|Senators forward Alex Kovalev enters his 18th NHL season within 10 points of reaching the 1,000 milestone. He is fully recovered from off-season surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, suffered in a game back in April (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Even when the road to recovery might have seemed lengthy, Alex Kovalev always remembered what brings him the rink every day.
"I still love this game and I still enjoy what I do," the 37-year-old Ottawa Senators forward said earlier this week when asked if there were any doubts he'd be able to make it back from a major knee injury he suffered back in April . "I definitely want to win another Cup before the end of my career.
"But I’m always excited (to play hockey). I love this game hard enough to just come back and really enjoy it. I don’t see myself sitting in front of a TV yet and watching other kids play hockey. I still want to be a part of it."
So it is that, after putting himself through the necessary rehabilitation after surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, Kovalev is back for an 18th National Hockey League season, anxious to help his current team make a run toward playoff contention. He saw about 23 minutes of ice time in his pre-season debut last Friday in Montreal and insists there are no worries about his knee.
"It’s fixed, so what do I have to be cautious about?" said Kovalev, who will suit up for his first home pre-season game tonight at Scotiabank Place, when the Senators tangle with the Toronto Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). "I always wear a brace, like most of the players do, and I feel like it’s been fixed so it should be normal and good like it was before. I don’t see any reason why I have to be cautious.
"I didn’t feel any issue with the knee (last Friday) but like any other first game, when you don’t play for six months, it gets a little tougher. The legs get numb because I’m not used to skating in a game. We practise a lot but practices are one thing and the games are different. For about a period and a half, it was hard to get yourself going, but toward the end I felt pretty good."
Kovalev is still considered one of the most gifted players in the game, with his ability to control the puck long ago having reached legendary status. That ability to entertain fans remains a source of motivation to the native of Togliatti, Russia, along with the good times he gets to share with his teammates.
"I’m just happy to be around and still playing hockey," he said. "That’s what I’m happy about. With all the injuries I’ve had, I still feel pretty good and I still feel like I can keep up with the younger guys these days and contribute a lot in different ways ... (It's about) just being around the guys and doing something for the fans and the team and if, in my career, I make somebody happy then I’m happy.
"The happiness that’s most important is that you win the game and you celebrate, not by yourself like in individual sports, but you celebrate with your teammates. That’s most of the fun. You win the Stanley Cup, you celebrate with the team — you have something to share with (each other), so that’s the most exciting thing."
Kovalev hit a pair of career milestones with the Senators last season, recording his 400th goal and playing in his 1,200th NHL game. He enters the current campaign 10 points shy of 1,000 for his career, while captain Daniel Alfredsson
sits at 992. While the race to get there promises to be interesting, Kovalev imagines the ideal scenario.
"I was kind of thinking the other day if we could get a 2-on-1 and both get points for 1,000, that would be great," he said.