Ilya Kovalchuk, who last played in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and departed for the Kontinental Hockey League on Christmas Day, scored a goal in his debut on December 30 for Avangard Omsk, the KHL team with which he signed. A day prior to his debut, he was appointed one of the alternate captains for his team.
First game, first goal.
Ilya Kovalchuk is officially back! pic.twitter.com/n4iuFHhhRz
— KHL (@khl_eng) December 30, 2020
Kovalchuk’s goal came against the Kunlun Red Star with less than five minutes to go in the second period in a game his team was behind 2-1. The goal came after Kovalchuk intercepted the puck on the blueline, advanced to the Kunlun goal and made an accurate shot past Kunlun goaltender Jeremy Smith, which tied the score at 2-2. Less than a minute later, Avangard pulled ahead to a 3-2 lead but gave up a goal in the last minute to send the game to overtime. Kovalchuk took a tripping penalty that Avangard was able to kill off. With neither team able to dent the twine in the overtime period, the contest extended to a shootout; Kovalchuk was one of the shooters for Avangard Omsk but was not successful in a skills competition Kunlun Red Star won in seven rounds.
Avangard Head Coach Bob Hartley (who coached Kovalchuk during his time with the Atlanta Thrashers), talked about Kovalchuk’s debut after the game saying, “We held a meeting with the coaching staff and talked to Ilya Kovalchuk himself. We knew that we would have two days off ahead, when there would be no practice, let alone games [New Year’s break], and we decided that we could try to stage it, and he himself, which is important, expressed the desire to play. This, of course, is a process, it is clear that it takes time, but we do not have a whole season in stock to bring it to full combat readiness. Remember that lately he played for Washington for seven, eight or nine minutes per game, plus he had a very long pause when he did not play at all. Our main task is to prepare him for the playoffs, and today we could see that there were good moments in his actions. There were, of course, situations when he could not keep up, but this is absolutely normal.”
Hartley also talked about Kovalchuk’s offensive skills, “We all know perfectly well that he is very good on offense. He is a scoring player, a real scorer, a sniper. When he has the puck on the stick, he is always dangerous for the opponent. He skated well today, but skating with friends or alone is one thing, and playing in KHL matches is another. But he’ll get back on track.”
He also talked about Kovalchuk’s penalties, including the penalty in Overtime as well as Kovalchuk’s shootout effort, saying, “He just lost the position, lost his balance a little, and there was the opponent’s stick, so it turned out to be a trip. We had him do the shootout, because when you do post-match shots, the main thing here is talent, and he is a world-class player, he is very good, so we gave him the opportunity.”
Teammate Pavel Dedunov, when discussing the game, spoke about his new teammate, “…Kovalchuk? Added energy, positive, emotions, another person came who can lead the team.”
By Diane Doyle
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Sports Express: Kovy Scores in KHL Debut
Sports Express: Photo Gallery of Game
KHL.Com: News for December 30