Alexei Kovalev enjoying his career year
Updated: Sunday February 04, 2001 8:23 AM
But the Penguins' Alexei Kovalev has a certain distinction those two can't boast. He was the first Soviet player taken in the first round in the NHL Entry Draft. His Russian accent is still strong like a bear, and so are his 2000-01 stats. Kovalev is on pace to record career highs in goals, assists and points, and he notched his first All-Star appearance this season.
1. What is life like in Togliatti, Russia?
It's not really a big city, fairly small. It's a city that makes a lot of cars, like Detroit, but it is nowhere near the size of Detroit. And there are a lot of factories. But, it's just a small quiet town where there's not much to do, unlike Moscow.
2. What's the difference between Moscow and New York City?
There are a lot of tall buildings in New York City and they are all right next to each other. In Moscow, the buildings are more spaced out and not nearly as tall.
3. New York City has a tendency to shock people because it's another world.
I came to New York before I was drafted by the Rangers [15th overall pick in 1991] when I was on the junior national team. But it was neat for me to see at the tall buildings and the Statue of Liberty. And it looked cool from far away, much like what you see on TV. When I would watch an American movie, I did not believe that was a real city. I thought it was a joke. But then I realized that the city was exactly like the movie and I was amazed.
4. Do you see yourself as a pioneer or role model to younger Russian players since you were the first one taken in the first round of the NHL draft?
I never really think about that. I'm just very happy to be playing for the NHL. Yet, I know I have to go out there and prove them I was worth that pick. I just have to show them my game and what kind of player I can be. When I got traded to Pittsburgh, I got more playing time and more chances to become a complete player.
5. Describe how important this first All-Star appearance is for you.
Making any appearance, All-Star or national team, it gives you a lot of confidence. In the All-StarGame , you play against all the top players in the world. I'm very proud of the honor. In junior nationals, you're grouped with all the best players from different cities in Russia. But this is completely different. These are the best in the world.
I'm glad I finally made it to an All-Star Game. I hope I can do many more times.
6. Do you like the All-Star format -- North America versus the World?
I do. Canada has a lot of great players, and the United States, too. Match them up against the best Europeans in hockey and it always makes for a fun game.
7. Describe your feelings on winning the Stanley Cup and erasing the Ranger jinx.
It was pretty emotional. That's the one goal every NHL player strives for. New York had not won in 54 years and when we did, the city went crazy. All the fans were very excited and the parade that next day was incredible. Going to Broadway and celebrating was amazing.
8. You were one of the few players, who has played with Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier. Who's the best player?
They're all great players, so it's hard to say which one is best. They play all different styles. Gretzky was very fast and got many goals that way. Messier was a great passer and a real good shooter. Mario has great hands and can alter his game to different levels. When they all play together, it's very hard and a complicated thing. You can't predict what they are going to do.
If you could take something out of each one of the players -- Mario's patience and how well he works the puck, Messier's passing ability and leadership, and Gretzky's speed and ability to score -- you would have the ultimate player. But they way they all see the game is what is best about all those players.
9. Is it odd to see your boss on the ice with you, practicing and playing alongside the team?
Once he puts on that uniform, no one looks at him as the owner. They see him as one of our teammates. He's still a young guy, so it's very difficult to view him as the owner. It's important for us to view him as a player and not as the owner. That way, there is no extra pressure on us when we make a mistake. Nothing has changed on this team since he got here, except that we got better.
10. Is he a stickler when you ask him for a raise?
(Laughs) I don't know. I haven't asked him for one yet.