MONTREAL - If French is a romance language, then Ilya Kovalchuk picked the perfect way to express his love for the new city in which he'll be plying his trade.
"Je suis très heureux d'être à Montréal."
"I'm very happy to be in Montreal," Kovalchuk told reporters in the language of Molière as he stepped in front of scores of microphones and cameras greeting him for his first media opportunity as a member of the Canadiens.
It's no surprise that Kovalchuk is pleased to be in the city, as his arrival comes not long after his short tenure with the Los Angeles Kings ended when he was placed on unconditional waivers, something the veteran Russian winger admits was a tough pill to swallow.
"It was tough, because hockey is my favorite thing to do and I love it so much. It was difficult, but my family was right next to me so it's important, and the support from them and from my close friends was the best," admitted Kovalchuk, who put up 43 points (19G, 24A) in 81 games with the Kings. "It was a tough time, but you have to go through those situations; it's going to make me stronger."
Kovalchuk should get an extra boost by joining hockey-mad Montreal, a city he remembers well from the 23 visits he's made over his 13-year NHL career.
"I'm very happy that I'm here because it's an Original Six team with that fan base. It's crazy," praised Kovalchuk. "Every time I played here before, I remember that it's one of the best buildings to play in and I can't wait to step on ice."
Settling on a contract with general manager Marc Bergevin wasn't the only negotiating Kovalchuk had to do; he also had to haggle with Brett Kulak over the use of jersey No. 17, his trademark number.
Kovalchuk got some help in that department from former Kings teammate Nate Thompson, with Kulak switching over to No. 77 to accommodate the nine-time 30-goal scorer.
Apparently, there's a gift coming to Kulak at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Sunday, but Kovalchuk also appreciates having a teammate like Thompson to rely on in unfamiliar surroundings.
"He's a great man. He's one of the first guys who called me and obviously, we have a great relationship from the Kings," recounted Kovalchuk. "He's one of the leaders here and he told me a lot of good things about the room, the team, and the coaching staff."
Thompson isn't the only familiar face in the building, however, as Kovalchuk started out his career playing alongside current Canadiens assistant general manager Scott Mellanby.
The Russian forward described his former captain with the Atlanta Thrashers as a "great leader" and was planning on catching up with him during Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Video: Ilya Kovalchuk on joining the Habs
With his kids on school break, Kovalchuk was spending time in Miami with his family and training hard, wanting to be ready to go as soon as a team came calling for his services.
When asked if he might've rathered mailing it in and enjoying his time on the beach instead of giving hockey another kick at the can, Kovalchuk reiterated his passion for the game - and noted his family isn't all that opposed to the climate up in Montreal.
"It's not about money, it's not about anything. I want to be involved, I want to play hockey; that's my favorite thing to do," declared Kovalchuk in no uncertain terms. "My kids asked me if it's snowing here. I said yes, so they said, 'We want to go with you.'"
The Thrashers' first-overall pick in 2001 believes he'll be able to help on the power play, and says he's excited about joining a young, high-flying bunch of forwards, although that won't be on Saturday against Pittsburgh.
And to the nay-sayers who claim the 36-year-old can no longer keep up with the League's faster pace?
"I'll try to keep up with those guys, but it's not worth it to talk," he concluded. "It's better to go on the ice and show, so that's what I'm going to try to do."