The Colorado Avalanche employed Andrei Kovalenko only briefly, but he had a big impact on the team in his own way.
The Colorado Avalanche in their 24-year history have had players from pretty much every hockey-playing nation. Granted, they were pretty Canadian-centric for a while, but these days they have players representing from the following countries:
- Czech Republic
*Andre Burakovsky is Swedish, but he was born in Austria from when his father was playing there.
Anyway, when you think of the Avs and Russians, you might think of current defenseman Nikita Zadorov, or recently departed (to New York) goalie Semyon Varlamov. You might even remember the great Valery Kamenski. But maybe right wing Andrei Kovalenko isn’t high up on your list.
Well, there might be a good reason for that — he only played 26 games for Colorado. He was drafted by the organization in the eighth round (when that was still a thing) in 1990, but that draft year should tell you it wasn’t the Colorado Avalanche doing the drafting — it was the Quebec Nordiques.
Indeed, he played 184 games for the Nordiques. And he did come over when the franchise was sold and moved to Colorado. He started the 1995-96 as part of that inaugural team.
Kovalenko did well in his short stint and an Avalanche. He recorded 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in those 26 games. Let’s look at the few that transcended the analog age to the Youtube era.
First of all, Kovalenko must forever be a part of Avs lore because of his fellow Russian, Valery Kamenski. Perhaps you know that Kamenski scored the first-ever goal for the Colorado Avalanche. Kovalenko had an assist on that goal:
Colorado went on to win that game, 3-2, against the soon-to-be-rival Detroit Red Wings.
Here’s a sharp reminder that we’re looking at analog, not digital:
Still, it’s a nice goal on a pass from our great, Peter Forsberg. Unfortunately, this was a game Colorado lost against the Rangers in New York. (The team was still 15-6-4 on December 1, and I would celebrate that at any time.)
Here’s a goal Andrei Kovalenko scored against the Calgary Flames in November. The Avs went on to win 5-2:
Two things. One, that’s a nice, hard-working goal from the winger. Two, man, it’s weird now to see players without visors. Yet in that time period, very few players wore visors.
One of the last goals Kovalenko scored for the Colorado Avalanche came on November 25, 1995. The team was playing against the Montreal Canadiens. Patrick Roy was in net, and Andrei managed to get the puck past him:
It wasn’t a pretty goal, but the puck made its way into the net.
Here’s more from that game:
This game is noteworthy because of the two goalies in net. Roy is playing for the Canadiens, Jocelyn Thibault for the Avalanche. A little over one week later, Patrick would have his franchise-changing tantrum that led to his trade to Colorado. Thibault headed to Montreal. And so did Andrei Kovalenko.
And that’s why he only ever played 26 games for the Colorado Avalanche. But he was also franchise-changing because he brought the best goalie ever to the Avs, who in turn brought the first-ever sports championship to Colorado.
Andrei Kovalenko has a little more to offer to the Avalanche franchise — his offspring. Colorado drafted his son, Nikolai Kovalenko, in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft. The younger Kovalenko is still playing in the KHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
Maybe one day Nikolai, like his father before him, will transcend his late-round drafting and play for his NHL team, the Colorado Avalanche.