Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 11/05/07 at 05:04 PM ET
from Darren Eliot at Sports Illustrated,
Many people are going to jump to the conclusion that Ilya Kovalchuk’s amazing run of goal-scoring—nine in seven games—is a direct result of the Atlanta Thrashers removing head coach Bob Hartley after the team’s 0-6 start. Well, that assessment might be right for the wrong reasons.
You see, the coach and the prodigy co-existed for four-and-a-half seasons. Hartley brought needed structure and consistency to both a young franchise and a young player with star potential. But once it was clear that Kovalchuk had absorbed the lessons of accountability, his offensive verve wasn’t quite the same. His kinetic dashes down the left wing—once filled with the promise of brilliance—became tempered, or even worse, predictable.
Update 3:41pm ET
Transcript of Kovalchuk’s NHL press conference call today:
Q. Ever since Don Waddell took over as coach, your level of play has moved to another level. Can you talk about what the good karma is between you and Waddell?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: He’s the reason why I’m here, in Atlanta, I mean. He is the one who picked me first overall in the draft in 2001, and now it is my sixth year. I’ve got a really good relationship with him.
But now he is the coach, so just like it’s business. He is the coach, I am the player. But you know when you’re 0?6 from the start, you expect they’re going to do something, and they fired the coach so that was a little bit like a shock for the team. And everybody start, I think prepare themselves better. And we just started playing for each other, And that’s the key. We start to win the games and get some points. That’s the most important thing.
Q. It seems though that since he took over, he’s sort of given you keys to the car and said just go out and do it. I mean, do you sense that he’s counting, I don’t know if counting on you more is the right term, but he’s saying to you, you know, go out and be Ilya Kovalchuk?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Yeah, but you know I want to say a huge thanks for Bob Hartley, because he is the guy who teach me a lot. And I think he’s done a lot of great things for the Thrashers organization. Because before he came here we got teams who were like 20 games during the regular season, and it wasn’t even fun. Because we just go there and play, and first week of April, we go for vacation, this wasn’t fun.
So he’s make a good team. We make a playoffs last year, and you know, we were 6?0. So I don’t think it’s all his fault. But that’s life, so what are you going to do?
But for me, Don, he said just work hard, play your best. We’ve got little bit different system now. We move more with the speed and we try to create some more offensive opportunities. So that’s kind of my style of hockey, so I really enjoy it.
Q. You have 12 goals now and six came in a bunch. But do you put marks on yourself like you had 42 last year, I think 52 the year before. Do you ever think of 60? You’re on that pace now. Is that something you think of?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: I never think the first season how many goals or how many points I’m going to score. I just go there and play my hardest and play my best. Coach puts you in there, he expects for me to score not maybe every shot, but that’s why I’m there. To score goals and make good plays and help my teammates for a good chance, so that’s my job to do.
Q. With the start to your season there was a change made, and do you sense that there is now because the GM is on the bench coaching, is there more accountability held to the guys now? Because now the boss man is on the bench doing the job, too?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Yeah, you know, but he’s the GM, he’s the coach now, yeah. But at the same, he is a great person. He’s always going to talk to you if things didn’t go your way or you’re struggling a little bit. He knows who he needs to yell at or who he needs to just tell like relax and let’s play. He always got some right words to tell the guys. I think that’s very important.
Q. Did the guys, did you and the rest of the guys on the team feel as though you had to pick up the responsibility at that point? And do you feel as though that’s happened now? Which is why things have turned around a little bit. You’re 5?3 under him, and here he is the guy who does the wheeling and dealing for his team. He’s now seeing it firsthand on the bench. Did that add a little responsibility to your job?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Yeah, for sure. Because you know that’s why we get paid. We got four, five guys on the team who make a lot of money. And that’s our responsibility, first of all, to carry the team even when we were a little bit struggling. So that’s what we’re trying to do. But you can’t do everything by yourself. So we want to win the game, and everybody works hard. Starts from the goalie and the players, you know, everybody plays well, everybody plays for each other. We stick together, and that’s where the point’s going to come from, if we’re going to play together.
Q. There is obviously a need for you to score. If you score ?? for this team to win, there is a need for you to score. Do you feel that as a pressure?filled position at all, that you have to go out and produce at all?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: No, it’s not a pressure, that’s fun pressure. Coach gives you the opportunity to go there and do your job, that’s why you play hockey. When you feel your coach, your teammates, they trust you and they want you to score. When you score, it’s everybody’s excited and that’s a great feeling.
Q. Talk to me real quick about these last two games. In the NHL for you it hasn’t happened back?to?back tricks. What is it like? Do you just have that feeling like it’s just going to go in? Is there a zone that you’re in when you’re playing like that?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: No, I think it’s all about the hard work. Like we were down 5?0 in Ottawa, and just we came in second before the third period. And we just can totally get loose. They could score more or let’s just build something for the next game and play our best hockey. That’s what we do. We almost tie the game and then in Tampa we win the game. So I think that was really important.
Q. When you’re scoring like that at will, do you have the feeling that no matter what comes off your stick is going to go in the net?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Oh, gosh, you know you just try to score every time when you shoot. You have to shoot if you want to score. So if you’re not going to shoot, you’re not going to score.
So guys there create a lot of good opportunities for me. And they give me the puck at the right time and the right position, and I was just able to score.
So it’s all about the team work, and nothing is better than this.
Q. Do you still feel as though there is a significant amount of hope left for this team to get back to where you were last year in the playoffs?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Yeah, that’s our goal right now. Because we’re just 4 points behind. Last year we lose like 5 or 6 in a row, too. But it was like in the middle of the season, and nobody really thinks it’s a big deal. And this year, we got 6 right from the start, and plus we got into last year’s playoffs. So everybody was talking about it and that’s why we got the coach fired and all this stuff.
But still it’s a long amount in the NHL. You never know what’s going to happen. We’ve got 5?3, the last eight games, we’ve got 10 points. We’re back on track, I think. We just need to keep playing the way we’re playing right now and we’re going to be in good shape.
Q. It was a rough experience in the playoffs losing the way you did, four straight to the Rangers. But it was the first experience, and if you can turn this thing around completely and get back, how much does that experience matter to you at this point?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: Well, I think it’s huge experience, the playoffs experience. The guys who play there, they know how to win the games and what it takes to win the games. So it’s the most fun to play in the playoffs.
So for me personally, that’s why now I’m even more start enjoying the game, because I know if you’re going to do well and do your best, you’re going to be in good position to try to win the Cup. And the most important is all the fans are so excited about the playoffs and that’s exciting in the game because it’s always different hockey.
Q. In the playoffs last year it was a struggle. The six games this year was a struggle. How difficult was it? I mean, describe how your team lost 10 in a row a couple of months there. But what was it like? What was going through your head?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: It’s good we turned it around in the same season. You know, when you lose 4 in a row and you have a couple months vacation. I didn’t think about hockey when I’m on vacation, I’m trying to forget about it. But it’s tough.
Then you’re in training camp, we were pretty good. We were like in exhibition, we were like 6?2 or something. And then all of a sudden, you lose four in a row, and we weren’t even close. Like first four games were like 4?0, 5?1. It was not even funny. So we were all really pissed. Not at each other, but at ourselves. Because we worked really hard in training camp, and then all of a sudden a bad start and nobody was expecting that. But these things happen. That’s the game, that’s the NHL. So I hope we’re going to get back and get our spot in the playoffs.
Q. What difference did it make when the coaching change happened? Often you do get a bounce like when a new coach steps in, what difference did it make to the team?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: What difference? I don’t know. The way that our system now it’s a little bit different. We got a lot of young guys who want to play, the fast guys, the skill guys who are trying to use more speed. We try to go in our zone more, and just to try to find the puck when you’re in good speed and create some offensive opportunities so the team can take some penalties. I think that’s the key with the drills.
Q. And not trying to give any disrespect to coach Hartley, but do you think the coaching change has made the team play a little better right now?
ILYA KOVALCHUK: He is the reason why we’re playing. Like last year we’re playing good because of him. This year we play, we changed the system around, but in all the training camp he was the head coach. So you know, we can’t lose already two games and we were like 6?0. If you’re the owner for sure they need to do something, and they decide to fire the coach. But I don’t think he was the reason why we were losing, so.
I don’t know. But it’s always like when the GM behind your back and you feel like you have to play your best. You have to work hard I think that’s what happened there.
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