Doug Pensinger /Allsport
In the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, the Washington Capitals drafted Steve Konowalchuk with their fifth pick (58th pick overall and just past the middle of the third round). With the former recently celebrating a birthday (November 11), this seems like a good time to look back at his career.
Konowalchuk was born on November 11, 1972 in Salt Lake City, Utah and was the first Utah born player to make it to the NHL. His father, Wally, was from a small town just north of Edmonton, Alberta while his mother was from Salt Lake City. As Steve grew older, he was not experiencing enough competition in the hockey leagues in Utah, and decided to relocate to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, following his older brother, Brian, who also was a hockey player.
Three years later, Konowalchuk moved to Portland, Oregon to play junior hockey with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League (WHL). For the 1991-92 season, he scored 51 goals and 104 points and made the WHL All Star Team. For those heroics, he earned the WHL Most Valuable Player award. He also played for the United States in the 1992 World Junior Games and helped them win the Bronze medal.
Konowalchuk was the first player of his draft class to make it to the Caps, despite being the fifth pick (after Pat Peake, Trevor Halverson, Eric Lavigne, and Jeff Nelson). He was called up to the Caps late in the 1991-92 season and played in one game, after spending most of the year in juniors and spending three games with the Caps AHL affiliate, the Baltimore Skipjacks. Steve stayed with the team throughout the playoffs as an “extra”, even though he did not play.
For the 1992-93 season, he split time between the Skipjacks and the Capitals, playing 37 games with the former and 36 games with the latter. He scored his first NHL goal on Halloween Night in 1992, just a few days before his twentieth birthday, in a game in Edmonton.
His parents and many other relatives were in attendance. In fact, some of his relatives had driven to Edmonton from their home in Vancouver to watch him play. Outside of a brief stint with the Portland Pirates, he came up to stay with the Washington Capitals during the 1993-94 season, scoring 12 goals, with 14 assists. He remained with the Caps for close to ten years after that, where his goal scoring total generally ranged between 10-24 goals and his overall points total generally ranged from 25-47. He was a versatile player who was drafted as a center but primarily played left wing. Even so, he still took faceoffs. He played in both penalty kill and power play situations and was a staple of the Caps’ penalty kill.
In 2001-02, Konowalchuk served as a co-captain of the Capitals along with defenseman, Brendan Witt, but became the team’s sole Captain the following season. He remained the team’s Captain until October 22, 2003 when he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, along with a third-round pick, in exchange for winger Bates Battaglia and the rights to forward Jonas Johansson, who was selected 28th overall by Colorado in the 2002 draft. He had played 693 games for the Caps, scoring 146 goals, with 342 points overall. He had missed much of the 2001-02 season due to shoulder surgery.
He performed well for the Avalanche immediately after the trade, scoring 19 goals and having 20 assists. But when he returned for the 2005-06 season, after the lockout of 2003-2004, Konowalchuk only played in 21 games because of a broken wrist. He did return for the second round of the playoffs.
During training camp of 2006-07, the medical staff found an EKG abnormality during a routine examination, which turned out to be Long QT Syndrome. Hence, he was forced to retire as a player. He remained with the Avalanche organization and served as Assistant Coach to Joe Sacco. In 2011, he became Head Coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL.
In some notes on his surname, it is a spelling variant of the Ukrainian surname, Konovalchuk, which means “son of the Konoval” where “konoval” is a term for farrier, as in horse veterinarian. Russian Army regiments would have a konoval as part of their staff to take care of the horses of the troops. Interesting enough, the similar sounding surname of Kovalchuk means “son of the blacksmith or farrier”. Hence, both names mean farrier, but in a different sense, with Konovalchuk the more specialized farrier that was also a veterinarian.
By Diane Doyle