While Alexei Kovalev
’s game has been flying this season, so has he -- literally.
“Been a pilot for more than 10 years,” said Kovalev. “Started in New York. Just flew with one of my friends for fun, small plane. He gave me the controls, let me fly around a little bit, and I got addicted. Took me a couple years to learn the language and everything because I knew how serious it was to learn all that stuff without missing anything. Now I’ve got helicopter and plane licenses.”
Due to his busy schedule, Kovalev estimates he logs 70-80 hours of flight time per year, mostly in a Cessna 414 he owns. He lives near the airport, so whenever he has a day off, he can fly out on his own, or take his family or teammates for a spin.
While some athletes enjoy flying as a way to escape the day-to-day pressure of the job, Kovalev says the convenience of personal air travel is what appeals to him.
“Travel-wise, in the summer, you get on a plane without going through security at the airport, you don’t have to worry about the time, being late for your flight,” he said. “Just moving around. You’ve got the day off, fly home, see friends, go to restaurants. Used to be when I was in Pittsburgh, me and Robert Lang, he used to have a place in Carolina, when we’d have the day off, we’d leave in the morning, hit his place and play golf and then come back at night. Those kind of things, travel with the family.
“It takes about five hours to drive from Montreal to New York (where Kovalev owns a house), but if there’s some emergency, if you need to check on the house, an hour and a half, you’re there. And I live right by the airport.”
Kovalev said he has taken some teammates up in his plane, including defenseman Mike Komisarek.
“I gave him the controls,” said Kovalev. “He actually took off himself. It was a little bit too hard, but he got the experience. I backed him up. We went from the airport, we went out a few miles, he did some steep turns and all that, and it was pretty exciting for him to try it.”
Kovalev was asked about jumping into the cockpit of the team’s plane.
“A lot of guys asked if I could fly the plane,” said Kovalev. “I could fly the plane. It’s not much different then the plane I fly. I have no problem with that. Just different (from) commercial planes that are flying around, they (jets) have a joystick instead of a yoke, so that would be something new that would be exciting to try.”
Not all his teammates are as excited.
When asked after a recent game in Philadelphia if he was OK with Kovalev flying the team home to Montreal, Begin joked that he might invest in an extra night at the hotel and a bus ticket home.
“Everybody says that,” said Kovalev. “Until they fly with me. I have a lot of friends that are scared to fly, and when they hear I’m going to fly, they say; ‘I’ll never jump on a plane with you,’ but now they know how good I am. I don’t want to get overconfident, it’s something that you have to be serious about. It’s not like driving a car. They keep asking; ‘When are we going to go next?’ ”