24 February 2021 Kovalev
Today the Dragons’ head coach Alexei Kovalev celebrates his 48th birthday. During a stellar career, he justly earned fame as one of the brightest talents in the hockey world as he collected a catalogue of titles and awards. Everyone who played a part in his road to the top can feel proud of their contribution to that process: from Lada Togliatti, where he learned the game, to Dynamo Moscow, where he made his top-flight debut. And beyond, to the national team bosses who were not afraid to include a young forward on the Olympic roster for Albertville just weeks after he won World Junior gold.
Our club, too, can take pride in its contribution to AK-27’s legendary career: right here, with Kunlun Red Star, Alexei Vyacheslavovich began his coaching career. And, in a few short steps, Kovalev has embraced a wealth of varied experience from the bench. When he arrived at the club in 2018, he spent one season as assistant to Finnish head coach Jussi Tapoli, then worked with American Curt Fraser before stepping up to the top job last summer.
The circumstances of that first season behind the bench were far from ideal. The pandemic disrupted sport all over the world and our club suffered more than most. Our newly-appointed Dragon master found himself in a true ‘sink-or-swim’ situation as he began his time as head coach.
Of course, every new challenge begins with acquiring and learning from new experiences. And Alexei’s experience this season went far further than many coaches enjoy in a lifetime. As a player, Kovalev set several records. These included distinguished honors, such as the most NHL games for any player from the former USSR, and unusual ones, such as playing the longest shift in modern pro hockey under the unpredictable Mike Keenan (another illustrious name who would later connect with the Dragons). Now, surely, he is in contention for a coaching record: who else has worked with so many players in a single season at this level of hockey. In the KHL alone, Red Star has used 55 players; including summer camps and warm-up games, the number exceeds 70.
Clearly, not every experience this season has been pleasant, but all of it forms a useful learning curve. In sport, as in life, we grow through overcoming difficulties. And the harder the first steps of a journey, the easier the path becomes in future.
Today, as we wish Alexei Kovalev a Happy Birthday, we are sure that all the challenges that he encountered in his first season as head coach will be forged into positives. And we have no doubt that the best is yet to come, and that Alexei’s coaching career can achieve the same heights as his playing days.
Most of all, stay healthy, stay positive and keep faith in yourself, Alexei Vyacheslavovich. What so often helped you in the past will surely continue to assist in the future.