Originally written on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/18/14

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 02: Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 2, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Devils 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Almost nine years ago when the NHL was shut down for a season-ending lockout, I traveled nearly 6,000 miles to the Republic of Tatarstan to catch up to and write about Ilya Kovalchuk, once the star for the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnepeg Jets). A number of things stick out from that trip: The minus-16-degree Celsius temperatures in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan where Kovalchuk played for the local team, Ak Bars, was one. So did the sight of the suns setting at 3 p.m. The calendar had yet to hit December, but already the wide Kazanka River had frozen. It was the coldest place by far I had ever set foot. When it came to takeaways regarding Kovalchuk, his visceral dislike for the team and the league he was playing for stand out. All of which render his decision to retire abruptly from the NHL at age 30 and forgo the 77 million he was guaranteed on his contract now terminated all the more baffling. Kovalchuk reportedly has done so in order to play with SKA St. Petersburg in Russ...
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