Feb 3, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (80) during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Ilya Bryzgalov--A Goalie Looking for a Fresh Start

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A veteran NHL goaltender of 12 seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov’s enigmatic personality wasn’t fully revealed until HBO’s “24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” series leading up to the 2011-12 outdoor event. Bryzgalov showed himself to be a quirky, easy-going character who knows there is so much more to life than hockey.

“I’m very into the universe,” said the Russian goaltender in an interview for HBO. “Like, how it was created. Like, what is it? The solar system is so humongous big, right? But if you see our solar system and the galaxy, like on the side, like it’s so small you can’t even see it. Our galaxy is huge, but if you see the big picture, our galaxy is, like, small tiny dot in the universe. And I think, like, we have some problems on earth we worry about compared to, like, nothing? Just be happy, don’t worry. Be happy right now.”

Unfortunately, this quote alone has been blown far out of proportion, turning a once jovial netminder into a guy who just wants to be left alone to focus on his job–stopping the puck.

Though many teams didn’t want to touch this situation with a 39 1/2-foot pole, it didn’t stop the Edmonton Oilers from signing him, and it certainly didn’t stop Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild from trading for him. Granted, it helps that Fletcher knows him well from their days together within the Anaheim Ducks organization.

“Ilya is a good guy,” said Fletcher. “He’s colorful and certainly is known to have a few good sound bites every now and again.”

Those appear to be few and far between now, as his experiences with the media since the hit HBO series have made him keep his answers short and simple. That’s definitely not conducive to a good interview, but can anyone blame the guy after what he’s had to deal with?

After being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers two years into a nine-year $51 Million deal over the summer, the Togliatti, Russia native spent time in the ECHL earlier this season before being signed by the Oilers to a one-year $2 Million contract. In 20 games with the Oilers this season, Bryzgalov has gone 5-8-5 with a 3.01 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and a shutout. While his goals against average and record are certainly unspectacular this year, his save percentage may indicate that part of it has been the result of poor play by one of the league’s worst teams.

Prior to Edmonton, Bryzgalov, 33, was the undisputed starter for Philadelphia in his two seasons there and the Phoenix Coyotes the four years before that. In 445 games played over parts of 12 seasons with Anaheim, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Edmonton, Minnesota’s first Russian hockey player of the Chuck Fletcher era has notched a 213-157-50 record, a 2.57 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and 31 shutouts.

For now, Bryzgalov needs to keep focusing on reviving his career. At 33, there’s still time for him to re-establish himself with an up-and-coming team. While it’s unlikely that’s going to be Minnesota, as the Wild appear more than happy to give youngster Darcy Kuemper the starting reins, there’s no better time than now for Bryzgalov to showcase himself for teams looking to a sign a goaltender in the offseason. With Kuemper starting against the Stars tonight, it looks like Bryz will get his first chance to shine in a Wild sweater tomorrow night at home against the St. Louis Blues.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing him nothing but the best with Minnesota and wherever he lands thereafter.

 

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