The star winger for the Montreal Canadiens logs between 80 and 100 hours of flying time per year in his own small plane, a Cessna 414 twin engine. And Kovalev, who has had his pilot’s licence for nine years, said Thursday he does not expect NHL teams to ask players to give up flying. “Everybody has life insurance,” he said. “There’s nothing to prevent athletes from doing something they like to do.”
“I don’t see myself surrounded by four walls doing nothing, just focusing on the hockey game.”
Kovalev flew up to Montreal for training camp in his plane from his off-season home in New York, where he has often flown. But he has never come close to hitting a building, as Lidle’s plane did for as yet unknown reasons on Wednesday.
“I always try to stay on the safe side,” he said. “As many times as I flew around New York, I’ve never gone that close to the buildings.”
“I don’t know what happened – if it was a control problem or something else. There’s a lot of things it could be. But even if you have engine or control problems, these planes have a new item which is a parachute, which could have been deployed, and they didn’t use that. Maybe it was malfunction.”
Kovalev said he has flown at least 13 types of plane and three types of helicopter. He attends safety courses in Florida every summer.
His former teammate Joe Juneau, now retired, also flew his own planes. Kovalev said he didn’t know how many other players were pilots.
The Russian winger said he was “addicted” to flying after his first flight around New York with a friend, but his wife only agreed to buying a plane after he told her one day he wanted a motorcycle.
“My wife said ‘I’d rather see you flying’ and I said ‘OK.’ So I jumped in the car, bought some books, met an instructor and started the next day,” he said.
“Why do a lot of athletes learn to fly? After Sept. 11, what you go through with security at airports and getting recognized by people, it’s kind of hard to travel. Life is easier when you have your own plane. You throw your stuff in, take off and land anywhere you want.”
Kovalev said he has twice had minor mishaps. Once, a tire blew on landing and he went off a runway and another time a gauge didn’t work after takeoff and he had to turn around and land.
He started on smaller single-engine planes and gradually moved up to more sophisticated models.
Kovalev did not say what his plane cost, but said with a grin that “it’s cheaper than a boat.”
Kovalev missed practice Thursday with a charley horse suffered on his first shift of a 3-1 win Wednesday night in Philadelphia. He finished the game and scored his first goal of the season, but the leg was stiff and sore the next morning.
He expects to be in the lineup for Montreal’s home opener Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t play,” he said. “But we’ll see (Friday). It’s early in the season and we don’t want to force things.”