Ilya Kovalchuk speaks out about his contract ordeal with the NHL

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for kovalchukwithstrangestatue.jpgWe’ve heard from just about everyone close to or involved in the Ilya Kovalchuk situation. We’ve heard from Lou Lamoriello, we’ve heard from his teammates but we haven’t heard from Ilya Kovalchuk himself. Until now. The always on the spot when it comes to Russian NHLers Dmitry Chesnokov from Yahoo’s Puck Daddy gets the exclusive first interview with Kovalchuk after the summer-long contract dispute with the NHL.

In it, Kovalchuk speaks his mind about the NHLPA representation and about how Brian Burke did, indeed, testify against his contract and others like it during the contract grievance arbitration hearing.

Two questions and answers stand out in particular from this great interview.

How did you feel when your initial contract was rejected right after you held a press conference in Newark?

What feelings could I have had? I was told that a rejection was a possibility. So, I was actually ready for it. Back then we didn’t know for sure that the contract would be approved. And then there was an arbitration hearing. But of course when I was told that the contract had been rejected, it didn’t feel good. But at the same time, New Jersey made another offer that ultimately satisfied everyone.

Do you feel that maybe the Players Association didn’t mount a good enough defense for you?

Not at all. Why? They presented their case entirely; they said everything they had to say. But ultimately it was up to the arbitrator who made a decision. There’s nothing criminal in this.

All in all, Kovalchuk’s handling of everything is pretty calm, cool and collected. I can’t say that if I were in his shoes I’d be as reasonable and seemingly mild-mannered given everything that went down to gum up the process. I’ll stress that everyone go to Puck Daddy to read the rest of the interview. Being that there aren’t any other writers out there able to get the kind of direct access to speak with players from Russia the way Chesnokov does, he’s doing a lot to help make the lines of communication more open and much clearer for NHL fans.

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    Kovalchuk scores twice, Russians outclass US 4-0 at Olympics

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ilya Kovalchuk scored two back-breaking goals as the Russians outplayed, outhit and outclassed the United States in a convincing 4-0 shutout Saturday night as each team wrapped up pool play at the Olympics.

    With the loss, the United States is guaranteed to have to play in the qualification round Tuesday. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed four goals on 26 shots, including Kovalchuk’s goals less than 33 seconds apart at the end of the second period and start of the third.

    Los Angeles Kings 2012 draft pick Nikolai Prokhorkin scored the Russians’ first two goals in a dominant performance.

    As close as the shots on goal were, the U.S. rarely generated the quality scoring chances against Vasily Koshechkin the Russians did around Zapolski, who played all three preliminary-round games. Koshechkin stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first shutout of the tournament.

    This night lacked the tense political subtext of the Cold War from their 1980 meeting and the pomp and circumstance of Russian president Vladimir Putin attending and the pressure on the home team in Sochi in 2014, but it had the same kind of in-arena atmosphere. U.S. and Russian fans filled Gangneung Hockey Centre and went back and forth with “U-S-A” and the “ROSS-I-YA” chants that made up the background noise at the Olympics four years ago.

    There was at least one disagreement in the stands between those fans and plenty more on the ice. Pushing and shoving followed countless whistles, and at one point U.S. forward Jordan Greenway and Prokhorkin got tangled up and came as close to a fight as players can without dropping the gloves.

    In a tournament full of mistakes, the U.S. made a couple to allow the Russians to take the lead 7:21 in. Alexander Barbanov had all the time in the world behind the net and dished the puck to KHL star Sergei Mozyakin, who found Prokhorkin free and clear in front for the deflection goal.

    Ryan Donato had the Americans’ best chance of the first late in the period when he pinged a shot off the crossbar behind Koshechkin. The Russians hemmed the U.S. in its zone late in the period, and the fatigue took its toll as the game went on.

    Left open on the rush as the U.S. was slow to backcheck, Prokhorkin scored his second goal 2:14 into the second, using a Jonathan Blum screen on Zapolski to make it 2-0. The U.S. spent the rest of the second period unable to convert on a delayed-penalty chance and a couple of power plays.

    Things tilted even further when Sergei Andronov held the puck away from U.S. defender Bobby Sanguinetti and passed it to Kovalchuk, whose shot went under Zapolski’s arm and in with 0.2 seconds left in the second. As if that goal wasn’t deflating enough for the U.S., Slava Voynov sprung Kovalchuk for a semi-breakaway and the former Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils sniper beat Zapolski clean 32 seconds into the third for a 4-0 advantage.

    NOTES: U.S. defenseman Will Borgen was a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game. Forward Jim Slater was also scratched. … David Leggio backed up Zapolski.

    ___

    Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

    Olympic streak over as Canada loses to Czechs in shootout

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    GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Czech Republic rallied twice to hand the Canadian men’s hockey team its first Olympic loss in eight years Saturday, riding goaltender Pavel Francouz to a 3-2 win in a shootout.

    Canada had won 11 consecutive games at the Olympics – the first 10 with NHL players – dating to a loss to the United States in pool play in Vancouver in 2010. Canada opened these games with a comfortable 5-1 win over the Swiss that confirmed its status as one of the favorites in the tournament.

    Still, Russia, the United States and now Canada have all lost in the preliminary round.

    ”The first 10 minutes I thought they had a little bit of an advantage but from that point on I thought we played hard,” Canada coach Willie Desjardins said. ”Lots of parts of our game were good. Now we just move ahead. This one’s gone, we don’t worry about it at all. We just move ahead to the next one.”

    Mason Raymond and Rene Bourque scored first-period goals for Canada, but Dominik Kubalik and Michal Jordan answered for the Czechs, who used a successful forecheck. The Czechs tied it up 35 seconds into the second period: Ben Scrivens, who had mishandled the puck seconds earlier, stopped a Michal Birner shot but Jordan banged in the rebound.

    ”We had one (goal against) with a couple chances to clear it and a sharp-angle shot that I probably want to have (back),” said Scrivens. ”Another one where they break in, throw it in the middle and hope for bounces, and they get one.”

    Canada outshot the Czechs 33-20 through overtime, but Francouz stood tall – particularly in the extra session.

    The three-on-three overtime on the big ice was frantic entertainment with quality scoring chances. Canada’s Derek Roy made some nifty rushes but couldn’t finish it off, while Mat Robinson broke up a two-on-one before losing the puck on a breakaway.

    Wojtek Wolski scored for Canada in the shootout while Maxim Lapierre, Roy and Bourque were all stopped by Francouz and Maxim Noreau hit the post on his attempt. Petr Koukal and Jan Kouvar scored for the Czechs.

    ”A penalty shot is 50-50,” said Czech forward Roman Cervenka. ”We were more lucky today.”

    The three group winners and the best second-ranked team advance directly to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight play, with the four winners advancing to the quarters.

    Canada will take on South Korea, a fledgling program that features a half-dozen Canadians, on Saturday while the Czechs face Switzerland. A Czech win in regulation will give them top spot in the group and a direct route to Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The Canadians would have to hope to be the best second-place team to join them there or else play a qualification playoff game Tuesday.

    ”We played hard,” said Desjardins. ”The time you worry is when you don’t play hard. Like if you give everything you’ve got, then what happens happens and you move on to the next game and you look for some adjustments and you come back ready.”

    More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

    The Buzzer: Hot Islanders goalies, Jets take off

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    Players of the Night

    • Much like Jaroslav Halak with his 50-save shutout last night, Thomas Greiss stole the show – and a shutout – for the New York Islanders, stopping all 45 of the Hurricanes’ shots on Friday. He probably deserves the top spot; you can read about his performance here.
    • Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele helped the Jets dominate the Avalanche 6-1. Wheeler collected two goals and one assist, while Scheifele generated three assists. Since returning from an injury, Scheifele is on a three-game point streak, collecting two goals and five helpers. Wheeler continued to produce without Scheifele, but like peanut butter and chocolate, they’re even better together.

    Note: if you go after them, you may have to answer to Dustin Byfuglien. That’d probably bad news for you.

    Highlights of the Night

    This was Patrik Laine‘s 16th power-play goal of 2017-18. Looks like his office covers a lot of ground/ice:

    Sean Couturier continues to be a revelation as a top-line center for the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring the overtime-winner against the Blue Jackets:

    Columbus carried a substantial shot advantage over Philly, but Sergei Bobrovsky made some great stops:

    Factoids

    Again, the Islanders’ shutouts are especially impressive because the defense has not been impressive.

    Quite a start to Patrik Laine’s career.

    Select company for John Klingberg.

    Jay Bouwmeester: 1,100 games, countless surprised facial expressions.

    Scores

    Flyers 2, Blue Jackets 1 (OT)
    Islanders 3, Hurricanes 0
    Jets 6, Avalanche 1
    Stars 2, Blues 1

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Fight video: Byfuglien keeps punching Greer

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    Even when he’s in a good mood, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien can be pretty scary. A howling slapper and intimidating size make him an imposing figure.

    When Byfuglien’s mad, though? Look out.

    It’s already been an ornery month for Byfuglien, who was fined $5K for slashing Washington Capitals forward Jay Beagle. That nastiness continued on Friday, as Byfuglien went after A.J. Greer of the Colorado Avalanche.

    As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Byfuglien kept punching Greer, even on the ice, and even as officials were trying to break things up.

    At least Byfuglien provided some comic relief during his time in the penalty box:

    So: don’t get Byfuglien mad, but do invite him to karaoke night?

    The Jets ended up handing the Avalanche a metaphorical beating, taking a decisive 6-1 victory.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.