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Stu Cowan: Love affair with Canadiens' Ilya Kovalchuk keeps growing – Montreal Gazette

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The 36-year-old Russian is the most exciting thing to happen with the Canadiens in a long time, and GM Marc Bergevin has to realize that.

The Canadiens held their annual skills competition Sunday morning at the Bell Centre in front of about 15,000 noisy fans, with a lot of families and kids having a good time.

Ilya Kovalchuk put on his own skills competition with his two sons on a quiet outdoor rink in Verdun Friday afternoon. Kovalchuk posted a video of it on his Instagram page as he displayed some impressive stick-handling skills while his boys — Philipp and Artem — tried unsuccessfully to get the puck off him.

Kovalchuk celebrated by shouting “Ha! Ha!”

“His hands … you see those hands?” teammate Max Domi said with a big smile when asked about the video. “I feel bad for those kids. He literally doesn’t have mercy on anyone. That’s just part of who Kovy is, I guess.”


The Canadiens’ Ilya Kovalchuk hops over the boards on a line change during an NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Feb. 6, 2020.

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

Kovalchuk’s skills were on display again Saturday night when he scored in overtime to give the Canadiens a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre, with his wife and four children — including daughters Karolina and Eva — in attendance. They arrived in Montreal Thursday night from their home in California and are expected to spend a week here during a school break. Kovalchuk met his wife, Nicole Andrazajtis, in 2002 when she was a well-known singer in Russia as part of the group Mirage. Their children range in age from five to 14.

Friday was Philipp’s 11th birthday, and he asked his father to score a goal for him Saturday night.

“We gave him the PlayStation, but he said: ‘I want you to score a goal, that would be the best present,’ ” Kovalchuk said after the game. “So I think he would be satisfied, for sure.”

Kovalchuk’s kids were hoping to see snow in Montreal and they got plenty of it, with a storm dumping about 40 centimetres on the city Thursday and Friday.

“That was fun. It was great,” Kovalchuk said about his experience on one of the refrigerated outdoor rinks the Canadiens have opened in parks across the city. “I couldn’t believe they were cleaning the ice because it was snowing for almost two days. The one rink we went to was like four feet of snow, so we couldn’t skate. I almost went back to my apartment, but they said: ‘No, let’s check one more.’ So we were driving by that rink and the Zamboni was on the ice. I was like: ‘What the hell!’ So we went out there, and nobody was there because it was like windy and snow. But we had a blast. It was a great experience.”


Arthur Herrera-Charbonnier, 9, enjoys the Canadiens’ annual skills competition up close Sunday at the Bell Centre.

Christinne Muschi /

MONTREAL GAZETTE

Kovalchuk didn’t take any of the skills titles Sunday. The winners were Domi (fastest skater), Tomas Tatar (precision shooting), Jeff Petry (hardest shot, 104.9 m.p.h.), Brendan Gallagher (stick-handling and one-time accuracy) and Nick Cousins (shootout competition). But the 36-year-old Russian now has 6-6-12 totals in 15 games with the Canadiens. Three of Kovalchuk’s goals have been game-winners — including two in overtime — and he also scored a game-winner in a shootout. He’s a big reason why the Canadiens are 9-3-0 in their last 12 games, giving their playoff hopes a boost ahead of Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

“He’s happy,” Domi said about Kovalchuk. “He wants to win more than anyone, and that’s all that you can really ask for as a teammate. He does that with flying colours, so it’s great. As a young guy myself, there’s lots of guys you can learn from in this locker room, but I think he’s taught us all something every day so far since he’s been here.

“I think he might have the celebration of the year across the whole league,” Domi added about Kovalchuk throwing his hands into the air before pointing up at his family in the stands and then throwing himself into the glass after his OT winner. “It was great to see. He loves to score, he loves to win and I think we can all learn from him. He’s leading the charge with burying the puck right now, so it’s great to see.”

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This city has fallen in love with Kovalchuk, who is the most exciting thing to happen with the Canadiens in a long time. It has also been a long time since the Canadiens have had someone with such elite scoring skills, and now the pressure is on GM Marc Bergevin to try to keep Kovalchuk in Montreal beyond this season.

The fans love Kovalchuk, his teammates love him, he loves the city and — most importantly — he can still score goals.

When asked about the love Canadiens fans have shown him, Kovalchuk said: “That’s what I’ve been saying since Day 1. I feel like I was here for a long time. The fans, but the most important is the way the players welcomed me to the team, the leadership group and everybody. So it feels very good and it’s great to be part of it, for sure.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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Canada finishes preliminary round undefeated, top of group with win over Finland at world juniors – CBC Sports

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Ridly Greig was a little banged up after helping Canada to a big win at the world junior hockey championship on Monday.

Not only did the Ottawa Senators’ prospect score and contribute an assist in the 6-3 victory over Finland, he blocked some big shots when the Canadians ran into third-period penalty trouble.

“Whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to do anything for the boys or kind of get some momentum, I’m going to do it,” Greig said. “Whether it’s stand in front of a slap shot, I’m going to do it.”

Special teams were the difference maker on Monday, with the Canadians going 2-for-2 on the power play while Finland was 1-for-5.

The Finns got their second stretch of five-on-three hockey with less than five minutes left on the clock when William Dufour joined Ethan Del Mastro in the penalty box.

Finland pulled goalie Leevi Merilainen just as Del Mastro’s penalty expired and with the extra man Roby Jarventie put a puck in off the glove of Canadian goalie Dylan Garand to make it 5-3.

Dufour sealed the score at 6-3 with an empty-net strike 18:13 into the third.

The Finns had a prime opportunity to eat into Canada’s lead with a minute-long two-man advantage midway through the final period.

Donovan Sebrango was sent to the box for high-sticking and less than a minute later, teammate Will Cuylee was tossed from the game for a knee-on-knee hit.

Canada weathered being down two men, then chewed through the four remaining minutes of the major penalty without conceding a goal.

WATCH | Bedard, McTavish lead Canada past Finland: 

Bedard and McTavish stay hot in Canada’s win over Finland

14 hours ago

Duration 1:06

Mason McTavish set up Connor Bedard for a first period goal in Canada’s 6-3 round robin win over Finland at the world juniors.

“I thought our penalty kill was elite today, so many guys blocking shots. And that’s a great sign for a team that’s trying to win something,” said Canada’s captain Mason McTavish, who had a goal and two assists in the win.

“Finland, they’re a great team. I think they were 3-0 coming into this, their power play is ridiculous. So the fact that our PK stood up there with one of the best power plays in the tournament is huge for us.”

Connor Bedard scored and contributed an assist for Canada (4-0-0), while Dufour, Brennan Othmann and Tyson Foerester also found the back of the net. Olen Zellweger tallied three assists.

Joakim Kemell scored and contributed an assist for Finland (3-1-0) and Samuel Helenius rounded out the scoring.

Canada’s Garand made 22 saves and Merilainen stopped 31 of 36 shots for the Finns.

Important result

The result was an important one for Canada, who finished the preliminary round atop Group A. They’ll face Group B’s Switzerland (1-3-0) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Switzerland clinched its spot in the quarter-finals earlier on Monday with a 3-2 win over Austria (0-0-4).

Finland was disappointed with Monday’s result, said head coach Antti Pennanen.

“It was OK but it wasn’t enough. And we were angry after the game, that’s for sure,” he said.

A big goal early in the third whittled the Finns’ deficit to 5-2.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Topi Niemela fired a shot from the point and Kemell tipped it in from the slot for his third goal of the tournament.

Canada called for a coach’s challenge, arguing that the puck had gone off the netting before falling back to the ice ahead of the goal.

“The guys on the ice are generally the ones who can tell you what’s going on,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “My players were 100 per cent sure it went in [to the net]. So you trust your players.”

After an extended video review, officials determined the goal was good. The Canadians did not receive a delay-of-game penalty because officials said the review was “inconclusive.”

The Canadians dominated the middle frame, outshooting the Finns 20-5 and taking a 5-1 lead.

McTavish gave his country its second power-play goal of the game 16:17 into the period after Finland’s Rubin Rafkin was called for interference.

WATCH | Johnson scores highlight-reel goal:

Kent Johnson scores beautiful lacrosse-style goal at World Juniors

3 days ago

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The Port Moody, B.C. native and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect put Canada up 2-1 against Czechia just before the end of the 1st period in their preliminary round matchup.

Zellweger sent the Anaheim Ducks’ prospect a pass from inside the blue line and McTavish uncorked a one-timer that flew over Merilainen’s shoulder stick side.

Thirty-one seconds into the second, Canada went up 4-1 after the Finnish goalie bobbled a shot by Joshua Roy.

Greig slid in on one knee to put the rebound in the back of the net with his third goal of the tournament.

Canada went into the first intermission up 3-1 after a late Finland goal.

A knot of players battled for the puck behind the Canadian net and Finland’s Kalle Vasisanen came up with it. He sent a pass to Helenius at the high hash marks and the L.A. Kings’ prospect got a shot up and over Garland’s shoulder with 57 seconds left in the period.

17-year-old phenom

Bedard put away his third goal of the tournament in memorable fashion 17:19 into the first.

Canada was penned in its own zone for an extended period, but the 17-year-old phenom showed no signs of exhaustion when he collected a cross-ice pass from McTavish at the blue line and sped into the faceoff circle.

He then ripped a blistering shot past Merilainen, pinging the puck off the inside of the crossbar to make it 3-0.

A power-play strike boosted Canada’s lead to 2-0 midway through the opening frame after Helenius was called for slashing.

Greig’s shot ricocheted off Merilainen’s pad but Foerester was in position to poke the rebound in from the top of the crease as he slid past the net.

Finland got off to a strong start, outshooting the host nation 4-0 across the first five minutes of the game.

It was Canada that opened the scoring, though, 6:21 into the first.

Defenceman Zellweger fired a long bomb from inside the blue line and Othmann batted it in past Merilainen.

The play was reviewed for a potential high stick but the goal — Othmann’s second of the tournament — was determined to be good after officials reviewed the video.

Reigning champion Americans also undefeated

The preliminary round wrapped Monday night with Group B’s Sweden (3-1-0) registering a 4-2 victory over Germany (2-2-0).

Sweden will battle Latvia (1-2-1) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday while Germany will face Finland.

The reigning champion Americans (4-0-0) also went undefeated in round-robin action and will play Czechia (1-2-1), the country commonly known as the Czech Republic, in the quarter-finals.

The semifinals are scheduled for Friday and the medal games will go Saturday.

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Three Stars from Day 6 of WJC: Bergmanis steals the show in Latvia’s historical win – Sportsnet.ca

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In a slate of games featuring the likes of Sweden, Finland and the United States, the showstopper of Day 6 at the World Juniors was Latvia.

The tiny country notched its first ever win in WJC preliminary round play and by the same token hopped over Czechia and Slovakia into third place in Group A.

Latvian captain Ralf Bergmanis scored a hat trick and his team downed Czechia 5-3. They will play a World Juniors quarterfinal game for the first time in the country’s history.

Needless to say, the young men in burgundy were quite thrilled.

Finland had no pity for Slovakia and continued their solid run in the tournament with a 9-3 win. The Young Lions were 5-for-7 on the power play, sending their next opponents Canada a message to stay disciplined for their final preliminary round game on Monday.  

Slovakia saw their chances to play a quarterfinal game crumble before their eyes in the next game. Sitting in the stands, Slovak players held their heads in their hands as Bergmanis scored his third goal from across the ice into an empty net.

The Americans outpaced Sweden for most of their battle for first place in Group B. Goaltending woes allowed the Junior Crowns to hope for a comeback but the red, white and blue weathered the late storm to clinch a 3-2 win.

The Swedes will play Germany on Monday and the winner will end the preliminary round in second place.

Here is a look at the top performances from Day 6 of the World Juniors:

3rd star: Matt Coronato, USA

Coronato’s scoring ability is more than evident. If you give an inch, he’ll take a mile.

The five-foot-10 winger added two goals to his World Juniors tally and helped the Americans finish atop Group B. Coronato is now tied with his country-mate Carter Mazur as the tournament’s second-leading goalscorer with four.

The Calgary Flames’ 13th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft showed his eye for goal with his second marker of the night. Off a Swedish turnover, Coronato bagged the eventual game-winner with a sniper’s goal.

Coronato notched his first goal of the game in the second period when he pounced on a rebound from a shot by Logan Cooley. The soon-to-be Harvard sophomore made Sweden goalie Jesper Wallsted look bad by lodging the puck under his blocker and into the net.

2nd star: Kasper Simontaival, Finland

There’s no shame in being opportunistic, especially if it earns you points in return. Simontaival did exactly that to bridge the gap between the Finns and Slovaks. The winger finished the game with three points (two goals, one assist) including one assist on the power play. 

The LA Kings third-rounder in 2020 stood by the slot and pounced on a rebound to give Finland a power-play goal 34 seconds into the second period. The goal was later given to Roni Hirvonen, who had touched the puck last. 

Both players also combined in the first period, this time Hirvonen found Simontaival in the slot for the goal. 

Simontaival notched his second goal of the game in the third period when he was, once again, in front of the net. He redirected Aatu Raty’s pass in the back of the net and gave Finland an 8-3 lead. 

The 20-year-old even screened goalie Tomas Bolo for Finland’s ninth goal of the game courtesy of Kasper Puutio. Bottom line, sticking around dangerous areas is paying off for the five-foot-nine winger.

1st star: Ralfs Bergmanis, Latvia

Captain Latvia came through for the motherland. Charles and Nikolaj Boyle from Brooklyn’s 99th precinct would be proud.

Bergmanis opened his tournament account and finished the game as the hat trick hero, lifting his country into the knockout round. 

Bergmanis completed his hat trick in an empty net, from behind his own net. A rink-long shot sealed his team’s victory, as the disillusioned Slovak players watched their elimination from the stands.

[brightcove videoID=6310886309112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Latvia took a first-period lead and right as Czechia attempted the comeback with an equalizing goal in the second, the University of Vermont commit got to work. Bergmanis regained Latvia’s lead when his shot from the point in traffic found the back of the net. 

Bergmanis then gave his country a two-goal lead on the power play. From the point, the blueliner broke Frantisek Nemec’s ankles before beating Czech netminder Jan Bednar with a wrister. 

The 20-year-old is still undrafted but he sure made a lot of eyes look his way in one of the biggest games in Latvian junior hockey history. 

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Blue Jays activate Springer from IL, designate Zimmer for assignment – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Blue Jays have activated outfielder George Springer from the 10-day injured list ahead of Monday’s series opener against the Baltimore Orioles.

Outfielder Bradley Zimmer was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.

Springer has been on the IL with right elbow inflammation since Aug. 5. Interim manager John Schneider has previously said Springer is expected to slot in as the designated hitter once activated to allow the injury to continue to heal.

When healthy, Springer has made a major impact from the lead-off spot for the Blue Jays. In 89 games he has hit .251/.331/.464 with 18 home runs and 49 RBI, good enough to earn a selection to this year’s all-star game.

Zimmer was never able to make an impact beyond as a defensive replacement this season and his role was further limited by the addition of free-agent Jackie Bradley Jr. last week. The 29-year-old Zimmer was brought in to provide some depth as a left-handed bat and appeared in 77 games, hitting .105/.209/.237.

The Blue Jays outfield, now healthy, consists of Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Bradley, Jr., with Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio available as platoon options.

Yusei Kikuchi will be on the mound when the Blue Jays host the Orioles in the first of three games Monday night. You can watch the game on Sportsnet and SN NOW beginning at 7:07 p.m. ET.

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