Alexei Kovalev is coming back from lengthy rehabilitation after surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, so many wondered if the 37-year-old Ottawa Senators forward—who is often criticized for his lack of passion—would return ready to play.
Some of those critics were answered in Wednesday night's preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs when Alexei Kovalev dropped his gloves and fought Maple Leafs' defenceman Francois Beauchemin as though he was a 19-year-old prospect looking to impress the coach.
“I was a little bit surprised,” coach Cory Clouston said. “But I guess you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do out there.”
Never mind that Kovalev was on the receiving end of four hits while never landing one himself. It showed that he was back, ready to play, and that he cared.
“Everybody was excited,” said Kovalev. “You don’t see too often Alex Kovalev fight.
“It’s entertainment and it’s before the season. I’m sure I’ll think twice in regular season, if I should do that. Depends on the scoring in the game. This game doesn’t really mean anything. It was good. Just to change the flow of the game. We were able to tie the game.”
The fight was only the fourth of Kovalev's career, and the first since March 25, 2006, when he fought Toronto's Darcy Tucker. His two other fights were against Florida’s Alex Hicks on December 30, 1998 and against Dallas’ Dave Gagner on February 26, 1994.
“I’m just happy to be around and still playing hockey,” he said earlier this week. “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.”
Judging from the cheers at Scotiabank Place as Kovalev skated to the box, the fans agree.
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Christopher Smith runs senspedia.com, an Ottawa Senators fan site.