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Q and A with Ilya Kovalchuk

This interview was taken on Jan. 5 and published in “Sovetsky Sport” on Jan. 19, 2009. The Q&A was conducted by Igor Arkhipov and translated by Gene Kantarovich (both “Sovetsky Sport” correspondents). You can find the original transcript HERE.

Tell us how you learned you had been voted Russian Athlete of the Year?

Frankly, I didn’t watch the “Sport” channel. My mom told me that I won the title. Thanks a lot to my fans! But I think the credit belongs to all members of the national team. Hockey is a team sport. I’d never win the title without my partners, my coaches or even without all of the staff members. So let’s just call it “The Team of the Year” instead of Athlete of the Year.

How is your wife doing? She is supposed to give birth in February.

Everything’s good. Pregnancy is going well, much better than the one before it. When Karolina was born, my wife Nicole was by herself in New York. I was waiting to sign a contract with the Thrashers and played for a Russian team. It just happened that our daughter was born four days before the due date and I missed her arrival. This time, I hope we will be together like any normal family to celebrate the happy moment.

Did you already make sure you are not playing on the road that day?

I think the team will let me be with my wife regardless. I will be beside her.

You probably have a lot of family chores these days?

Are you kidding! It’s much harder for a pregnant woman. But Nicole is doing very good. She comes to every home game, supports me, takes care of our daughter and the house.

I noticed you are surrounded by women – your mom, Nicole, Karolina, your sister Arina, even the dog is female.

And in February we are expecting a boy! We just couldn’t wait and found out the gender. How are we going to name him? We have a few choices in mind. We’ll decide after he is born.

Is he going to be a hockey player?

The main thing for him is to be healthy and happy. The rest is up to the Lord.

I have read the book by your father. He really wanted to have a son. And from the day after you were born, he started preparing you for the big sport.

No doubt, my son is going to be an athlete. Maybe not a professional athlete, but at least a good one just for his general development. Maybe I’ll put skates on him, too.

Did you watch the World Junior Championship semifinal game between Russia and Canada?

Yes, I watched…was really taking it to heart. They let the victory slip away from them just five seconds to the end of the third period. Terrible! You just can’t do this! Later I concluded that it was just misfortune. They are young guys. They got overwhelmed by their emotions. The key moment was when one of the guys was trying to score an empty net goal, but caused the icing call instead. You can’t do that! He should have just thrown the puck somewhere into a far corner.

They played so good! Nobody really expected Team Russia to beat Canada. Everybody kind of got used to the idea that “Maple Leafs” always win the juniors. And we gave them a fight. And where – on their ice, in front of 20,000 fans! I know how crazy their fans are! Plus, the officials were not on our side. In the second period, they called like what, seven penalties in a row against us?

Did it remind you of the final game in Québec (at the World Championship)?

It’s hard to compare. Big, unforced errors happen with juniors. It is pretty typical for 20-year-olds. Can’t really blame them. They played beautiful and passionate game. I felt so proud of them after the semifinals.

This is the worst season in your NHL career. Would you agree?

You can’t say that. We have a half of the season ahead of us. Anything can happen. People are probably going to laugh at me, but I think we still have a chance to be in the playoffs. In this league anything can happen. I believe we have enough talent and skills to save the season. Let’s not rush with conclusions.

Atlanta looks unstable this year.

Well, you are right. We can’t always keep up the tempo of our game. We look good in one game and then just terrible in the next one. No consistency.

What do you think about the rumors that you are going to be traded? For example, there were rumors about a Kovalchuk-Gaborik trade.

That’s just business. Nothing is terrible about a trade. My contract is up next year. If it happens, it happens. But right now I am trying to play as hard as I can in every game. I think about that, not about rumors. I like everything in Atlanta and I never asked Don Waddell to trade me.

Did Waddell give you his word he wouldn’t trade you?

No, he didn’t either.

What are you going to do with the Mercedes, your present from the president for the gold in Quebec? Who received it for you?

Nobody. It still there – in president’s garage. I’ll get it this summer.

It’s very nice that the president recognized and appreciated our effort. What I am really happy about is that everybody got a car – staff members, assistants, PR people. That speaks volumes.

Since the Thrashers are far away from being a playoff contender you have a real chance to appear at the World Championship in Switzerland. Will you accept the invitation if Vyacheslav Bykov asks you to join the national team? Do you keep in touch with him?

It’s amazing how much the spirit of our national team has changed in the recent years. I am always happy to join the team; they don’t have to ask me twice.

What would you say if the NHL decided to have the All-Star Game somewhere at a historic spot, a square, like they did in Russia?

I don’t think the NHL would go that route. Cities are lined up to host an All-Star Game. You can’t put a huge crowd on the square.

When was the last time you played under an open sky?

It was so long ago, I don’t even remember…I would love to do it now. Who knows, maybe someday my team will also participate in the “Winter Classic.”

Who do you think will win the NHL scoring title – Ovechkin or Malkin?

My bet is on Ovechkin. His team is stronger and his partners are great. He is hot right now. I think the Art Ross Trophy will be his.

And who is going to win the Stanley Cup?

West Conference favorites are San Jose and Detroit. Boston and Montreal in the East. I’d bet on San Jose. Russian goalies Nikolai Khabibulin and Ilya Bryzgalov have won the Cup before. Now it’s Nabokov’s turn.



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