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|8 октября 2006
Kovalchuk has fame, fortune but wants playoffs // The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By JOHN MANASSO
It could have been Atlanta, but it was the south of France and St-Tropez,
the summer stopping point for celebrities and the jet set, where the Thrashers
star also rented a 50-foot yacht for a week with friend Andrei Kirilenko,
the Utah Jazz All-Star forward.
Still only 23 and entering his fifth NHL season, having earned himself somewhere north of $25 million, Kovalchuk possesses star power in his native Russia and in the eyes of Thrashers fans, but what he still wants more than all else is to get his team into the playoffs.
In each of his four NHL seasons, Kovalchuk has done something that is getting increasingly harder: Score more goals than the previous one. He has gone from 29 to 38 to 41 (a league best) to 52.
That bar is getting increasingly difficult to top.
Coach Bob Hartley has an even loftier goal for Kovalchuk: the Hart Trophy as MVP.
"I told him, I don't want him to be the best scorer, I want him to shoot to be the best player," Hartley said. "If he has an MVP season, it will carry us a long way."
Said Kovalchuk, "It's not my first goal to beat 52 goals. The most important thing is to be in the playoffs."
One factor that should take a weight off his shoulders is not having to worry about the illegal stick penalties that plagued him last season, as the rule was changed to accommodate the larger European standard. Kovalchuk called the old rule "the stupidest rule in the world."
With the illegal stick rule modified, one of the few things that vex him is the shootout. He has made just one of 11 shots after Thursday's stop by Marc Denis in the Thrashers season-opening, shootout loss to Tampa Bay. He said he should have shot higher, "but still ..." he said, his voice trailing off.
Game still being molded
For as long as Kovalchuk has been in the NHL his reputation as a one-dimensional player has gnawed at him. He has never been a plus player — one who is on the ice for more goals by his team at even strength than are scored against it. However, he has improved there, too: from minus-19, minus-24, minus-10 and minus-6.
If this season he becomes a plus player it could be the best barometer that the Thrashers will be a playoff team.
"I would like to believe it's a very easy equation," Hartley said.
While being a plus player is a goal of Kovalchuk's, he does not find it mutually exclusive with what he does best.
"To be a plus player you have to score 5-on-5," he said. "I'm going to try for sure to score every game. You have to have that mentality as a forward."
While using phrases like "as bad as we played" to describe Thursday's effort, Hartley found some positives, such as Kovalchuk's play: "He was on the puck, played great. No mental mistakes."
He even threw a heavy body check on Luke Richardson in front of Tampa Bay's bench at the end of the second period that drew the Lightning's ire.
It's that time of year for work — the kind that has made Kovalchuk so wealthy and helped to earn him endorsements like the new one with airline AirTran and a billboard on the Downtown Connector.
Summer is time off
The summer is when he has time to relax. He said his place in Moscow does not have grass or open spaces for his young daughter Carolina to play, and there is too much traffic and pollution in the summer, so he rented the place in St-Tropez for the months of June and July.
His mother and her friends came. There was baby fun — playing in a pool — and adult fun, like the yacht he took to other hot spots like Forte dei Marni and Portofino in Italy. About the only occasional barrier in St-Tropez was language.
"I'm trying to speak English, but they're not even trying," he said. "When you try to speak English with them, they speak French even louder."
In August, it was back to Moscow, where he is quite a celebrity. He attended movie premieres, and he was invited on a news program with a sportswriter, an actress and Pavel Bure, Russia's general manager of its Olympic team, to discuss Pittsburgh prospect Evgeni Malkin's abrupt departure from his Russian club to North America.
"Yeah, [Kovalchuk is] a big star and a big deal there," said Russian Vitaly Vishnevski, one of the newest Thrashers players. "He's one of the best players in the NHL, one of the best Russian players."
Yet he does not big-time his teammates. Vishnevski, whom Kovalchuk has known through the Russian national team, has small children, so Kovalchuk invited them over for Carolina's first birthday party last Sunday. There was cake and a clown.
That was the preseason. Now another regular season is here with another challenge for an immense talent.
"I learn something every year," he said of his defense. "I'm getting older. I watch a lot of video. ... If I'm at the end of my shift, I'll just chip it in [the next zone]. No risk. But if I feel I can beat my guy, I'm going to try to do it."
4 октября. Илья Ковальчук: "Сезон еще не начался,
а я уже оштрафован. . . " // "Спорт-Экспресс"
17 сентября. Kovalchuk has sticks, body ready //
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2 сентября. Илья Ковальчук: "В Москву на чемпионат
мира приеду с удовольствием" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
7 августа. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: Меня
не остановит даже Бэттман! // "Советский Спорт"
25 июня. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: «Мама
переживает – я уже привык» // "Спорт день за днём"
2 июня. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: Готовлюсь
стать тренером сборной России! // "Советский Спорт"
4 октября. Илья Ковальчук: "Сезон еще не начался, а я уже оштрафован. . . " // "Спорт-Экспресс"
17 сентября. Kovalchuk has sticks, body ready // The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2 сентября. Илья Ковальчук: "В Москву на чемпионат мира приеду с удовольствием" // "Спорт-Экспресс"
7 августа. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: Меня не остановит даже Бэттман! // "Советский Спорт"
25 июня. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: «Мама переживает – я уже привык» // "Спорт день за днём"
2 июня. Форвард «Атланты» Илья Ковальчук: Готовлюсь стать тренером сборной России! // "Советский Спорт"