At the start of last season, Sergei Bobrovsky was the great goaltending hope for the Philadelphia Flyers, outplaying Marc-Andre Fleury in his NHL debut and eventually placing seventh in the Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year.
This summer, life changed for him, and not just because he was recently married. The Flyers signed former Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year contract, handing him the starting goalie job. Is Bobrovsky content to be a backup in Philadelphia?
Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport spoke with Bobrovsky recently and asked him several questions Puck Daddy passed along about the upcoming NHL season; his thoughts on the Bryzgalov signing and the trades of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards; and, of course, married life. Here's the interview:
Q. What did you learn in your first year in the NHL?
BOBROVSKY: I learned a lot when it comes to American life and hockey. I saw what a serious team with big ambitions is. I saw how athletes and their relatives are treated; how a coach works with you at practices. Skating, techniques, physiological training; how to survive the marathon that the NHL regular season is, when there are games every other day and you are under pressure every time. And then a new season starts — the playoffs, and the pressure there is even greater, and you are not allowed to lose. An entire world opened up for me!
What did you keep as a memento from the debut year?
The puck from the first game when we played at the Pittsburgh Penguins. Also the League framed an official game sheet from that game and sent it to me.
Were you surprised when the Flyers traded captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter?
I heard the news when I was in Greece. I went online and exclaimed from the surprise. Carter and Richards are two big players and persons for Philadelphia. The backbone of the team. The captain and his assistant. I couldn't imagine they would both leave in one sweep.
Is it true that Chris Pronger was the real captain in the locker room?
It all depends. The team didn't have a rule that only the person wearing a 'C' could talk. When needed, everyone had a chance to say something, not just Pronger, but Richards, Briere, Giroux… Everyone gave advice, motivated their teammates.
And this summer the Flyers signed a contract with Ilya Bryzgalov placing a barrier on the way of a rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
Actually Bryzgalov's arrival didn't shock me. Every newspaper wrote that goaltending is Philadelphia's weakest spot. Additionally, Ilya was first traded to us and only a week later he signed his contract. It wasn't a surprise.
I don't agree about the barrier. Brian Boucher's contract expired. Michael Leighton stayed. Bryzgalov came. But I don't care what last names team goaltenders have. I have my own goals, objectives. I want to help Philadelphia and will continue to improve my game.
Ilya Bryzgalov told Sovetsky Sport that this is "wolf's world. Especially for goaltenders. There are so many of them and there is only one place in goal."
I agree. Competition is very tough. No one wants to be number two… Of course we won't sharpen each other's skates. But healthy working relationship is the engine for progress.
There was a consistent talk that Flyers' General Manager Paul Holmgren was going to trade Bobrovsky. The Flyers have a few goaltenders and your [cap hit] is quite high. What can you say about that?
These are just rumors.
Maybe you asked for a trade yourself through your agent? Semyon Varlamov moved from Washington to Colorado and now he has different horizons in front of him.
I didn't even have it in my thoughts to ask for a trade! Nothing terrible happened. There is just a new person in the club. Why should I move to a different team because of that? I like everything in Philadelphia. I want to compete for a roster spot, to play for the Stanley Cup with the guys. We have an ambitious club.
Do you know Bryzgalov?
We have never met. We'll see each other in Philadelphia.
How many games do you think you will play next season? Guys like Bryzgalov usually get 60-70 games per season.
I also want to play every game. The more the better. And as far as how many that will be, the coach will decide.
But Bryzgalov has a 9-year, $51 million contract. And you have a two-way deal in accordance with which you may end up in the farm club at any time.
What I understood from last season is that if you play well, show the result, then you play for the first team. If not, you are benched. A contract is not playing, a person is.
Sergei, in January you told me that marriage is a very serious decision. And that you were not ready for this step… And in half a year you had your wedding!
And what's to wait for? I am confident in the girl I chose. I gave it some thought and decided to get married.
Did the fact that Olga could not obtain a U.S. visa have any effect?
It was one of the reasons. She was never approved for a U.S. visa. People at the U.S. embassy thought that we did not have any relationship. The entire season Olga flew around Canada and we met in cities where Philadelphia played. But the U.S. denied her entry. Now we will submit documents again. But right now Olga is my official wife. I don't believe we will be denied again…
Why did you keep your wedding a secret? Everyone found out about it only a week later.
We plan to have a big wedding reception next year where there will be a lot of friends. And right now we just couldn't get everything organized on time. Pre-season training in the KHL starts at the end of July. Relatives had to be notified two months in advance… That's why now we only [had a civil ceremony]. There were just our parents at the registry office with us.
And then you left for Austria. On your honeymoon?
I went alone for three weeks. I was working on my physical condition ahead of the season. Olga stayed in Russia — she was getting her passports, changed her last name. Our honeymoon was actually before [we got married]. We went to Greece for three weeks, but to the islands: Santorini, Mykonos and Crete. My American agent, who is of Greek descent, suggested… It was beautiful everywhere. Greek architecture, culture… White houses on Santorini, the undersea volcano. Everything was just like on a postcard!
This year you started training later than usual. Why?
I went to the gym in Greece, I kept myself in shape. In Novokuznetsk we played soccer…
Were you in goal?
No, I was running on the field scoring goals. When I arrived in Austria, I didn't start working out from 'zero.' But you are right, now I am now in a hurry to get on the ice. Last season I started getting ready for the rookie camp that was held in July. I skated all summer. Right now one month of ice will be enough.
I am going to Philadelphia on the 25th of August, and I will start skating there. I am going to the States with my mom. Olga will come over a little bit later, when she gets her visa. Now I am going to the US in a different mood. A rented apartment is waiting there for me.
I have an idea about life in America. And I even know English more or less. I tried it out in Austria. I understood almost everything, and I can explain myself. Although I am not ready yet to give wide-ranging interviews.
How did you end up in Austria? It's not a very hockey country.
Once again, my agent suggested. I told him that I wanted to get my conditioning better, to get really ready for the new season. He suggested the training facility of Red Bull hockey club in Salzburg. Fresh air, outdoors, kind people. I liked everything very much.
Did Philadelphia's coaches give you any advice?
They emailed me exercises, told me how and what to do. They suggested I beef up, build up my muscle.
Will it affect your coordination?
I am not doing it like a fanatic. I don't eat protein. I don't bench-press 150 kilograms. I was simply getting ready building up my core. I did some pushups on rings. The intensity of exercise I was given depended on how my muscle reacted.
And how much do you bench-press?
I did 80 kilograms, but not this season. I actually exercise with dumbbells.
The fact that you deflated in the second half of last season — is it connected to the fact that you "had had too much hockey?"
I think so. It turned out that by November I had been playing hockey for five months. And then the rollercoaster started: up and down. But I am not going to look for excuses for my shortcomings. This is my life and I set up the preparations myself. And I alone am responsible. I simply came to some conclusions and this summer I decided to make some changes.
Philadelphia had a goalie roulette in the playoffs. You started the playoffs but were quickly benched.
I was benched during the first round series against Buffalo. I approached it with understanding. The coach needs to win. He knows best who to play where. Peter Laviolette made that decision. I cannot say that it upset me or insulted me. I continued training, I got ready for games. I was waiting for a chance.
It came in the second round when Philadelphia was losing to Boston in the series. It seems Laviolette played you in Game 4 out of hopelessness.
I didn't think so. I my mind set on a win. Playoffs is such a thing that everything can turn upside down at any time. Had we won one game, then another, and then it would be just 3-2 in the series, and it wouldn't be clear you'd advance.
But Boston won where Tim Thomas showed his class.
He was the MVP of the Stanley Cup. There is no reason to describe his accomplishments again. Everyone understands that he had his best season. Thomas played with consistency, strong. That's why Boston battled so well. Without a good goaltender even the strongest team in the world will not win the Stanley Cup.
What did Laviotette tell you during the meeting after the season ended?
Have a great summer! There is no need to get upset. This is life. Get ready for next year. We have big goals.
Is your dream to play the entire career in Philadelphia?
Not a dream but a goal. This team has everything for hockey. I don't want to go anywhere.
Thanks again to Pavel Lysenkov and Sovetsky Sport for their help.