Remembering Kovalev’s Fruitful Tenure with the Habs
As a young child, my main hobbies included eating bags of Lay’s Original Flavored Chips, watching Star Wars, and gaming on my PlayStation 2. Up until the age of seven, these activities took up the majority of my extra-curricular time. That is, until I came across a 2006 playoff game between the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche.
I had never heard of hockey before that fateful day, but the minute I laid eyes on that television and took in the first few minutes of the game, I was hooked. Hockey enveloped my entire life from that point on. My weekends would be spent playing street hockey with my brother, if it rained we would take our games to the basement.
Instead of differing games on my PlayStation, the new NHL EA and 2K Sports games were the only things being played. My parents called my love affair with hockey an unhealthy obsession at some point, but I didn’t care. Hockey was what woke me up in the morning, got me through my boring days at school, and offered me a foray into what passion is at such a young age.
Now around the time, I started watching hockey was when the Canadiens housed a classic lineup consisting of legends (in my eyes because I was so young at the time) like Saku Koivu, a young Carey Price, Michael Ryder, Andrei Markov, Cristobal Huet (with those Reebok pads that I still want to own), and none other than Alexei Kovalev.
Kovalev had always been a favorite of mine, mainly due to his flashiness and ability to put them into the net, more often than not, beautifully! In 2008, the Togliatti native came out with a 2-part DVD. One disc contained a documentary-style film explaining how he got to Montreal, how he fell in love with hockey and other insights into his personal. It was cool, but what I was really interested in was the second disc.
On that second disc contained the secrets to Kovalev’s silky mitts and smooth hands. I was in my first off-season. I had just wrapped up my first year playing house-league hockey (the lowest level possible) and I wanted to step my game up. For days I would head to my basement, pop in the DVD, and just stick handle for hours at a time, copying his every move.
I guess the CDs really worked because the next season I went from playing the lowest-level of house league hockey to occupying a spot on the second-highest travel team in my region. Not only that, but I also led my team in scoring. Remember, I am not saying this to appear like I’m showboating (seriously, I was 9, take it easy), but rather to prove a point. Kovalev had skill, and when taught, it made people better.
Kovalev made his way to the Canadiens in 2003-2004, after a second stint with the New York Rangers.He would only register 3 points in the 12 regular-season games that remained after being traded, but he would break out in that year’s playoffs, exploding for 10 points in 11 games.
As we all know, the next year hockey fans were treated to a lockout, which took our beloved sport away from us for an entire year. When we got our regular NHL action back the next year, Kovalev was ready for a fresh start with the Habs. His first full season in a Canadiens uniform was productive, as he posted 65 points in 69 games.
He would suffer a fall-off during the 2006-07 season, as he only procured 47 points in 73 games. I still remember many fans at the time questioning whether he was right for the team, citing his lack of consistency as a huge detractor to the lineup. Still, it seems Canadiens management was willing to give him one last chance; and by god, I’m glad they did.
Kovalev’s 2007-08 season would prove to be the most memorable of his tenure with the Canadiens. It was as if the events of the season were coming together to form a beautiful harmony of hockey playing for the Russian; everything was just clicking. That season, he was able to pot home 84 points in 82 games; an incredible display of scoring ability the Canadiens hadn’t seen in a couple of years at that point.
The playoffs that year treated Kovalev even better, as he potted home 11 points in 12 games, propelling Montreal in their effort to try and beat the Flyers in the Conference Semi-Final. It seems his efforts on the season didn’t go unnoticed, as he was selected to the 2008 Second All-Star team, was awarded The Hockey New’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, and even won the season version of the Molson Cup Award (in-house award given to the MVP of the Montreal Canadiens). Most notably, Kovalev was handed the Canadien’s captaincy on two occasions that season, taking over for the injured Saku Koivu.
The Tolyatti native would enjoy another fine season in a Canadiens uniform, even going so far as being selected to the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, as well as winning MVP of the game, but alas, the Canadiens playoff hopes would be dashed that year as well. Although he had done nearly everything he could to try and bring the Habs to glory, it seems they always fell short.
After that season Kovalev would go on to sign with the Ottawa Senators in free agency, something he later said he regretted. After he left, it seems Habs fans grew more of an appreciation for the Russian superstar and what he did during his time with the Canadiens. Even today, (before the pandemic) I would see many Kovalev jerseys in the stands when I would attend Canadiens games.
Who knows what could have been had Kovalev stayed in free agency that year? Maybe the Canadiens wouldn’t have made that horrendous trade for Scott Gomez? Maybe he could have added his scoring touch to our 2009 playoff run? As that old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and we can’t be certain what could have been.
What we can be certain about is that even though his time in a Habs jersey may have been short, it was definitely impactful. Mr.Kovalev, if by some miracle you are reading this; thank you!