Alexei Kovalev, longtime Montreal fan favourite, retires
Alexei Kovalev, who thrilled fans for over four seasons in Montreal, has retired. (CP file photo).
Published Friday, March 22, 2013 9:36AM EDT
MONTREAL - Former Hab Alexei Kovalev, who often joked that he wanted to play in the NHL until age 50, has retired at age 40.
Kovalev had played for the Senators, Penguins, Moscow Oblast and Florida Panthers after leaving the Habs after the end of the 2009 season but many will remember him most fondly for the four-and-a-half seasons he spent in a Canadiens’ uniform.
Kovy, as he was known, scored 120 goals for the team, including 17 playoff markers.
Kovalev quickly became a fan favourite in Montreal after the team acquired him from the New York Rangers on March 2, 2004 for the low price of Josef Balej and a third-round draft choice that didn’t pan out.
Fans nicknamed Kovalev "The Artist" for his impressive stickhandling abilities and cheered his every move, particularly during his biggest season in a Canadiens’ uniform, which came in 2007-2008 when he netted 35 goals and 84 points in 82 games, plus 11 points in 12 playoff games.
Kovalev, who overcame a heart condition as a child, gave generously to children’s charities and boasted an ability to pilot planes, helicopters, scuba dive and play saxophone.
He recalls on his website that his father made him his first makeshift skates by tying blades to his felt boots, which he used to skate over frozen puddles and soccer fields in his native Togliatti, Russia.
He switched to his sister’s figure skates before getting his own equipment and excelling sufficiently to be drafted 15th overall by the New York Rangers in 1991.
Kovalev publicly regretted his refusal to re-sign with the Canadiens in 2009, souring his stay with Ottawa when his regret became public.
He had played only 14 games this season with the Panthers, netting two goals and three assists for five points.
He retires with 1029 points in 1316 regular season NHL games.
Click here to see a photo gallery of some of Kovalev's moments with the Habs.