Ridge All-State Forward Alex Konovalov Nearing Return to the Ice

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Alex Konovalov stood outside the Ridge locker room, shifting his weight between the two crutches underneath his arms before his team’s recent match against Hillsborough at Flemington Ice Arena.

A large, grey boot encased his right foot halfway up his calf as he recovers from a frustrating injury.

It’s certainly not the way the talented Konovalov envisioned his season would unfold.

Photo courtesy of Tom Ardiff

After scoring 67 points on 29 goals and 38 assists and helping Ridge post a 16-5-7 that included the Skyland Cup Championship last winter this was supposed to be a send-off season for Konovalov, the kind of campaign the senior had hoped and expected to cap off a memorable four-year scholastic career.

“It was the day before our first scrimmage,” said the 5-10, 155-pound forward. “It was November 15. We were supposed to scrimmage Xavier of New York. I didn’t even get to put the jersey on once yet.”

Konovalov, a Third Team All-State Selection in 2017-18 who has laced ’em up for the Red Devils since his freshman season, was skating in on a one-on-one drill against a defenseman during the practice, a drill he’d performed probably hundreds of times. He deked and cut around the defenseman and darted in on the goalie, head up and looking where to put his shot.

“I went to pivot and one of my blades got caught in a rut,” the 5-10, 155-pounder recalled the other evening after polishing off some calculus homework. “My ankle kind of bent awkwardly and I just went down. It hurt, and I figured something was wrong, but nothing major, maybe a sprain. I tried to get up, but I fell right down. Luke Rich and Blake Loges helped me back to the locker room.”

It turned out to be much worse than a sprain.

“I went to the emergency room and they said I had fractured my fibula,” Konovalov said. “I was stunned. It was just an innocent fall on the ice.”

Ridge coach Tim Mullin, who has 377-138-74 career victories, and the team were surely jolted when they learned of the severity of Konovalov’s injury.

Photo courtesy of Joe Ambrozy

“I didn’t really see it happen,” Mullin said. “He was all alone on the goalie and then they said he just fell. You always have some players get hut, but it was really unfortunate for Alex and our team. There’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s just really bad luck, your best player gets hurt like that and will be out for a while. I felt terrible for him.”

Konovalov was introduced to the hockey rinks in Moscow, Russia when his dad, Alexander, brought him to a local rink. A few years later he was skating for the youth Dynamo Moscow club, the same team that Washington Capitals’ superstar Alexander Ovechkin played for as a youngster.

“I was born in Martinsville but then we moved to Moscow when I was three,” Konovalov said. “My dad took me to the rink and I started playing hockey when I was five. I loved it immediately. My earliest memory is being able to lift the puck when I was seven or eight.

“I got to meet Alex Ovechkin twice when I was over there, during the NHL off-season. One time he came by the rink where he used to skate as a kid and we were practicing. I think he was filming some sort of documentary. We were doing drills and we all saw him and just kind of froze on the ice. The entire team got to meet him after practice. That was cool. Hockey is huge in Russia.”

Related: Konovalov Among New Jersey Devils Players of the Month for January

Alexander and his younger brother moved back to Basking Ridge with his parents (Alexander and Lusia) when he was 13.

“The worst part is watching from the side,” he said. “I want to be out there helping my team so badly. The guys are working so hard, but there’s nothing I can do about it except wait. It’s my right foot, too, so I can’t even drive but I go to every game. If I notice something, I point it out and try to be another pair of eyes whenever it’s relevant. I want to help out my team any way I can.”

Ridge suffered its first loss of the season on Friday (Dec. 14), a 4-2 setback against Skyland Conference rival Pingry.

The inability to skate – and have to watch his teammates play – has been difficult, but Konovalov has been facing the challenge of dealing with the frustrating in jury instead of opposing defensemen and goaltenders.

“It’s tough watching the games and not being able to play,” said Konovalov, who also skated with the New Jersey Titans. “Hockey was just about everything before I was injured. It was hockey and homework, so there is a big gap. You try to think about other things but it’s tough when the only thing on my mind is hockey and wanting to play and help my team.”

As far as coming back, Konovalov said he’s still hopeful it will be soon.

“The orthopedist said a couple days after the injury that the recovery could be 10 to 12 weeks,” he said. “When he told me that I couldn’t believe it. I pulled out my phone and looked on my calendar app to see what game that could be. I was a little bit in shock with that news and I kind of zoned out.

“I’m hoping that my bones will heal faster and it’s more like six or seven weeks and I can come back around mid-January. There’s really nothing I can do. I have to just wait for the bone to heal.”

Photo courtesy of Joe Ambrozy

Ridge has a 4-1-1 record as of Dec. 16 and will face-off Westfield on Dec. 18.

Mullin, who is hoping Konovalov can get back by mid-season, recalls observing Konovalov when he first came into the program as a freshman.

“When he was a freshman at his first practice in the first five minutes you knew he was a talent,” Mullin recalled. “His overall skill was obvious. He could skate, he could pass and shoot. Alex is an excellent playmaker, too, and he’s always made everyone around him better. He really enjoys getting the puck to his teammates. He’s such an unselfish player.”

 

Written by Paul Bruno / @PaulBrunoHS

Special to HockeyClan

 

Main Image: Courtesy of Joe Ambrozy

 

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