MONTREAL – Alexei Kovalev sat front and center, microphone and inquiring minds in front of him, the ice surface he had just conquered to his right and 6-year-old son, Nikita, to his left.
Of the youth sitting quietly by Kovalev's side, the biggest star of the 57th NHL All-Star game chose to identify him as, "Future hockey player, hopefully MVP like me," drawing a big laugh from the throng.
No pressure, kid, and best of luck.
The enigmatic Russian star had good reason to be feeling a bit giddy, even at the expense of heaping on his son some unrealistic expectations. Kovalev scored two goals in regulation and added another in a shootout to lead the East to a 12-11 victory over the West on Sunday at the Bell Centre. You see, having a big game and winning MVP honors really did mean something to Kovalev.
"When I heard that I'd been named as the captain of the team I said to myself I have one more left to get: MVP," Kovalev said. "I think that's going to be the full package that I'm going to remember the rest of my life."
Before you get the wrong idea, this was not Kovalev's ego talking. He has every intention of taking the truck he won as his award and donating it to charity. He named a couple possibilities: the Alex Kovalev Foundation, the Russian Gift of Life and others. His goal is to help children in need.
The fact he was in a giving mood afterward was appropriate since all weekend long he received nothing but support and accolades from his adoring fans, who couldn't have asked for a better script as the Canadiens hosted the All-Star gala during the centennial celebration of the club.
Kovalev was quick to add to that history by mentioning what it meant to be the first Russian All-Star captain and the fact he was the first captain wearing a Montreal sweater since Hall of Fame defensemen Larry Robinson.
"You can't ask for a better package than this," Kovalev said. "Get voted in the All-Star game by the fans – the starting lineup – being the captain, get MVP."
One of 10 players to collect a game-high three points, Kovalev scored his first goal to give the hosts a 3-1 lead late in the first when it appeared the East might run away. His second one, on a breakaway, made it 8-7 late in the second, and then he started to get snake bit.
He hit two posts and had to sweat out a Western Conference power play in overtime, the only man-advantage chance in the game, before reaching the All-Star game's second shootout and first since 2003.
He knew he'd be in the lineup as one of the East's first three shooters. He went second and scored the first of two consecutive goals against Vancouver's Roberto Luongo in the shootout (Alexander Ovechkin had the other) to ensure the victory.
"There's no way I'm going to miss that one," Kovalev said.
"He showed everyone why he's a world-class player and he really came through for us," East and Montreal teammate Mike Komisarek said of Kovalev. "He took it upon himself to go out there and put on a show, and that's exactly what he did."
This now becomes the latest feather in the hat for the 35-year-old, who was playing in a third All-Star game for a third different team. It looked like his career was on the downside when he managed 18 goals and 47 points during 73 games with Montreal in 2006-07. But Kovalev bounced back with 35 goals and 84 points last season. He has 12 goals and 33 points this season, the third-best production on the Canadiens.
"He's got all the talent and it really shows when he has the time and the room," Montreal and East goalie Carey Price said. "He never ceases to amaze me."
When you talk Canadiens, you're talking history. Kovalev becomes the fifth Montreal player to capture All-Star MVP honors since the award's inception in 1962. The others include Jean Beliveau (1964), Henri Richard (1967), Peter Mahovlich (1976) and Mark Recchi (1997).
"Everything is history with this club," Kovalev said. "You want to be part of it. And that's why it's important for me."