At the start of the conversation, the striker recalled how he ended up in the Boston locker room at the age of one and a half, where his father, Olympic champion Andrei Kovalenko, brought him. Nikolai already started skating in Yaroslavl, where he later started playing hockey at the Lokomotiv school under his first coaches Evgeny Perov (now working in Spartak) and Eduard Timashev. And at the age of 11, Kovalenko Jr. suddenly decided to “leave” hockey, having “tormented” himself for some time at CSKA school …
“They didn’t see me in the first two links of the updated Ak Bars”
“That’s where they brought me,” smiles Kovalenko. – I played very little at CSKA, I went out on the ice in the fourth row, and after the games I was often in tears. He said that “everything, I don’t want to suffer anymore. I try, I work not only in training, but also at home, and the coach does not trust me at all.” After all, even the parents of my teammates called me a “lighter”, because he there was always more than enough energy…
And in this difficult time for me, dad found the right words, reassured me. And then, when I was already 13, I returned to the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv school to Eduard Timashev, who always believed in me.
– Andrey Kovalenko ended his hockey career in 2008, when you were eight years old. Have you often seen him on the ice?
– I almost do not remember live matches with his participation. It would be great to see him play at a more conscious age. I remember the box where the wives of hockey players with children were – there I always managed to frolic with my peers … But I saw a lot of my father’s matches on video: the team national, the NHL, the champion years of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv …
– Lokomotiv became a native club, but the last season there was not very successful for you. You said that the head coach Andriy Skabelka “was written off, not giving the opportunity to realize himself in the team”.
– At one time, with my friend Donat Stalnov, we watched a lot of Lokomotiv matches and we dreamed of playing for this club in the KHL. When I arrived there, I was really happy. But everything is always good, apparently, does not happen. There were also unpleasant moments.
By the way, at the end of the 2021/22 season at Ak Bars, my first thought was to return to Lokomotiv. The agent negotiated, but something went wrong. Received an offer from “Torpedo”. I immediately accepted and decided not to consider any other proposals from the clubs.
– At Ak Bars you returned to Dmitry Kvartalnov, who until 2019 worked at Lokomotiv.
– I am grateful to Kvartalnov for believing in me in Yaroslavl, for giving me the opportunity to play in the KHL, to enter the ice in the playoffs at the age of 18. And in Kazan I felt the confidence of the coach, I played both in the majority and in the minority … But still, the season in Ak Bars, I think, was not very successful for me. Highly unresolved injury received in October of last year.
– Then, in a collision with Dynamo Moscow Andrey Pedan, after a knee to the head, you received a concussion and missed two months …
“It was the first serious injury in my career. Recently the league started to fight rudely and the referees started judging more harshly. Of course, that’s right. I hope the duration of the career number of many players will increase.
– You had a contract with Ak Bars until the end of the 2022/23 season. But in the Kazan club, Dmitry Kvartalnov was replaced by Oleg Znarok and…
– I was no longer seen in the first two links of the updated Ak Bars. They said to look for another club or Ak Bars would take care of the exchange itself. But, as my mother often says, whatever happens is for the best. And I’m very, very happy that my agent found an option with Torpedo.
“Makar and his full-back would probably have run faster than me”
— When I see cuts of your goals, I remember Andrey Kovalenko’s game. Someone says the style of play is similar, someone disputes that, mentioning that the dimensions are different… What do you say?
– Recently, probably, there is something similar. Firstly because the hockey that Igor Nikolaevich Larionov instills in Torpedo is reminiscent of the hockey my father played.
But, of course, there are differences. It seems to me that twenty or thirty years ago, hockey players were physically stronger and could both play combination hockey and break through the defense and climb into the patch, which my dad often did. True, they told me that I reminded him of skating. Good to hear it.
– You were born in American Raleigh – the capital of North Carolina. When you came back to Russia with your father, you weren’t even two years old. More visits to Raleigh?
– Not. Although since then he has been to America several times: he rested with his parents, took part in friendly matches, twice took part in the Colorado training camp …
– In 2018, you were selected in the sixth round of the NHL Draft at number 171. Can you tell us a little more about training camp?
“I was there right after the draft, and also in 2019. The emotions are only positive. In addition to the practices and games, the cultural program was memorable. We also went golfing and took part in an air tournament hockey. By the way, many Colorado leaders fought, including the general manager and the head coach. I also remember the trip to the fire station…
In general, they were able to work and relax, as well as the whole team. Such an “aftertaste” remains! As if there was no hard training.
– After that, the dream of playing in the NHL became more real?
– I maintain good relations with the representatives of Colorado. They are interested in my projects, they are waiting at home. But I think you have to get stronger in the KHL first, and then think about playing in the NHL club. If you can’t be one of the best here, then at least gain experience and prove yourself at this level, become a man. After all, no matter what, I think the KHL is better than the AHL. And in training camp, I realized it was too early for me in the NHL.
– Did you support Colorado in the last playoffs?
– But how! I’m very happy for the team that won the Stanley Cup 21 years later.
By the way, I played in training camp against Cale Makar, who received the Conn Smythe Trophy this year. One of the scouts told me that I once “shot” him so well. To be honest, I don’t even remember this episode. Makar amazed me even then – he didn’t understand how a defender could run faster than me. He probably would have run faster with his back forward than me with my face (laughs).
“We have no hazing, no bands”
– I know you consider Pavel Datsyuk your hockey idol, who, by the way, was selected by Detroit under the same 171st draft pick (20 years before Nikolai Kovalenko). Now in the world there is probably no equal to Connor McDavid. The question is simple: Datsyuk or McDavid?
– It’s obvious to me – Pavel Valeryevich Datsyuk. And just like that – only by name and patronymic. I have a lot of respect for him, and his gifts (T-shirt and cap) have become priceless relics for me. The T-shirt, on which he wrote “Kolya, Never Stop Training”, is now in a glass frame – like a picture.
– Igor Larionov helped Datsyuk get used to the NHL. Now he’s counting on you as one of Torpedo’s leaders.
– I know him since a long time. Back to when I used to go to practice for the “Hockey Legends”, which my father played for. And sometimes he even trained with them!
Largely thanks to Igor Nikolaevich, I found myself in Torpedo. Any player will probably want to work with such an exceptional hockey player and unique coach. I’m very happy that hockey players from other teams say this: “You play hockey for everyone. If only we could play under Larionov. Agree, such remarks from rivals are worth a lot. And for the first time I heard such statements during pre-season.
I’m really proud of my new team. We don’t have “hazing”, no bands. We’re all together – and not just during hockey. And this is also a great merit of our head coach who, obviously, created the team taking into account not only the playing abilities of hockey players, but also their human qualities.
– Larionov repeatedly in an interview called you either a Tank or a Little Tank. I understand that the father’s hockey nickname (Russian tank) has already migrated to the son. Which of the “tanks” do you still call yourself in the team?
– That’s right – a small tank. Sometimes – Tanchik or Koval.
Text: Alexey Khitryuk
Source : MatchTV
I am Sandra Jackson, a journalist and content creator with extensive experience in the news industry. I have been working in the news media for over five years. During this time, I have worked as an author and editor at various outlets producing high-quality content that attracts readers from different demographics.