The Philadelphia Flyers have a tradition that I have yet to fully understand. Every time the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town, they boo the hell out of Sidney Crosby. That I get - it's like the unofficial hobby of the NHL. But Flyers fans boo him more than they cheer their own team, which is what I don't grasp.
And they continue to boo him after he lights them up game after game after game.
Some players just get motivated by crowd hatred and by jeers. Crosby's one of those players, and he always seems to find a way to make fans pay. Atlanta Thrashers fans should have discovered by now that they have their own Crosby, and that's Ilya Kovalchuk. They boo. He scores.
Thrasher fans laughed at the Devils over the summer when they spent far too much money on Kovy. They enjoyed it when the Devils got off to such an atrocious start, although that had less to do with Kovalchuk and more so to do with inept coaching. We really enjoyed ourselves when the team was going on that tear in November and December. Then the two teams' fortunes flip flopped. We stopped paying so much attention to New Jersey and started having a collective panic attack trying to figure out how a season with so much promise could implode in such an awesome manner.
He was booed the last time the Devils were in Atlanta in December. He was booed when he was announced in the starting line-up. He was booed every time he touched the puck...and of course he scored the lone goal in the 7-1 rout which put the Thrashers in first place in the division (remember that? Good times). A fight almost broke out between two men next to me regarding if Kovy should be cheered. Of course he shouldn't, because he's not on the Thrashers any more, but the guy taking the opposite stance of the gentleman who thought we should clap was borderline violent about how much he hated Kovalchuk. It was disconcerting.
Ilya Kovalchuk came back to town tonight, and it ceased being about the Thrashers and, yet again, became all about him. Some fans stopped caring about playoffs; they wanted to just take it to the Devils and win again in grand fashion - not to gain two points on them, but to show Kovalchuk what for. Instead of focusing on what the Thrashers were doing on the ice, they were too busy looking to see if Kovy was on the ice so they could boo him.
Fans said that he detracted from the team concept while he was here, and them trading him allowed the Thrashers to get back to what mattered - team first. It seems ironic to me that every time he comes here it becomes the Ilya Kovalchuk Hour, with everyone fixated on him.
I'm not saying don't be unhappy with him. No one liked him saying how much he wanted to stay in Atlanta for the entire season only to have him leave. It felt dishonest then, though it feels less so with the recent news about the ownership and franchise stability that has come to light. His excuses after the trade of "needing to think of what was best for his family" in terms of money made him seem to be greedy, and who knows? Maybe he is.
But he still owns nearly every offensive record in the Thrashers' record books. The fans here adored him every season he played for the Thrashers. He was our marquee talent. He's never said a bad word about the Thrashers or their fans in the press or in public.
Those aren't the reasons why fans shouldn't boo him. Fans shouldn't boo him because when you do, he does exactly what he did tonight. It's no coincidence that when the fans behind Pavelec started to chant "Kovalchuk sucks," he scored. Why you would chant that when he's standing there with the puck at a wide open net is beyond me - it strikes me as a bit stupid - but the look on Kovy's face when he slammed into the glass in celebration said it all.
You boo him? You give him motivation to remind you exactly why you loved him a year and a half ago. Focus your attention on the Thrashers, and not on Ilya Kovalchuk. He's not the one that matters anymore.