AS ALEXEI KOVALEV (27) AND SERGEI ZUbov (21) drew another swig
from Lord Stanley's Cup on Tuesday night, they may have recalled a
less idyllic scene from another playoff in another league in another
After the New York Ranger regular season ended in April 1993,
Kovalev and Zubov, who had spent most of their rookie seasons as
part-time performers with the big club, were dispatched to the
Rangers' minor league affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., for the American
Hockey League playoffs. Six games into the postseason, however,
Binghamton coach Colin Campbell, frustrated by Kovalev's and Zubov's
increasingly indifferent play, banished the two to the stands of
Binghamton's Memorial Arena for the decisive seventh game, which the
team lost 3-2 to the Rochester Americans.
Zubov's woes increased four months later when he arrived at the
Ranger training camp out of shape and overweight. New Ranger coach
Mike Keenan threatened to exile him forever to Binghamton, perhaps
the closest thing to the gulag that Keenan could think of. Suitably
terrified, the 23-year-old Zubov worked his way back into trim and
gradually became one of the NHL's premier defensemen. With his daring
rushes and blistering shot, he finished the regular season with a
team-high 89 points.
Zubov's meteoric rise has paralleled that of Kovalev. After an
erratic start to the 1993-94 season, Kovalev finished with 23 goals
and scored 13 times during one 20-game stretch late in the year. And
in the playoffs he was one of the better Rangers despite taking
considerable punishment from the opposition.
Despite being one of the most facile skaters and puckhandlers in
the league, the 21-year-old Kovalev often frustrated the Ranger brass
with his play. ''Every shift had to be a Rembrandt,'' says Campbell,
now an assistant with New York. ''Alex had to make the perfect move .
. . and then make the perfect move . . . and then make the perfect
move. He was a young boy when he came to America, and he wanted to
please people. He made a move, the crowd went 'Wow!' so he'd make
another move, and the crowd would go 'Wow!' again. He thought it
was like frequent-flier miles. Ten dekes equals one goal.''
Over the course of the l993-94 season, however, Kovalev played
more selflessly, a change that resulted in fewer wows but more ice
The flamboyant Zubov and Kovalev contrasted with the more
pedestrian styles of New York's two other Russians, center Sergei
Nemchinov (13) and defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev. Karpovtsev, 24,
who was acquired for Mike Hurlbut in a little-noticed trade with the
Quebec Nordiques last September, was one of the biggest Ranger
surprises during the regular season, providing New York with another
solid defender.
The unassuming Nemchinov, 30, won over North American hockey
purists with his grittiness when he entered the NHL with the Rangers
four years ago. Perhaps the best barometer of this was an endorsement
by xenophobic hockey analyst Don Cherry, who said, ''I like the way
he plays.''
Although Nemchinov was never a marquee name on the great Soviet
national teams of the 1980s, few Russians have enjoyed more immediate
success in the NHL. In his first season with New York he scored 30
goals and was one of the Rangers' top two-way performers. More
important, the respect Nemchinov earned paved the way for Kovalev and
Zubov, whose acceptance in the dressing room when they arrived a year
later otherwise might not have come so easily. -- C.S.