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Rambler's Top100

21 декабря 2001 года.
A happy pairing (Kovalchuk and Heatley) // "Атланта Журнал Конститьюшен" 

Rookie mates bright spot for Thrashers 

The Russian that had every scout hyperventilating was making a statement, and it wasn't with words or his skates or a stick. It was with his left fist. Ilya Kovalchuk picked up a puck at center ice, skated to the opposing team's blue line and --- with an empty net in his face --- stickhandled the puck with his right hand while he gave two fist pumps into the air with his left. Then he scored. 

This was the equivalent of a wide receiver catching a pass and doing a cartwheel before he crossed the goal line. Actually, it was worse, because hockey players tend to be short of the showboat gene. Then again, Kovalchuk --- who performed this personal dance of life at the World Junior Championships in Moscow last December --- isn't like most hockey players. 

Ask Dany Heatley. When Kovalchuk scored that goal to finish off Russia's victory against Canada, Heatley was skating about 10 feet behind him. Did Heatley smile? "Not at the time," said the Thrashers rookie, though he smiled when he recalled the incident. "Some guys obviously were a little mad. If you're on the other team, you don't want to see that [attitude]. But when he's on your team, that's what you want." 

In playing styles and backgrounds, Kovalchuk and Heatley are as different as they come. But they also are best friends, road roommates and collectively the only positive the Thrashers can pull out of this season of misery. 

Kovalchuk, 18, the first pick in this year's draft, is tied for the league lead among rookies with 14 goals and ranks second in points with 27. The only guy he trails in scoring is his linemate. Heatley, 20, the second overall pick in 2000, has 29 points, including 12 goals. 

If this keeps up, the two will finish one-two in voting for the Calder Trophy, the NHL's rookie of the year award. Ask either about it and they'll say it doesn't matter who wins, although it will impact their lucrative postseason bonus plans. "That's OK, we both get the same bonuses," Kovalchuk said, grinning, through an interpreter. 

"I don't think about the award too much. My main concern now is for the team to do well. Dany and I are good friends. We don't ever talk about it. We both try to play off each other. My goal is to get as many points for myself and Dany. If Dany wins, I'll be happy. My only worry is [Kristian] Huselius." 

The reference was to the Florida rookie who also has 14 goals. The discernible difference between the Thrashers' whiz kids and Huselius is the Swede is 23 and matured in the Swedish Elite League. Heatley and Kovalchuk have taken the NHL like no rookies out of the box perhaps since Mario Lemieux in 1985. 

"I was hoping they could contribute," coach Curt Fraser said. "I thought they'd be good right away. But they've been better." 

Boston goalie Byron Dafoe, who has been beaten by Kovalchuk three times and Heatley twice this season, said, "They're great players. They've both got a lot of skill and they're getting the ice time so they have a chance to perform. Probably the biggest key is their coach is allowing them to play like they know how. They're not afraid to make a mistake. That's a great way to break into the league because your true talent's going to come out." 

There have been bumps. Kovalchuk was benched earlier this season for lackadaisical defensive play. Both were criticized by Fraser after Wednesday's loss to San Jose for poor work on the power play. But not surprisingly, Fraser backed off the comments Thursday after a cooling-off period and stated the obvious: "There's nothing wrong with the kids. They've been great for us. It wasn't their fault." 

One can't be too hard on two rookies when they have combined for 26 of the team's 76 goals (34 percent) and no other Thrasher is approaching double figures. They represent not only the future but the team's only present. 

One is the son of a former Russian basketball player and speaks little English, though he is picking up words daily. The other grew up in Canada and is the son of a former Wisconsin hockey player. Both are hungry, aggressive and fearless. Heatley is a natural leader, a captain-in-waiting, and the prototypical power forward. Kovalchuk is a daily highlight film with seemingly limitless talent. 

Heatley said of Kovalchuk, "The first thing I noticed when I saw him play was his speed." 
Kovalchuk said of Heatley, "The biggest benefit is Dany's game is so different from mine. If we had a similar style, it would be difficult to play together." 

They live in complexes not far from each other in Buckhead and often hang out together. Kovalchuk understands more English than he speaks but knows enough to get by. It has helped that they broke into the NHL together. 

"We've been able to lean on each other," Heatley said. "You knew coming to a team like this that we'd go through struggles. We're just happy to be here and we're fortunate to be on a young team. It's tough sometimes to be on those big losing streaks. But we're still here. We're still here in the NHL. We just have to battle through that." 

Kovalchuk said, "It's really helped to have Dany around. We're rooming together, and some of that chemistry has translated on the ice. We're two young guys who don't know any better and we don't get too down after games. We still try to go out with fire in our eyes." 

Fraser has labored to get both to improve their defensive games but does not want to change either of them. 

"These kids are gifted offensive players," Fraser said. "They're goal scorers. They're playmakers. Trying to help them on the defensive side is by no means trying to change their roles. They're going to produce. But they have to know how to play in this league and be responsible. There's players like [Pavel] Bure who can't play a lick of defense. These kids can be better." 

Heatley and Kovalchuk both come from winning backgrounds, so it follows that the losses are a greater concern for them than the Calder race. And if it should be a two-player race come April, Heatley wouldn't mind finishing second. 

"You want to win it and you want your buddy to win it," he said. "If we keep playing well and the trophy doesn't leave this room, I'll be happy." 

Страничка Ильи Ковальчука на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


8 октября. Ковальчук и «Трэшерс» наконец-то договорились.

9 сентября. Kovalchuk may miss start of camp - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

9 сентября. Илья Ковальчук: "50 процентов за "Атланту", 50 - за "Химик" и "Нью-Йорк" - Спорт-Экспресс

25 августа. Илья Ковальчук: "До первого декабря я могу уехать из "Химика" - Спорт-Экспресс

25 августа. Форвард Илья Ковальчук: Я еду в «Химик» - Советский Спорт

18 августа. Форвард сборной России Илья Ковальчук: Суперлига? Если не позовут в «Атланту» - Советский Спорт

29 марта .Илья Ковальчук: "Это был ужасный сезон" - Спорт-Экспресс


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