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A brief reunion for Atlanta's 'Goal-Dust Twins'

by Larry Wigge
MONTREAL -- For three seasons, they were called the "Goal-Dust Twins," and it seemed like they were connected at the hip with Atlanta's young expansion franchise.

Dany Heatley was the 6-foot-3, 220-pound blond bombshell — a kid with a power forward's stride, an ability to protect the puck and shoot or pass in traffic while on the fly. He was chosen by the Thrashers with the second pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, was named the NHL's Rookie of the Year in 2001-02 and wowed the hockey world at the 2003 All-Star Game, scoring a record-tying four goals (plus one in the shootout).

Ilya Kovalchuk was the 6-1, 220-pound dark-haired rocket launcher. He's still a flamboyant offensive talent who never met a puck he couldn't fire at opposing goalies with velocity from any angle. He was the first overall pick in the 2001 Draft and skated right into the team's lineup. He also had a mind-boggling six goals and one assist and was the MVP of the 2002 YoungStars Game.

Both have all-world skills -- Heatley being born in Germany and growing up in Calgary, Kovalchuk born and trained in Tver, Russia.

What made this dynamic duo so perfect together? After all, it's not easy for two kids to carry a team -- especially an expansion team -- when the opposition can focus on them. But even with all that planning by the opposition, it still never seemed to be enough to stop them.

"You almost had to have your head on a swivel when you faced them," said Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, remembering his days in Ottawa when he had to face Kovalchuk and Heatley together. "They are both snipers. Both played the off wing in Atlanta, and they just had a magical chemistry together.

"All I'll say now is it would be great to see them together again,
especially since they are both on my team for the All-Star Game."

Rarely had two youngsters taken the NHL by storm like Kovalchuk and Heatley.

Heatley had 26 and 41 goals in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Kovalchuk had 29 and 38 goals. In 2003-04, Heatley was limited to just 31 games and 13 goals while Kovalchuk tied for the NHL lead with 41.

That third season for the "Goal-Dust Twins" was hard on everyone in Atlanta, because it followed the Sept. 29, 2003 crash of Heatley's Ferrari in an Atlanta suburb in which teammate Dan Snyder was killed. Not only did Heatley sustain a broken jaw and tear two knee ligaments, but he also faced charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving, speeding and failure to maintain his lane.

In that third season together in Atlanta, it was Kovalchuk who spent a lot of time not only consoling his friend after the tragic car accident, often having just the right words, but also picking up the offensive slack.

"He is just a great friend," Heatley said. "Friends find time for friends. We all know how that works."

Heatley eventually asked for a trade, and General Manager Don Waddell acceded to his wishes with a swap to Ottawa for Marian Hossa.

This weekend in Montreal, they are together again. Won't that add spice to this year's All-Star Game? Forget that both are a little off their usual mind-boggling offensive scoring pace with Kovalchuk chipping in with 20 goals and 29 assists in 48 games, while Heatley has 21 goals and 22 assists in 44 games.

"The coach hasn't told us if we are going to be together," Kovalchuk said a few moments before he and Heatley called to one another and walked out of the ballroom where the All-Star Game media availability was being held Friday.

The two talk still talk on the phone every couple of weeks, but this will be the first time they would be on the ice together since Heatley was traded to Ottawa in August 2005.

"I could use a few good passes," Kovalchuk laughed. "What made us so good together was he's such a good passer and I ... I just love to shoot."

"Hey, I love to shoot, too," chided Heatley, when told what Kovalchuk said. "As players, we fed off each other's game. Chemistry is a funny thing. Once we stepped on the ice, we clicked. A big part of that I'm sure is that we both think the game on the edge, looking to be creative, looking to be making a play while on the move."

And that kind of hockey communication needs no language, sometimes just a nod or a gesture.

Kovalchuk and Heatley were matching bookends who played their off wings. They didn't have much of a common vocabulary together, but ...

"There were no Russians on our team, so it was a little awkward for me at first because I didn't understand English at all," Kovalchuk remembered. "We were roommates and Dany was always trying to teach me new words. He cared. He'd work with me on words in our room, when we'd order food at a restaurant, watched TV, he'd point out things we saw out the window on the bus -- and I remember him buying me a book on the ABC's.

"Some of the teammates teased me, but not Dany. He knew how important it was to communicate in this game, on and off the ice."

Proving that some things still get lost in translation, so to speak.

"Don't blame me for that one," Heatley laughed. "Some of the guys were passing a children's book display and they bought the book for him."

The partnership between Healthy and Kovalchuk was ripe with the possibility of greatness. We still see the individual skills from Heatley in Ottawa and Kovalchuk in Atlanta, but Sunday afternoon we could still be in store for a little glimpse of the Goal-Dust Twins once again.

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