Montreal Canadiens: Alexei Kovalev, the Career, the Emotions Behind the Artist

Miah D.Senior Writer IMay 19, 2008

To follow up on our look over the current Montreal Canadiens roster, let's take a look at the one who has been a big piece in the Montreal Canadiens' puzzle.

He has been named the most improved player of the NHL by one of Bleacher Report members. And I agree, he truly is.

Born in 1973, Alexei Kovalev left home at the age of 14 for Moscow to play hockey. Before, when he was about nine years old, Kovalev was so talented that his coach would make him play with 12-year-old players.

He eventually played three years for the HC Dynamo Moscow and then was drafted in the first round by the New York Rangers in 1991.

Kovalev played with the 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist Russian team, with legend Viktor Tikhonov behind the bench. Coach Tykhonov himself explains Kovalev's legendary enigma: "The most talented players are also the most complicated."

Two years after his rookie year, he won his first Stanley Cup with 21 points in 23 playoff games, the third highest record of the team.

During the 1994-95 NHL lockout, he went back to Russia with the Lada Togliatti (his hometown team) where he won the Russian Championship. He eventually went back to New York to play with the Rangers for another five years.

Kovalev was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1998 where he played with Martin Straka and Robert Lang. Then, he was traded back to the Rangers in 2002.

In 2003, it was official: Alexei Kovalev joins the Montreal Canadiens in return of Jozeph Balej and a second-round draft pick. That year, he made his mark especially in the playoffs with 10 points in 11 games.

I guess we all know what happened between Kovalev and Darcy Tucker in 2006!

And then came the whole media controversy in 2007. It had been reported that he criticized his coach and team in an interview with a Russian journalist.

Following the event, his personal stats were not shining either, and Kovalev has been benched several times by rookie coach Guy Carbonneau. By then, the future of Alex Kovalev with the Montreal Canadiens was in question, and his reputation among the fans turned the wrong way.

But what happened during that famous summer 2007?

Kovalev felt the drawbacks of his miserable season and needed some retrospection to figure out what went wrong. At some point, it seemed he could not take it anymore.

"For the first two weeks, I always kept that in my mind. I did not want to go back, I did not want to go through this again. It seemed to me that there was no one who wanted me here, so why would I be wasting my time?"

That is what the Artist confessed to a french journalist who made a documentary about the Russian player, late in the end of the season on the television channel RDI.

But once again, as a true warrior, he stepped up and was determined to prove everyone wrong and pursue the path he determined for himself and Montreal.

"For me as athlete, I want to win. I wanted to win the Russian Championship, I did. I wanted to win the Olympic games, I did. I got the Stanley Cup, what else to win? I want to win the Cup again with Montreal and all its stories."

And in the great picture of Kovalev's comeback to the good times comes the mastermind, a major factor.

"The main move was Bob Gainey. He listened to what I had to say and I listened to what he had to say and we could find a solution. I did not want to feel miserable again, and I wanted to bring back the excitement to the city (...) and here we are".

Kovalev truly loves Montreal and respects the organization.

"I want to play till the age of 50 but I don't know if the organization will keep me that long," he once joked to the journalists when he celebrated his 1000th NHL game.

Having the young players under his wing, he is currently a major asset for the Montreal Canadiens in a matter of leadership and talent. I believe that for such a young team, he represents a great example, along with Captain Saku Koivu (please, no controversy on the subject!).

After the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the playoffs by the Orange Crush of Philadelphia, Kovalev had a word to say about his young team, and thankfully for the fans, he feels confident about it.

In his career, Kovalev had the opportunity to play with legends such as Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux.

Hopefully, one day we'll hear players say they had the opportunity to play with legend Alexei Kovalev.

If you feel like going back in time and watch amazing stick-handling skills, there is this one commercial he made for Montreal shop Rousseau and also a recap of his best goals in career. Enjoy!

The quotes section:  

"Alexei is one of the greatest, he has got the best hands in the league" - Ilya Kovalchuk

"This year it is personal hockey exhibition! What I like about him is that he carries the puck instead of shooting like other players tend to do"- Jean Beliveau

*Article realized with information from a documentary by RDI and RDS

*Next spotlight: Saku Koivu


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