Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Focus on a Thrasher: Ilya Kovalchuk

O Kaptain! My Kaptain! One big weight hanging around our neck this upcoming season is "will Kovy re-sign?" Of course I hope so. We came to Atlanta about the same time, summer of 2001. He is our super star and I can't imagine the Thrashers without him. I hope our organ-eye-zation has done enough to make us a good team capable of winning so we can keep Kovy. Kovy deserves to win. I hope it's with our team, but if he doesn't see it that way, I'll still be a fan.

So let's learn about Ilya.

Ilya Valeryevich Kolvachuk was born on April 15, 1983 in Tver, Russia (about 2 hours from Moscow)to parents Valeri and Luba. Valeri was a basketball star who played for the Soviet national team. Luba has a career that is very beneficial to hockey players...she is a dentist.

I love this picture of Waddell FINALLY naming Kovy as Kaptain.

Having a dad as an athlete, Ilya grew up learning the importance of athletics. Growing up, Kovy showed talent in several sports including basketball like his father as well as soccer and street hockey. His dad didn't push him, he let Ilya explore what interested him. After seeing Ilya dominate his friends at street hockey, Valeri thought he might have a future in the sport and got him some ice skates.

Though Ilya was becoming one of the best young players in Russia as he grew older, the NHL wasn't on his mind until he saw the 1994 Stanley Cup finals on Russian TV. After seeing fellow Russian Pavel Bure play for Vancouver, Ilya wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Four years later Ilya came to North America for the first time to compete in a junior tournament in Ontario. NHL scouts that had heard Ilya's name mentioned before were finally able to see the 15 year old in person. They were impressed with his size, speed and slapshot but were also impressed with his nasty edge.

Ilya's temper sometimes got the best of him. While competing with Russian's Under-17 squad he started a brawl against Canada's Newmarket 87s when he intentionally crashed into the opposing bench elbows first and then cross-checked the goalie.
Kovy has learned to put a reign on his temper, but he does occasionally get into scraps. One of the most memorable showings of his passion was "the point" at Sidney Crosby back in 2006 when a slashing penalty against Crosby resulted in Kovy's 29th goal of the season. Kovy caught flack from then coach, Bob Hartley, but the fans loved it.
One memorable display of Kovy's "passion" occurred late in the 2008-09 season in a game against the Florida Panthers. Kovy dropped the gloves with Bryan McCabe and when they were finally pulled apart, Kovy motioned to the crowd for applause. The crowd erupted. This is one of the favorite memories of the past season.

In the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Atlanta had the first pick and chose Ilya Kovalchuk. The choice seems easy, but Jason Spezza was also available. After much deliberation and a meeting with Ilya, Atlanta made their choice. Ilya was the first Russian-born player to be selected first overall in the NHL draft.

Once Ilya had been selected, the Thrashers had to decide whether or not to put Ilya directly into the NHL or let him return to Spartak in Russian to play. Don Waddell didn't want another Stefan situation where a #1 pick struggles in his first season, but didn't see much benefit in sending Ilya back to Russia. They decided to keep Ilya in the US.

Ilya started the 2001-02 season with the Thrashers. During the preseason, Ilya became good friends with another young Thrasher, Dany Heatley. The coach was initially hesitant to start the two out together, but sensing their chemistry, he decided to put them on the starting line.

The pairing worked. Ilya was successful playing in 65 games and scoring 51 points (29 goals and 22 assists).

That season Ilya and Dany Heately were in a race for the Calder Cup. Ilya led with 51 goals for most of the season. Unfortunately, Ilya went down for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder. Heately finished with 16 more games than Ilya and won the Calder Cup. Ilya was also named to the NHL All Rookie team. Ilya was also named to the 2002 YoungStars team. With 6 goals and 1 assist, Ilya was named the MVP.

Despite Ilya and Heatley's efforts, the Thrashers finished at the bottom of the NHL. Going into the 2002-03 season the Thrashers knew they had to make some changes. They added some veterans to the team to help the youngsters. Ilya got off to a slow start but finished the season with 67 points (38 goals and 29 assists).

The 2003-04 season was marred from the beginning with tragedy due to the horrific car accident involving Dany Heatley and Dan Snyder. Snyder died and Dany had severe injuries. The Thrashers were expected to go far that season due to some new additions and players expected to have break out seasons. Ilya had a lot more responsibility with Heatley out though.

Ilya struck a deal with Coach Bob Hartley: he would increase Ilya's ice time if Ilya promised to work hard in all three zones. Ilya kept up his end of the bargain and scored 13 goals in the first 15 games. Hartley began using Ilya for the full two minutes during power plays, double-shifted him at even strength and even put him on penalty kills. Heatley came back in January and by mid-season Ilya had 26 goals and 57 points. He was voted to a starting position in the NHL All Star games. Dany Heately was eventually traded to Ottawa at his own request and Ilya had a new friend to play with, Marian Hossa.

During the 2005 NHL lock out, Ilya played for the Ak Bars Kazan in Russia. In 53 games, Ilya scored 41 goals and 46 while racking up 72 penalty minutes.

Ilya had a great 2005-06 season. Ilya set career highs with 52 goals and 98 points. He tied his career best for assists with 46 to rank third on the team. Ilya was named NHL Offensive player of the week twice that season.

2006-07 was a banner year for both the Thashers and Ilya. Ilya played in a career high 82 games recording 76 points. Ilya led the team in power play goals for the third consecutive season and ranked third in the NHL. Ilya led the Thrashers to win the South East Division and an appearance in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a franchise first. On April 14, Ilya scored his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

During the 2007-08 Ilya led the Thrashers with 87 points, 52 goals and 35 assists in 79 games. He has scored the most goals (254) and most power play goals (93) of any NHL player since joining the league in 2001. We saw a little of that Kovy temper that season as well. Kovalchuk was suspended for one game without pay by the NHL on January 24 for a hit from behind on Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival. Marian Hossa was traded to Pittsburgh and the team continued to struggle.

Ilya entered the 2008-09 season as the Thrashers all-time leader in games played(466), points (466), goals(254), assists(212), game winning goals(31), power play goals (93), power play assists (95), power play poins (188) and shots (1,724).

The Thrashers had an abysmal start to the season. Even Ilya was struggling. On January 11, Kovy was finally named as the Captain for the Thrashers. That seemed to give him a spark. Also giving him a spark was the addition of a new center, Rich Peverley. The two had good chemistry and it showed on the ice. The rest of the team seemed to finally be getting new coach John Anderson's system down, too. These factors combined and even though the Thrashers finished near the bottom of the league, the Thrashers were one of the hottest teams during the final stretch of the season. Kovy finished the season with 91 points, 43 goals and 48 assists.

Kovy has found much international success as well. At 18, Ilya was the youngest pro on any hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics, he won a bronze medal.
* 2003 World Championships
* 2004 World Cup of Hockey
* 2005 World Championships (bronze medal)
* 2006 Winter Olympics
* 2007 World Championships (bronze medal)
* 2008 World Championships (gold medal)
* 2009 World Championships (gold medal)
In 2009 Kovy was awarded the Russian Athlete of the Year for 2008by viewers of the federal Russian sports channel. He brought the gold medal back to Russian by scoring the game winning goal.

Numbers and stats and stuff, oh my. Let's learn some fun stuff:

* One of Ilya's hobbies is bowling. He incorporates this into his charity, Kovy's Kids, which supports needy children in the Atlanta area. His program hosts "parties" where kids can participate in different activities, such as bowling and video games.

* Ilya wears number 17 as a tribute to the late Valeri Kharlamov, who played for the Soviet Union but never got to play in the NHL because of governmental restrictions.

* Ilya is married to Nicole who was a singer in a Lithuanian pop group called Mirage. Apparently they are kind of like Menudo (members constantly change) except with hot blonde chicks instead of young hot Latin guys. Ilya and Nicole have 2 kids, Karolina and Phillip.

Hopefully we can keep our super star!
I got a lot of my information from this fantabulous bio page. Check it out for more information:



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