If you’re going to have a conversation about gifted, professional hockey players, Ilya Kovalchuk has to be a part of that discussion. People love to hate in society and Kovi has been removed from and accepted back into the circle of trust constantly with hockey fans.
Kovalchuk probably got the most flack from players and fans alike while playing with the Atlanta Thrashers. Despite scoring 328 of his 406 goals in Atlanta, Kovi fit the Russian stereotype quite well in the NHL. They’re selfish, one way players, stubborn, and unwilling to change. Even players like Jeremy Roenick would skate up to Kovi, get in his face and spew out words like “selfish prick” or “I can’t believe anyone would ever give you a C.”
Did that change Kovi then? Definitely not. However, a pair of people were able to change Kovi and keep him in check and that was Jacques Lemaire and Peter DeBoer.
New Jersey is not a very forgiving state. If you’re coming here to enjoy peaceful roadways and people that keep their mouths shut, you better reconsider what you’re getting into. While New Jersey does get a bad rap, residents of this state just don’t take lightly to staying quiet.
Most Devils fans hated the idea of the $100 million dollar contract just as much as our jug handles. There was a lot of resistance from fans that knew the style of hockey Kovi played and weren’t happy about dumping so much money into a guy for 15 years. Right away, disapproval from most of the fans set in. With what was considered a “slow” start, 27 points in 27 games played with the Devils, Kovi was known for constantly losing the puck, not back-checking and helping teammates, and botched shootout attempts. This all made for grumpy fans night in and night out.
Fans have a right to be upset and frustrated. I mean if you put so much money into one player, you’d expect that he delivers. Well Kovalchuk finally turned the corner in 2010. He surpassed the 30 goal mark for the 8th straight NHL season and did it for the 9th time in 2011-12 when he appeared in his first ever Stanley Cup Finals.
While under the careful eye of Jacques Lemaire, Kovalchuk turned the corner and slowly learned to accept and play on both sides of the puck. Not only was he more involved with back-checking and playing defense, he was still able to maintain his scoring touch while ice time increased and he soaked up the majority of the power play. Lemaire really gets the credit for helping make Kovi who he is today. So, credit Jacques Lemaire for a job well done.
Kovi also succeeded under the Devils newest head coach Peter DeBoer, putting up 20 more points and seven more goals then the previous year. Again, he’s a naturally gifted hockey player scoring the 2nd highest goal total since the 2004-2005 lockout with 298.
It’s a shame both the NHL & NHLPA can’t get their act together because I miss seeing Kovi on the ice along with all the other boys in Devil sweaters. Players like Kovi will always have a home, though as he’s been racking up some amazing stats while overseas in Russia playing for St. Petersburg SKA. In 12 games, Kovi has put up seven goals, 13 assists and is a plus 12. I don’t know about you, but I want that type of offensive caliber back in a Devils uniform.
It’d be nice to see both sides get their ish together and get this game back to where it should be. More record revenues and a growing fan base as opposed to the laughing stock of the professional sports world and fair weather fans deciding I’ve spent my last dollar with the NHL. It’s annoying and disheartening to now see players come out and say they might not return to the NHL if contracts already signed are going to get cut.
Love him or love to hate him, I’ve been happy with the news of Kovi coming to NJ since day one. I mean, we only have the exact same birthday so how could I not love the guy?! He’s won fans over with his changed play and I think if I could interview Kovi, it’d go something like this. “I love hockey. I love puck. I love goal. I love goal horn. Can us both get along? I just want to play.”