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Kovalchuk doesn’t see Olympics as chance for KHL to prove itself

Feb 9, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT

Russia Kovalchuk Hockey AP

SOCHI, Russia — Ilya Kovalchuk may have “retired” from the NHL to play in the KHL, but he doesn’t see the upcoming Olympic tournament as two leagues pitted against each other, and he doesn’t see it as a way for the fledgling, mostly-Russian league to prove its worth against the more established one in North America.

“It’s two great leagues. It doesn’t matter where anybody plays,” Kovalchuk said Sunday in Sochi, where he practiced with the KHL members of the Russian national squad. (The NHLers arrive Monday.)

“We’re here as a team, and nobody cares where you play. We’re here for a mission. I don’t want to show anybody anything. I just have to be myself and try to play my game.”

Kovalchuk’s game is offense. The 30-year-old winger has 16 goals and 24 assists this season for SKA Saint Petersburg, his 40 points ranking him first on the team and ninth in the league.

Not that North American hockey fans need to be told that Kovalchuk is a dangerous scorer; his 417 goals with the Thrashers and Devils were proof of that.

As for some of the other KHL players on the Russian roster, specifically the ones who’ve never played in the NHL? Well, Kovalchuk didn’t want to provide a scouting report for those who may not be familiar.

“They’ll see in a couple of days,” he said. “The Olympics are going to start, and I’m pretty sure they’ll find some names who they’re going to follow after the Olympics.”

But unlike some analysts have forecasted, Kovalchuk doesn’t believe the KHLers in the tournament will have a significant advantage over the NHLers when it comes to playing on the bigger international ice. By the time the games start to matter, he predicts everyone will have adjusted.

“It’s a little different game, the bigger ice, so you’ve got to skate more,” he said. “Physically, you’ve got to be better prepared than playing on a small rink, but we’ll see.”

Russia plays its first game Thursday versus Slovenia before a pair of tougher preliminary-round match-ups versus the United States (Saturday) and Slovakia (Sunday).

  1. phxyotes - Feb 9, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Ilya Kovalchuk bailed to the KHL because he could no longer produce as effectively as he did in the NHL when he was younger. His ego couldn’t handle being a middle of the road player, so he bailed to the KHL to be a start in a lesser league.

    What a chump.

    • hockeyflow33 - Feb 9, 2014 at 4:56 PM

      Congrats on dumbest comment of the day…you did it!

    • thevreelander - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      Ya no he bailed because of greedy NHL owners + he wanted to play in his home country. NHL shouldn’t be mad cause he bailed either, get a transfer agreement so you can make $$$$ off the KHL clubs and vice versa.

  2. 950003cups - Feb 9, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    That’s not it. He was pursuing, and in 2012, he went further than he’d ever gone. The lockout bothered him, the escrow bothered him, taxes were killing him and he can make the same money in 4 years as he was gonna in his remaining 11 in the NHL.

    • frankiesweep - Feb 9, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      Yes, he would’ve been starving playing in the NHL against the best players in the world.

  3. frankiesweep - Feb 9, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    He’s only 9th in scoring??? I would’ve expected more.

    • thevreelander - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      People will look at this and say “wow he’s really doing bad” instead of saying “wow the KHL has some good talent”. KHL is filled with talent, I’m not shocked to see players ahead of Kovalchuk.

  4. buffalo65 - Feb 9, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    But money talks. Offer me more money to play at home and I’d go. I don’t blame him. I wonder if the KHL is a goon driven
    League too, maybe that’s part of it.

    • thevreelander - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:49 PM

      It’s not gate driven (though SKA is). SKA is probably the most successful team in Europe in terms of attendance, sales, ect, not to mention their owner is a billionaire. People don’t realize that SKA is sorta like the Chicago Cubs of Russian Hockey, they’ve never been in a league final and have been around since the 40s. If he wins one with SKA, he’ll go down as a St. Petersburg legend.

  5. cspsrbums - Feb 9, 2014 at 10:30 PM

    This is a stupid article how is the Olympics going to show how the KHL is. This is just stupid

  6. patshal - Feb 10, 2014 at 6:24 AM

    I’m sure Kovalchuk will do great. He’s saying it doesn’t prove anything but he’s just saying that to get the media out of his face. I believe he wants to prove that he can still compete in the NHL.

    • thevreelander - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      I think he wants to become a St. Petersburg legend over competing in the NHL. If he brings a Gagarin Cup to SKA, it’ll be one of the biggest moments in Russian hockey since the 80s.

  7. thevreelander - Feb 14, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    This is title just misleading. Kovalchuk didn’t say the title, he basically said his team (Russia) is two leagues uniting for one goal (Gold). Anti-KHL NBC come on don’t stoop to ESPN levels. The KHL is a great league to watch, the NHL is a great league to watch. Hockey has to stop being out to hurt eachother and instead help eachother grow.

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