First Line members had the opportunity to attend at Q&A session with Montreal Canadiens fan favorite, Alex Kovalev. The Russian forward, who boasted some of the best hands in the game, took questions from those in attendance and provided plenty of good responses.
Q: What stands out most about your time Montreal ? You also played for New York, Pittsburgh, Florida, Ottawa…
ALEX KOVALEV: It’s seeing these people. Fans in Montreal made life very easy for me here. It was always exciting to watch this team as a kid. The Montreal Canadiens have such great history, just like New York and Boston. There’s history and the great rivalries from the past. Even in my dreams, I didn’t think I would play for one of those teams. When I arrived in Montreal, it was like a dream come true. It’s the same thing when you talk about all those great players like Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux, and you end up playing with them. It’s another dream.
It’s good to think that you can be a part of the history of the team. And, it happened. You remember the game where we came back against the Rangers? That was an exciting game. But, what made me excited about this team, whether I was playing with them or against them, is that you always expect something from them in the end. It didn’t matter if this team was behind by two or three goals, you could always expect them to come back. The spirit of the team was to never give up. That’s the attitude we had.
Q: A lot of people are talking about Jaromir Jagr having a wonderful year. With that in mind, are you considering a comeback to the NHL?
AK: You’re really close to the boss’ office, so you can maybe talk to him. [Laughs] I try to keep myself in shape. I play twice a week in a 3-on-3 hockey league. I also do different stuff, like boxing and martial arts to keep myself in shape.
Q: I want to know a little bit more about the summer when you were an unrestricted free agent and you ended up in Ottawa.
AK: A couple of months ago, I was on a TV show and we actually talked about that. Everybody thought at that point that my agent made a mistake. Honestly, though, I have to admit I got a little bit greedy. I was so mad because I thought I had done so much for the organization and that I should’ve been paid for what I’d done. I got greedy. Even though I didn’t get the salary I wanted in Ottawa, I have to thank them for the opportunity because it was the last team, the last chance I had to continue playing in the NHL. If I could be in that situation again, I wouldn’t think twice before signing in Montreal.
Q: Back in 2006-07, you had a rough season. We were told that you went on a stroll in Old Montreal with Mr. Gainey. What did he tell you that turned your season around?
AK: When people ask me what’s important to have a good team, I always say the same thing. The coaches, management and players should all be pulling in the same direction. Bob wanted to hear me out. Sometimes, as a player, you feel that you could do more, but for some reason you’re not able to. You don’t see that too often, but that was very kind of [Bob] Gainey to do that. I appreciated it. That really made me feel good about what I was doing for the organization. He wasn’t trying to teach me anything. He just wanted to let me know what he thought and vice-versa.
Q: You’re childhood wasn’t easy. Can you tell us a bit about that?
AK: It wasn’t easy. I was a special kid growing up. My dad has always been involved in wrestling and weight lifting. Not professionally, though. He thought I could be a weight lifter. I told him it wasn’t for me. I was one of those kids who always made my own choices. I never liked being coached at hockey because I felt I knew more than they did. I saw what the professionals were doing and I replicated it. I was such a mature kid that I wasn’t afraid of leaving my house at 14 years old. I was independent around age 11. I was so motivated. I thought that if I had a goal, nothing could stop me. When I turned 14, I came home one day and I remember my parents were watching TV. I said – ‘I finished eighth grade. I’m going to Moscow.’ They didn’t really believe me. I told them I had an invitation to go to Moscow and I went.
When I got there, it wasn’t easy. The first month in the dormitory, there were rats and everything. It wasn’t great. What helped me survive through all of that was the goal I’d set for myself. It’s like I’d never seen those rats or any other distractions. I was living with guys who were older than me. They were done school. I still had two more grades to go. I was sleeping in the same room and studying while they were playing cards, drinking and smoking. I had to stay there, wake up in the morning, go to school and then practice. They tried to teach me how to drink and smoke, but I had a goal and it kept me on the right path.
Q: What changes could be made to the game that you think would make it even more exciting?
AK: Teams just need to develop better players. [Laughs] You know, this game was created a long time ago. It was created to stay the same way. I know the NHL is trying to change stuff, but I think it should just stay the same. It wasn’t created just a few years ago. You can’t take golf and make the hole bigger. It wouldn’t be fun anymore. It’s not about changing the rules; it’s about developing good, exciting hockey players.
For more info on the Club 1909, click here.