By Ian Oland and Cara Bahniuk
Ilya Kovalchuk was a guest on the Cam and Strick podcast, featuring former NHL player Cam Janssen and St. Louis Blues rinkside reporter Andy Strickland.
During the interview, Kovalchuk spoke about the trade deadline deal that brought him to Washington and if his friend, Alex Ovechkin, was influential in making it happen. He also spoke about his famous Olympic shootout against TJ Oshie and how good he thinks this current Capitals team is.
“[I]t’s a great chance to win something special,” Kovalchuk said. “I think that group of guys, they are ready. They’re experienced, they’re healthy, they’re big and strong. You see why St. Louis won the Cup last year when nobody expected.
A partial transcript featuring Kovlachuk’s relevant answers to Capitals fans and broader NHL fans are below. Questions were edited for clarity.
Cam & Strict (19:54): You went through a whirlwind, playing with the Kings, that kind of didn’t go your way. Then you go to Montreal and you redeem yourself. You get a lot of attention and now all of a sudden you’re traded to Washington. Probably with one of the most talented teams ever with TJ Oshie, Carlson, Tom Wilson, and of course your buddy Alexander Ovechkin. You’re probably really craving to get back into things because of playing with Ovechkin.
Ilya Kovalchuk: “It’s not just because he’s my buddy but it’s a great chance to win something special. I think that group of guys, they are ready. They’re experienced, they’re healthy, they’re big and strong. You see why St. Louis won the Cup last year when nobody expected. Like all those skill teams do really well (in the regular season), but I think the playoffs is really about size and toughness and everything together. We were ready. The last few games we played really well. It was taking a little time to adjust to the system and everything but great group of guys and was very excited to be there. Hopefully, we are going to finish the season and playoffs will start.”
Cam & Strict (21:15): We were laughing earlier about how you and Ovechkin probably just got the deal done on the phone. You probably called him and said, ‘Hey, here is what Montreal is going to give Washington, and here is what Washington is going to give Montreal and then we’ll just call the general managers and let them know what the deal is.’ In all seriousness, how much did you guys have to do with orchestrating this trade and what was your guys’ reaction once it came together?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “Actually, we didn’t talk much about the trade. I told a few guys Washington in Miami like at Christmas break. We just have a dinner and talk a little bit. I mentioned that it would be nice to play (together) but you never know. You are just the player. The GM’s got to do what is best for their teams. When I got a call from Berg, we would talk and I just feel like it was a great place for me to go because in a way I didn’t play much this year and I missed almost a month. When I get there (Montreal), the team was great. The atmosphere, it’s unbelievable. I was there for a month and a half, but it felt like home. Then the trade happened so obviously I was happy because it’s a great chance to achieve something special. I am pretty sure in the end, all the Russian guys who know me there, they were asked by their GM about me. I don’t think he (Ovechkin) was calling the GM and pushing.”
Cam & Strict (31:13): You signed the huge contract in New Jersey, the 100 million dollar contract, and you leave to go back to Russia. People assumed that you just made the decision and just left. How difficult was it? What was the hardest part of making that decision to head back home for five seasons?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “I don’t know if anybody know, but in that contract my first two years, the salary was lower than my average so I was making I think six million a year. When I left, everybody thought I took the money and left and blah blah blah, but actually I think it was good for both sides because Jersey was really troubled back then. I think the owner wasn’t doing really well financially so I think the team was happy I made that decision. You remember lockout year, and I went back home and had so much fun there. You know, playing in front of your family, being close to your mom and stuff. It was important for my kids to go back to see where they are from because they were born here. A lot of little details and that’s when I went to Lou and asking if we can make it happen.”
Cam & Strict (33:05): So you grew up in Russia. Do you still live out there? Where do you have homes? I know you have a have a place in LA and I think Florida, too?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “We have a house in Moscow. We go back there usually in the summertime to see family.”
Cam & Strict (34:31): You left for five years to play in the KHL, who knows what your NHL numbers would look like if you would have stayed. You’d probably be approaching 600 goals, maybe even more. Is that something you think about? Does that bother you at all?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “No, no. I think I made a real good decision for myself because my Dad and my own goal was to win Olympics. Especially because my contract was up a year before I came back. When I found out that NHL was not going to go to Olympics, I decided to stay one more year because that was important for me. My dad passed away 12 years ago, but I think for me it was important to try to accomplish his goal and my goal as a kid. I did that and I think I am more healthier now than I was when I left. My back was bothering me and my shoulder and everything. So, it was a good decision for myself. Hockey is not everything in your life. I love it, it’s my favorite thing to do, but I have a family and I wanted to be healthy and have fun with my kids when I am done, too.”
Cam & Strict (36:00): Do your kids play hockey?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “Yeah, my younger one plays. He is 10 now. He is a righty so I gave him a chance. The other one he took the left-hand stick so I tell him you should play soccer, so he has played soccer.”
Cam & Strict (38:25): You have so many cool memories playing but one of the coolest things we’ve seen in hockey is when you and TJ Oshie went toe to toe, going back and forth, in Sochi. That was sick! Back and forth. You must have blown up after that, having to do 50,000 interviews. And give kudos to TJ Oshie too, by the way. Have you guys talked about it?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “We didn’t but you know why he’s scoring. I don’t know his percentage on penalty shots but he’s really skilled overall. You can see in practice, all those little things he did with the puck and stuff. He’s a great player obviously, but he beat both me and Datsyuk. We were switching every time and he was going and taking every shot.”
Cam & Strict (1:00:40): I wanted to ask you how you met your wife. I know she was a singer How did that go? Did you go to her concerts and meet her backstage?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “No, man, no. I was 18 and I was sitting at my little apartment in Atlanta. I have only one Russian channel and it was the music channel. The clips of the group they would play over and over again. I was like, who is this girl? So when summertime I went back home, I did a little research and that’s how I met her. I just invited her to the restaurant. We are the same age, we are both 36, 37 now. We met when we were 19 so it’s come a long way.”
Cam & Strict (1:02:45): What’s the story behind your TikTok videos?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “That is my kids. It takes me hours to learn the moves. For them, it’s a second. They are like, ‘Dad, are you serious? You do this.’ I am like, ‘Come on. Slow down a little bit.'”
Cam & Strict (1:03:00): How much longer do you want to play? Do you think you will stay in the States? Do you see yourself working in hockey and having a future? What do you want to do?
Ilya Kovalchuk: “I want to play. I feel good. The last two years, I played I think 60 something games so I am ready to go. I am hungry. I want to play. When hockey is fun, it’s fun. You know, as soon as it becomes a job, I will be done. Right now, I am having fun. I am training hard and trying to keep myself in shape and do well. We will see. I am never going to project how many more years I am going to play. For now, with everything happening, you never know but we are going to go through this together and hopefully, hockey and all the sports will be back soon. Fans will be cheering for us too because to play games without the fans would be crazy. I think it’s stupid and not worth it.”
Headline photo courtesy of NBC Sports Washington
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