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|15 июля 2013 года.
Kovalev takes on league; Kovalchuk's return to Russia to play hockey 'didn't surprise me,' ex- hab says // The Gazette
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For more than 20 years, Alex Kovalev has thrilled and chilled his National Hockey League fans, energized and exasperated his coaches and management.
But one thing the 40-yearold brilliantly gifted now former NHL star has done with full consistency is offer resolute opinion about himself and share his strong, often polarizing viewpoints on the sport that is not a career to him so much as a lifestyle.
So while the hockey world was stunned last Friday by the NHL retirement of New Jersey sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, presumably to resume his career in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, Kovalev says he'll be surprised if Kovalchuk is the last to bolt.
"It didn't surprise me," Kovalev said of Kovalchuk's exit. "The KHL and NHL are competing against each other and the KHL is definitely going to become a better league this way.
"Hockey in Russia has become much better. There are a lot of European players who go and play there, and the KHL wants to bring good hockey back. They'll do whatever it takes.
"They'll try to bring a lot of NHL players to the KHL. There are a lot of factors that can attract them: money, the game, a lot of new arenas, everything's going in the right direction. And for Russian players, they can make more money at home and not pay the high taxes they do in North America."
In short, Kovalev wasn't throwing Kovalchuk under the bus as were some in the NHL, who on Twitter were speaking of the latter's selfishness, theft of Devils money and his being a quitter.
Kovalev spoke of his own season to come, with Visp of the Swiss B League where he'll play with and mentor the club's young players, perhaps even establishing a hockey school for the club.
He talked of the swollen NHL contracts signed after half a season was killed by a lockout that was meant to bring about a fiscal sanity; about how he'll have nothing to do with promoting his homeland's Sochi Olympics, should he be asked (unlikely now); about what he perceives as poor hockey instruction of today's young players; about the new-era Canadiens.
And of course, there were the topics of Kovalchuk, who left $77 million on the Devils' table, and of his own NHL retirement last March, which he says came against his will.
Kovalev played 1,316 games, spanning 1992-2013. He skated 314 of those with the Canadiens, from 2004-09, playing into both the hearts and the headaches of Habs fans, depending on his output of offence and effort.
He would leave Montreal during the summer 2009 makeover of the club, finally signing with Ottawa before he was dealt to Pittsburgh.
Kovalev made his way briefly to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, bought out of that Moscow Oblast Atlant contract when he required a knee scope, then signed for a year last season with the Panthers, that arrangement evaporating in February after only 14 games when he said, "I didn't have a choice" but to retire.
"Everything was going well and, all of a sudden, (the Panthers) started pushing me away," he said at the end of March, in Montreal for an alumni game. "I feel bad I have to kind of decide to retire on somebody else's terms, not mine."
In Florida, Kovalev often played on a line with young star Jonathan Huberdeau, at 19 the same age Kovalev was when he broke into the NHL with the New York Rangers in 1992.
In a January talk at the Bell Centre, the Russian veteran told reporters he was enjoying the chance to mentor the youngster, who would win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. His tune was a little different on Sunday, however, even if you had to read between his lines.
"You're playing with young guys, they ask you to help them," Kovalev said, not mentioning the Panthers by name. "But at the same time, the way they're treating you ... you help them and then all of a sudden, you're gone, off the team.
"It feels that people don't care about the hockey anymore. It's just a business - trying to save money and free up cap space for young guys."
Famously, Kovalev has said he expects to be playing hockey until he's 50. That might even happen, though it's anyone's guess in which country and in which league he'd celebrate the milestone a decade from now.
He will suit up in 2013-14 for EHC Visp in the Swiss B League, playing his hockey in a 4,300-seat arena that is a 200-kilometre drive east of Geneva, not far from the Italian border.
"When I skate with my kids and watch them play hockey, it drives me crazy because I want to be out there," he said. "I know I'm capable of playing. I still have the passion and I'm still missing the celebrations of winning games. "That's one of the reasons I want to go and play (in Switzerland). Developing younger kids might be one of the options that Visp has for me, maybe to open my own school to work with their kids.
"It used to be that I always couldn't wait for summer to begin so I could just relax. Now, I can't wait for it to pass so I can play hockey again. I've been working like an animal, six times a week.
"Even my strength and conditioning coach can't understand what's going on with me. He says he's never seen me come to the gym so much."
I mention to Kovalev that Visp might even be yet a hockey rebirth for him and he replies: "That's what I'm hoping for. The organization is excited, and so am I."
And then he was instantly at full stride on a few topical points, his black and white opinions - there is no grey in this man - no doubt in conflict with the beliefs of many. But then, Kovalev has never been shy to speak up.
On contracts being signed in this first post-lockout summer: "One thing that drives me crazy is that a lot of kids, who haven't even shown what they can do, are being given so much money and they're all talking about development - hoping the kid in three or five years will be a superstar. They give them so much money with that hope.
"I played for five years, call it for free, and my second year I won the Stanley Cup for the New York Rangers. I still played for my contract, I didn't ask for a raise, I played for what I signed for and didn't complain. Kids coming in now are asking for so much money and they haven't shown or done anything. The owners are the same: 'This kid is going to be good.' How many players have we seen over the years that they're predicting to be the next superstar and then in two, three years the guy disappears to play somewhere in Europe? Or he quits completely?"
On the 2014 Sochi Olympics: "Even if I was offered a role (to promote the Games), I wouldn't take it. At this point, I want nothing to do with Russian hockey. There are a lot of people who come to the hockey world in Russia who don't have any idea. It's all family relationships: 'I got this job, I can get you a job on this team, too,' and that person doesn't know anything about hockey. It's pretty much if you get hurt in the KHL, you get traded or bought out. You expect that. They're not developing players or teams, they're running a business."
On instruction of players at minor-hockey levels: "It's frustrating, watching my kids and other teams practise, seeing how they're being taught. You look at a 10-yearold and he should know the fundamentals, but he doesn't know because nobody has explained it to him. It drives you crazy. You just want to jump on the ice and tell the guy: 'Teach him this! The first thing you have to teach him is this and that!' Why do they have to teach him something before teaching him the basics that come before that? ... Hockey has become hitting and shooting. There's not so much skill or fancy stuff or finesse. You show a 14-yearold kid something and he's like: 'Oh, wow, why didn't I know that before?' Of course he doesn't know, because nobody's explained it to him."
On Chicago's Stanley Cup victory: "Hockey used to be all about movement, passing, creating some different plays. Now it's all about hitting, and if you're a bigger team. ... That's where Boston had a problem, when they kept trying to play a physical game. I said to a friend: 'If Chicago starts skating around Boston and use their speed, then Boston is going to be done. And that's exactly what happened."
On the Marc Bergevin-era Canadiens: "They're moving in the right direction. Marc's been around a lot of good players, I played with him in Pittsburgh (in 2000-01) when Mario (Lemieux) and (Jaromir) Jagr were there. He knows the game. I'm not surprised he changed the team completely compared to (2011-12). I'm happy for the direction they're moving. It's definitely not easy when you have so many young kids. You can't ask so much from them. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it's hard for young kids to do all the work for 82 games, and then the playoffs. You learn from experienced players, like I did with (Mark) Messier and the veterans."
In Montreal, and far beyond, Kovalev will forever have his fans and his detractors. He appreciates the former and shrugs off the latter, and in NHL retirement, as during his playing days, he really doesn't give a rodent's posterior if his opinion doesn't meet with universal approval.
But give L'Artiste full marks for this: In an often bland hockey world, he is a full palette of bold, primary colours.