MONTREAL - After wrapping up their training earlier this month in Miami, Ilya Kovalchuk and Vladislav Kouroedov shared a special embrace.
The renowned power skating and skills coach remembers the moment rather well, including the heartfelt message he shared with one of his favorite pupils.
"I said: "Ilya, I believe in you. I wish you all the best. Good luck." And he smiled back at me," recalled Kouroedov, who has been coaching Kovalchuk for the last two offseasons.
The pair put in plenty of hard work together in preparation for Kovalchuk's return to the NHL after he parted ways with the Los Angeles Kings.
According to Kouroedov, Kovalchuk was already in outstanding shape when he met up with the 36-year-old Russian winger in South Florida.
Once on site, they immediately got down to business. Kovalchuk wouldn't have it any other way.
"We worked on conditioning, we did some edgework, and we did a lot of skating. I love working with him because he has a fire in his face. He wanted to get better and he wanted to be great. Whatever drill you gave him, he tried to do better and better. It was amazing to watch him," explained Kouroedov, offering up some insight into the 13-year NHL veteran's commitment to honing his craft. "We were working for two hours a day, but I could see that he always wanted more. I knew it was hard on him to repeat the drills again and again, but he never gave up. He was always smiling and always positive."
The primary objective during the Miami training sessions was to keep Kovalchuk sharp before signing with another team so he could hit the ground running from the get-go.
With that in mind, shooting drills were constantly on the menu.
It's easy to see why the former first-overall selection has 440 regular-season goals on his NHL resume.
"We worked on one-timers during power play situations and we worked with targets. We also did drills focusing on being aggressive in the front of the net and finishing the play," mentioned Kouroedov. "Whenever we work together, the last shot has to go in. If he takes 1,000,000 shots on net and he scores 999,999 times but misses the last one, I'll say: "Let's go over it again." He makes sure that he scores. That's the whole goal of it. That's him."
When the Canadiens secured Kovalchuk's services on a free-agent contract on January 3, he was ready to rock again.
Even though the three-time All-Star hadn't played a game in nearly two months, Kouroedov was convinced that he could be a difference-maker with Montreal upon arrival because his motivation level was off-the-charts high.
"He was ready to go. When we were on the ice in Florida, you could feel the fire in his body. He eyes were like: "Give me the drill, give me the drill, I want to be good, I want to be great." You could really see it," emphasized Kouroedov. "He loves the game."
He certainly does, and Canadiens fans have enjoyed watching him deliver the goods. His four goals and eight points in the last eight games definitely helped Claude Julien's squad get back on track heading into the bye week break.
Kouroedov has been watching from afar with tremendous pride.
"I'm very impressed. He's special, especially in the offensive zone. He's hungry for goals. He tries to find the best position possible. He feels his partners, especially when he made the backhand pass in Detroit and they scored," said Kouroedov, referencing the magical feed he made to defenseman Victor Mete that eventually led to a goal on January 7 at Little Caesars Arena. "It looks like he's played with these guys all his life."
Earlier this week, Kouroedov travelled to Southern California to meet up with Kovalchuk for some workouts before the season resumes on Monday.
They're on the ice every single day preparing for a big push down the stretch with 32 games left on the schedule.
"He got new skates, so we're trying to break them in. We've done some light skating and a lot of shooting from the corners and from bad angles. We've been working on one-timers again and some passing from different areas," revealed Kouroedov. "And before he leaves, we're going to do some power skating and conditioning work so he's ready when he gets back."
Apparently, Kouroedov sees a noticeable change in Kovalchuk since the last time they were together.
"I told him: "Ilya, you look fresh, you look so much lighter and happier." You can see that he's happy guy," insisted Kouroedov. "Even when we're getting dressed in the locker room, he's making jokes and he'll say something funny. You can really see it. He's always positive. That's the kind of person you need on your team. He's a good energy guy."
Safe to say that Kouroedov genuinely enjoys his sessions with the former Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner.
He appreciates his enthusiasm and his insatiable desire to take his game to new heights.
"This is the kind of person I love to work with," mentioned Kouroedov. "Every time I tell him to do something, he just repeats it again and again."
As for Kovalchuk's Canadiens practice threads, Kouroedov is also a huge fan.
"They're amazing. They're the perfect colors," he concluded. "I think those are his colors."