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Rookie gets notice for his goals, mouth

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

Thrashers rookie Ilya Kovalchuk is making a name for himself with his goal-scoring and his arrogance. That may result in payback down the road, and the Oilers will be first in line.

Kovalchuk, who has 27 goals, taunted the Edmonton bench Tuesday after scoring off a breakaway pass he received as he left the penalty box.

"I asked them if the stick was okay now," said Kovalchuk, who gave Atlanta a 2-1 lead on the way to a 3-2 victory.

He also pointed to the scoreboard.

"He's an idiot," Edmonton's Shawn Horcuff said. "No class."

What started the crazy scene?

It goes back to the YoungStars Game, played in Los Angeles the day before the All-Star Game, when it was noticed by some in the Oilers organization that Kovalchuk used a stick with an illegal blade.

The exaggerated hook is legal in Russia, where Kovalchuk is from. Though the Thrashers have asked Kovalchuk to change sticks, he has resisted. The Oilers used the information Tuesday.

Kovalchuk took the legal stick of teammate Shean Donovan to the penalty box. As Kovalchuk hit the ice after the penalty ended, fellow rookie Dany Heatley slid him with a perfect pass.

"They should be playing hockey, not measuring sticks," Kovalchuk said of the Oilers.

"He stuck it up our rear ends when he scored, but I guess he's too young," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "He's going to have to learn what goes around comes around. That's something that's going to be in the back of my mind for a long time."

MORE SQUABBLES: Rangers agitator Theo Fleury took a poke at Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek in the third period of Wednesday's game at Joe Louis Arena.

Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios took exception and the two spent an entire commercial timeout yapping at each other. Fleury said Chelios crossed the line.

"Very, very personal," Fleury said. "You can ask him what he said. I'll be giving Mr. Campbell a call."

That would be Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations and the league's top cop, who confirmed a call from Fleury but said, "All of what is said on the ice should stay on the ice."

The scuttlebutt is Chelios made mention of Fleury's past substance abuse.

When asked, Chelios said, "It's none of your business."

But he added, "Theo is bringing this on himself. It's unfortunate what has happened to him the past couple of years. There's a lot said on the ice."

CHEAP SHOTS: That's what Panthers coach Mike Keenan took at forward Ryan Johnson. The former Lightning center, out since Dec. 22 with a concussion, flew to Montreal to consult with concussion specialist Dr. Karen Johnson, who also treats Tampa Bay defenseman Petr Svoboda.

Said Keenan: "He doesn't feel he's getting any better, so maybe he'll get a little reassurance or find out where his career stands."

Keenan said Johnson should have been more aware of St. Louis' Tyson Nash, who hit Johnson from behind.

"The thing I don't understand is why does a player not see that coming," Keenan said. "I don't know if it's the facemasks. I asked him, "Why couldn't you see that player coming?' He said he got hit from the blind side."

SPEAKING OF KEENAN: Campbell said there are no rules to keep a coach from visiting referees before a game as Keenan has been doing. During or after a game: a $25,000 fine.

ODDS AND ENDS: There will be a trade freeze during the Olympic break, beginning at 2 p.m. Wednesday. ... Montreal's Saku Koivu said doctors have told him his cancer is in remission and he is "completely clean." He said he wants to play this season. ... Calgary assistant Brian Skrudland, who played in Montreal with former Devils coach Larry Robinson, said he doesn't necessarily want New Jersey to turn things around. "I almost hope it doesn't work out because it's too bad that a good man has to lose his job," he said. "To fire a coach is the easy thing to do. It's too bad." ... It doesn't happen often, but the Coyotes' leading goal-scorer, center Daniel Briere, who has 22, plays on the fourth line. "It's not really a question of whether you're No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4," Briere said. "We have four lines that can roll out there and everybody is chipping in.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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