By now we’ve all seen the infamous Ilya Kovalchuk shootout gaff from Wednesday night. If the rock you live under is that big and you haven’t seen the video, here it is in all its glory:
I’m not a New Jersey Devils fan, nor am I a supporter of this past summer’s most annoying UFA story, but I’m going to defend Kovalchuk.
Anyone who’s played hockey knows from time to time ice can have bumps and ruts in it. Even after the ice is cleaned by a zamboni. The focus is magnified because it’s Kovalchuk, the $100 Million man, playing for the league-worst Devils. No other player making the exact same mistake would have generated the same amount of attention.
Skilled hockey players like Kovalchuk don’t put too much weight on their sticks when handling pucks, especially when there’s no other players on the ice (like in a shootout). Having your stick a millimeter or two off the ice when moving the puck from backhand to forehand can be enough to lose control of the puck (like in the video).
Making the transition from rough and choppy ice (“old ice”) to smoother and slightly wetter ice (“clean ice”) isn’t always easy. No two patches of clean ice feel exactly the same. I’m not making excuses for a world class player like Kovalchuk, and obviously several other players adjusted fine in the same shootout, but I think this play has been sensationalized a bit too much because of the player involved. Maybe the puck hit a rut. Maybe the puck didn’t slide on Kovalchuk’s blade like he expected it to. Sometimes clean ice does weird and unpredictable things. It happens.
Again, I’m not making excuses for Ilya, he’s a big boy and a lot is expected of him. I’m simply saying this story wouldn’t have been as big if it was any other player making the mistake. The part that killed me the most was the commentator saying “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” That’s a pretty outrageous comment. This isn’t the first time an NHL player has screwed up a shootout attempt in the history of shootouts. It’s not even the first time something like this has happened this season. It probably won’t be the last shootout gaff this season either.
The reality is this happens to from time to time. It’s really not that big of a deal.