It has been over seven months. On July 10, 2013, New Jersey Devils fans were going into the season with a replenished top nine and some newly found optimism. The next day, Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement.
Since then, the Devils have had an up and down season and have been trying to find a way to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. They clearly built this whole team around what they thought Kovalchuk would do for them.
Today’s Team USA vs. Team Russia game was the first time people who live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean watched Kovalchuk play since he “retired.” They saw a lot of him throughout the game. He played on all six Russia power plays. He was the last guy to go for the Russians in the shootout, and had four total attempts. He tied the shootout at one a piece when it looked like the Americans had the game won. For any Devils fan looking to avoid his name as long as possible, today was a bad day.
The redemption came at the end, though. When T.J Oshie put the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky in the eighth round of the shootout, the USA bench erupted.
This win would not make Devils fans forget the pain that Kovalchuk caused them, but it sure helped. Seeing the look on his and Vladimir Putin‘s face was close to priceless. Beating him on his home ice, even with the controversy surrounding the game, was everything Devils fans wanted.
This could be even more than that. Russia and USA are beginning a huge rivalry that could eventually surpass the Canada USA rivalry. Kovalchuk saying that the NHL was not good enough was not only a slap in the face to the Devils, but to all of North American sports. His loss today was sweet for everyone, but especially sweet for the spurned Devils fans.
Nick Villano is the New Jersey Devils writer for Rant Sports. He also adds to the NFL, MLB and NBA content. You can follow him on Twitter here.