|Senators forward Alex Kovalev's foundation has raised more than $250,000 through a charity golf tournament that assists children suffering from cardiac issues (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Alex Kovalev hasn't forgotten the childhood struggle that tested his dream of becoming a professional hockey player.
It's there every day for the Ottawa Senators forward, in the lives of the youngsters who benefit from his tireless efforts with the Kovalev and Friends for Kids Foundation, which provides funds and support for children suffering from cardiac issues. The Montreal-based foundation's impact has been felt in Quebec, Ottawa and Kovalev's homeland of Russia.
All of that will be front and centre on Monday, when the foundation holds its third annual golf tournament at the Saint Raphael Golf Club in Ile-Bizard, Que. So far, the event has raised more than $250,000, a portion of which was earmarked for the Sens Foundation in 2009. It's expected that the $10,000 donation to the charity arm of Kovalev's current National Hockey League team will be at least matched this year.
But this will truly be a day about children, who have always been near and dear to Kovalev's heart throughout his NHL career.
"Alex has always been pretty active in foundations and helping out children," said Walter Valentini, the foundation's general manager. "While he was in Montreal, he supported the Montreal Canadiens Foundation. He bought a suite at the Bell Centre and pretty much donated it to them. At every game, he would have 10 to 15 kids in the suite."
Two years ago, Kovalev teamed up with renowned Montreal pediatrician Dr. Suzanne Vobecky to form his own foundation, with a special focus on children with cardiac needs. Kovalev himself had to deal with a heart condition that had doctors suggesting he wasn't medically fit to continue playing hockey. But he overcame that ailment to become an NHL superstar.
It also proved to be Kovalev's inspiration for starting his own foundation.
"That's pretty much why he's always had a soft spot for kids," said Valentini. "He has two kids of his own (Nikita, 8, and Ivan, 6) and he had a problem when he was younger."
"People see him, they see what he's done, and a lot of people know what (Kovalev) went through as a child. They know he had a heart problem himself and he overcame it and became a professional hockey player. He uses himself as a motivation for these kids. Through activities, through sports, through these different events that we organize, we try to help and touch as many kids as possible." - Alex Kovalev
That Kovalev was able to overcome that issue, Valentini added, has made him "pretty much an inspiration" to many of the youngsters he meets who are dealing with the same problem.
"People see him, they see what he's done, and a lot of people know what (Kovalev) went through as a child," said Valentini. "They know he had a heart problem himself and he overcame it and became a professional hockey player. He uses himself as a motivation for these kids. Through activities, through sports, through these different events that we organize, we try to help and touch as many kids as possible."
Besides the golf tournament, the Kovalev Foundation runs a summer camp for children and a fundraising fashion show, which is spearheaded by Kovalev's wife, Eugenia. The foundation also supports the transfer of heart-related medical knowledge to hospitals in Russia.
With every smiling young face he sees, Kovalev receives constant reminders of why this mission is so important. And why it can make such a difference.
"Some kids have pacemakers. Some kids have had three or four (heart) operations," said Valentini. "Different kids have different heart malformations and are going through this difficult time in their lives.
"We do these events to support them, to encourage them, to get them through this difficult period ... it's for them, for their families and their parents."To make a donation to the Kovalev and Friends for Kids Foundation or to learn more about it, click here.