Stu Cowan: Love affair with Canadiens’ Ilya Kovalchuk retains rising

The Canadiens held their annual abilities competitors Sunday morning on the Bell Centre in entrance of about 15,000 noisy followers, with lots of households and youngsters having an excellent time.

Ilya Kovalchuk put on his own skills competition with his two sons on a quiet out of doors rink in Verdun Friday afternoon. Kovalchuk posted a video of it on his Instagram web page as he displayed some spectacular stick-handling abilities whereas his boys — Philipp and Artem — tried unsuccessfully to get the puck off him.

Kovalchuk celebrated by shouting “Ha! Ha!”

“His arms … you see these arms?” teammate Max Domi mentioned with an enormous smile when requested concerning the video. “I really feel dangerous for these children. He actually doesn’t have mercy on anybody. That’s simply a part of who Kovy is, I assume.”

The Canadiens’ Ilya Kovalchuk hops over the boards on a line change throughout an NHL recreation in opposition to the Anaheim Geese on the Bell Centre in Montreal on Feb. 6, 2020.

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

Kovalchuk’s abilities had been on show once more Saturday night time when he scored in additional time to present the Canadiens a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on the Bell Centre, along with his spouse and 4 kids — together with daughters Karolina and Eva — in attendance. They arrived in Montreal Thursday night time from their residence in California and are anticipated to spend every week right here throughout a college break. Kovalchuk met his spouse, Nicole Andrazajtis, in 2002 when she was a widely known singer in Russia as a part of the group Mirage. Their kids vary in age from 5 to 14.

Friday was Philipp’s 11th birthday, and he asked his father to score a goal for him Saturday night time.

“We gave him the PlayStation, however he mentioned: ‘I would like you to attain a objective, that may be the very best current,’ ” Kovalchuk mentioned after the sport. “So I believe he can be happy, for certain.”

Kovalchuk’s children had been hoping to see snow in Montreal they usually obtained loads of it, with a storm dumping about 40 centimetres on town Thursday and Friday.

“That was enjoyable. It was nice,” Kovalchuk mentioned about his expertise on one of many refrigerated out of doors rinks the Canadiens have opened in parks throughout town. “I couldn’t consider they had been cleansing the ice as a result of it was snowing for nearly two days. The one rink we went to was like 4 toes of snow, so we couldn’t skate. I virtually went again to my residence, however they mentioned: ‘No, let’s verify yet one more.’ So we had been driving by that rink and the Zamboni was on the ice. I used to be like: ‘What the hell!’ So we went on the market, and no person was there as a result of it was like windy and snow. However we had a blast. It was a terrific expertise.”

Kovalchuk didn’t take any of the abilities titles Sunday. The winners had been Domi (quickest skater), Tomas Tatar (precision capturing), Jeff Petry (hardest shot, 104.9 m.p.h.), Brendan Gallagher (stick-handling and one-time accuracy) and Nick Cousins (shootout competitors). However the 36-year-old Russian now has 6-6-12 totals in 15 video games with the Canadiens. Three of Kovalchuk’s targets have been game-winners — together with two in additional time — and he additionally scored a game-winner in a shootout. He’s an enormous motive why the Canadiens are 9-Three-Zero of their final 12 video games, giving their playoff hopes a lift forward of Monday’s recreation in opposition to the Arizona Coyotes on the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

“He’s completely satisfied,” Domi mentioned about Kovalchuk. “He desires to win greater than anybody, and that’s all which you could actually ask for as a teammate. He does that with flying colors, so it’s nice. As a younger man myself, there’s a lot of guys you’ll be able to study from on this locker room, however I believe he’s taught us all one thing on daily basis thus far since he’s been right here.

“I believe he may need the celebration of the yr throughout the entire league,” Domi added about Kovalchuk throwing his arms into the air earlier than pointing up at his household within the stands after which throwing himself into the glass after his OT winner. “It was nice to see. He loves to attain, he likes to win and I believe we are able to all study from him. He’s main the cost with burying the puck proper now, so it’s nice to see.”

This city has fallen in love with Kovalchuk, who’s probably the most thrilling factor to occur with the Canadiens in a very long time. It has additionally been a very long time for the reason that Canadiens have had somebody with such elite scoring abilities, and now the pressure is on GM Marc Bergevin to attempt to preserve Kovalchuk in Montreal past this season.

The followers love Kovalchuk, his teammates love him, he loves town and — most significantly — he can nonetheless rating targets.

When requested concerning the love Canadiens followers have proven him, Kovalchuk mentioned: “That’s what I’ve been saying since Day 1. I really feel like I used to be right here for a very long time. The followers, however a very powerful is the best way the gamers welcomed me to the crew, the management group and all people. So it feels superb and it’s nice to be a part of it, for certain.”