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|15 июля 2013 года.
Alex Kovalev's Montreal foundation still going strong; Money raised helps underprivileged and sick children // The Gazette
Stubbs, DaveView Profile.
Alex Kovalev remembers his first taste of softball.
It was in the fall of 1992, as a 19-year-old heading into his rookie season in the NHL, and New York Rangers coach Roger Neilson was, typically, not doing things by the book.
Neilson broke up the scrimmages of his training camp, which combined the Rangers NHL players and the organization's farmhands, with games of volleyball and softball.
So here was Kovalev, just landed in North America from his native Russia, in the outfield with barely a rudimentary knowledge of softball's rules.
"I was in the middle field," Kovalev said, presumably meaning centre, "and Tie Domi hits the ball to me. I make a fancy dive and catch it, doing everything right until I threw the ball in."
Apparently, "cut-off man" was not in the vocabulary of an almost unilingual Russian.
"I had no idea," he said, laughing. "So I threw it to first base."
It won't matter at all where Kovalev throws the ball Aug. 15-18 during games he'll play in Verdun, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Maniwaki and at Gary Carter Stadium in Ahuntsic.
The four events, and his sixth annual golf tournament at Le Mirage in Terrebonne on Aug. 20, will all be important fundraisers for his charitable Kovalev and Friends Foundation for Kids.
Since 2008, the foundation that Kovalev co-founded with Montreal pediatric heart surgeon Suzanne Vobecky has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the health and psychological well-being of sick or underprivileged children in Quebec and worldwide. Especially dear to Kovalev is the cause of youngsters who suffer from heart disease, the native of Togliatti having overcome the cardiac illness that felled him as a boy.
He has made no secret of the fact that he loves Montreal, an affection that wistful fans return.
Kovalev retired from the NHL last season, dropped by the Florida Panthers after 14 games.
Even if he'll lace up in the Swiss B league this fall, his thirst for hockey still not quenched, Kovalev enjoys Montreal to the degree that he continues to operate his foundation from here.
No matter that he lives in New York and has played in three other NHL cities since he was cut loose by the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2009.
It is the driving force of Vobecky and the co-ordination of the small Montreal office that keeps the foundation moving forward.
"Without Suzanne, it would be almost impossible to keep the foundation going," said Kovalev, who played 314 games for the Canadiens from 2004-09. "She's the main person, she works here."
Kovalev will come to Montreal on occasion, often flying his own plane into the city, for foundation meetings. He is still recognized on the street; fans still seek his autograph, a photo or a good word.
The softball games will feature the participation of NHL alumni and a smattering of celebrities from different walks of life. Kovalev won't waste time with a scorekeeper.
"Like in any sport, you want to play every position," he said, not discounting a return to middle field. "Each of us can move around and make it look fun. It's not about how professional you can look or play. It's how fun you can make this event."
That the golf tournament will tee off for the sixth time is of special pride to him, given the number of charity events at the disposal of starstruck duffers during a sometimes short summer.
"I'm not surprised it's still going, but definitely we thought from the start that if I left Montreal, it was going to be harder to organize," said Kovalev, whose event has raised about $200,000 since its inaugural edition.
"Well, I haven't completely left Montreal. I still have my foundation here, we do a lot
of things for the kids with it and we're working on a lot of other ideas for events.
"Everybody knew that a golf tournament was going to be harder to organize, but all the friends that I have here and people who supported me over the years are still coming back to support me," he said.
"Some people are going through tough times, but I still appreciate those who continue to support me. There are so many different tournaments and charity outings to choose from. It's not easy, but the people who've kept coming back make mine possible."
Kovalev hopes to have at least 20 foursomes, at $2,500 per group, at Le Mirage next month. And then he has a live and silent auction of impressive memorabilia and goods and services that add to the coffers.
A 9 a.m. arrival and brunch will be followed with the 11 o'clock shotgun start; the 5 p.m. cocktail and photo session with Kovalev will bring participants to a 6:30 p.m. four-course dinner with entertainment and the auction, RDS personality Chantal Machabee the evening's host.
"We're trying to make the tournament more interactive and more fun," Kovalev said.
"So many events are similar. It's what you do after the golf, if you have a fun evening, that will make people want to come back."
Visit fondationkovalev.org; the site, under construction, will have details on the softball and golf events. To reserve a golf foursome or to buy a $175 place for just the dinner and entertainment, call Wendy Madail at 514-989-2727 or email email@example.com.
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Credit: DAVE STUBBS; The Gazette