Enigmatic Russian left mark in Montreal

 

You think at least a little of Alex Kovalev's soul remains in Montreal? If the day came that the flashy Russian were elected to the Hall of Fame, there's no doubt in his mind what jersey he'd wear into hockey's shrine.

 
 
 
 

You think at least a little of Alex Kovalev's soul remains in Montreal? If the day came that the flashy Russian were elected to the Hall of Fame, there's no doubt in his mind what jersey he'd wear into hockey's shrine.

The four-team NHL veteran of nearly 1,300 games through 17 seasons says it would be bleu, blanc et rouge.

And not the one of the New York Rangers.

"I've never had anything in my life to match what I experienced in Montreal,"

Kovalev said yesterday, breezing through town to launch Off-Ice Training, a two-disc fitness DVD to benefit his Kovalev and Friends for Kids Foundation.

"From the day I came to Montreal (from the Rangers in 2004), from my first shift to my last, you can't have a better life or experience. You can't really describe it."

Unrestricted free agency and orbits of strategy that didn't intersect took Kovalev in July from the Canadiens to the Ottawa Senators, where he signed a two-year, $10-million deal.

But there remains a tender spot in the 36-year-old's heart for Montreal. So much so that, after Sunday's Senators game in Anaheim, Kovalev chartered his own plane to fly overnight to Ottawa so he could drive here yesterday to launch his DVD at 4 p.m.

He returned home a few hours later to be ready for tonight's game in Ottawa against the Canadiens.

And he'll be back on Friday to host Kovy Idol, a foundation event at Étienne Desmarteau Centre in which 27 contestants will be selected to compete in a talent contest.

It's hardly a surprise that Kovalev thinks fondly of Montreal. He spent four-plus usually exciting, sometimes stormy, occasionally puzzling seasons as a Canadien, playing 335 regular-season and playoff games in hockey's forever-boiling cauldron.

There was not and still isn't a dull moment with Kovy, who scored 102 of his 398 career goals for Montreal. But if his effort on the ice was questioned some nights, no one can debate the size of his heart off it.

Kovalev's charity work is legend, from the summer hockey camps he operates in Russia to a fabulous children's camp he ran here this past summer; from his fundraising golf tournament and fashion show to the quiet hospital visits done off the publicity radar.

He spoke yesterday of the Outremont camp, held for young surgery patients and their friends.

"Kids were afraid to show their scars at the beginning," Kovalev said.

"At the end, they wouldn't hide them and their friends were crying because they didn't have scars to show."

The two-hour, 40-minute DVD set is Kovalev's second in as many seasons.

He believes last fall's My Hockey Tips and Training Methods, also produced for his foundation, sold about 120,000 copies. But that one pretty much featured his sleight of hand, his celestial skills a fantasy for any ordinary hockey player.

Off-Ice Training has Kova-lev demonstrating 93 quite basic strength, flexibility and endurance exercises, directed by his personal trainer, Tommy Sheehan. Interactive through the Internet, it was shot in LaSalle over two 14-hours days during the Canadiens' Christmas break last season.

So it's certainly not Kova-lev's fitness that has him struggling with the Senators, having scored four times and assisted on 10 through 25 games.

He's not hit the mesh in regulation time in his past 14 games and has come up empty on Ottawa's power-play, his bread-and-butter with the Canadiens.

During the weekend, he was called out - though not by name - by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk for more production.

"If (Melnyk's) words are aimed at me, I'll accept them, in a good way," said Kovalev, whose revolving-door of linemates have included Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno. "I know I have to step up and play better, there's no question about it."

In Anaheim during the weekend, Kovalev watched highlights of the Canadiens' centennial-game festivities and enjoyed what he saw - especially the uniformed alumni.

During his game on Sunday, he and the Ducks' Saku Koivu exchanged a few smiles and chatted briefly, and yesterday Kovalev again laughed off rumours spread "by bored media" of a feud with his former captain.

"You guys were always making pairs," he joked.

"Kovalev and Carbonneau. Kovalev and Koivu. Gainey and Kovalev.

"The worst thing is for a player to have enemies on his own team. The second worst is to compete against teammates. Saku is a great guy and I really respect what he did for the team and the city. It's a shame he couldn't stay here. We really enjoyed playing together."

Kovalev would love to represent Russia in the Vancouver Olympics, which would be his fourth Games, though he's not yet spoken with Russian team brass.

"I still hope I'll make the team, but I have to put more points on the board," he admitted. "It could be my last chance to play in the Olympics, but a 10-day rest in February wouldn't hurt for the rest of the season."

Told that Russian GM Vladislav Tretiak recently was scouting in Montreal, he grinned wryly, classic Kovalev on his lips:

"Maybe," he said, "Ottawa is so far away from Montreal that he couldn't get there."

Alex Kovalev's Off-Ice Training DVD is now available nationally in stores; 1,300 tickets for Friday's Kovy Idol at Étienne Desmarteau Centre are on sale for $20 each at select Archambault stores. Call 514-849-8589.

dstubbs@thegazette.canwest.com

 
 
 
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