Turnaround season has Kovalev, Habs buzzing

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Alex Kovalev was driving his father into town from the airport the other day when his proud papa noticed a number of tiny bleu-blanc-et-rouge flags flapping from a car antennae.

"My dad (Slava) had just arrived," Kovalev said yesterday. "It's his first time in Canada, and he said: 'What are all these flags about?'

"I told him: 'You'll see a lot more of those around. That's how excited the fans are right now.' "

The saturation of tiny Canadiens flags throughout Montreal is just one sign of how much Habs Fever has gripped this city. And the adulation toward their storied franchise extends to Kovalev, who has transformed the 2007-08 season into his own personal renaissance campaign.

With Slava sitting in the Bell Centre stands tonight when the Habs are home to the Maple Leafs, he will see his kid awarded the Molson Cup as the Canadiens player of the year.

The Kovalev love-in is a far cry from a year ago when fans were embittered at the alleged moribund attitude of the enigmatic Russian, who had scored just 19 goals while earning $4.5 million US.

With 83 points in 81 games this season, Kovalev has turned the public opinion in his favour, both on the ice and off. Not only is he being mentioned as a possible Hart Trophy candidate as league MVP, stores are having trouble keeping up with the demand for his hockey DVDs.

About 40,000 copies of the two-disc DVD set, titled Alex Kovalev: My Hockey Tips and Training Methods, were sold in Quebec just one week after becoming available.

Proceeds from the sales go toward a still-to-be-named foundation Kovalev is setting up to help kids with heart problems. It is a cause he can very much relate to.

When Kovalev was eight years old, doctors told him he had a heart disease and recommended he give up hockey. Instead of giving in, the boy set up his own diet and took medication until he was 12, all the while continuing to play the game he loves.

"I went through some hard times as a kid and I got through it," said Kovalev, whose condition, he claims, no longer is dangerous. "Now I have the chance to help others, too."

There are many theories for his turnaround this season. He was upset at his poor 2006-07 season; and at the fact he was passed over by Russian officials to play at the '07 world championship. But, most importantly, he was upset by those who claimed he was done.

"I have something to prove to myself," he said. "Besides, I can't imagine retiring. That would drive me crazy."


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