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Chatting with Ilya Bryzgalov about Year 1 with Philadelphia Flyers: ‘People only see the bad in me’

Dmitry Chesnokov
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Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov had an eventful first season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He recently spoke with Natalia Bragilevskaya, SovSport's reporter in Philadelphia, about losing to the New Jersey Devils and that David Clarkson goal; how difficult the critics have been to deal with this season; and whether he ever regretted signing with the Flyers.

To say the least, Bryzgalov had some candid thoughts about the pressure of being a Flyer. For example:

"We have an excellent team. All the guys are good, the management is great. But there is a lot of negativity surrounding the team. You did everything you could on the ice. You go to the locker room and someone yells some nonsense at your back. They're ready to eat you alive. It's unpleasant, because we are all people. You should understand that I am not speaking out against the fans. Philadelphia has great fans, they are the majority. They are always with the team in difficult times. Even after a mistake they say words of support. But who didn't make mistakes in this world?"

The original Russian story is here. Enjoy this translation:

Q. You're in a bad mood, Ilya?

BRYZGALOV: "Of course. I was expecting different. But New Jersey played better."

It appeared that after the series against Pittsburgh you're not afraid of anything.

"These are two absolutely different teams. The Penguins, just like us, rely a lot on their offense. They play the Brazilian system: 'You score as many as you can. We [score] as many as we want. We got an open hockey.' And New Jersey is similar to other clubs left in the playoffs. Their defense is good. They don't let you create a lot of chances in their zone. I was very surprised by what the Devils showed. They outplayed us in every component."

What can you say about yourself? You made a few mistakes.

"For example?"

The Clarkson goal that turned out to be the deciding one in the series.

"Yes, I made a mistake. But when a player makes a pass and the opponent intercepts it, no one says anything, right?  I understand that I am being criticized by everyone but the lazy. But I am trying not to think about it."

Can you take out anything positive from this season?

"I gained invaluable experience."

What is it?

"It is difficult to describe with words. It is a psychology, a new view on life."

You came under a massive pressure from the media and fans in Philadelphia. Maybe reading newspapers wasn't worth it?

"It is difficult. Wherever you come, whatever you open — my face is everywhere. Everyone is talking about me. 'Bryzgalov played well,' 'Philadelphia won, but Bryz made a mistake again,' 'Yes, he wasn't scored against but could have been'…  Guys, but who doesn't make mistakes? And how many [pucks] did I catch before then? But very few notice that. People are so concentrated on the negative that they only see the bad in me. But I think that you need to be kinder to each other."

The way goaltenders are treated in Philadelphia is different. For many years it is the club's Achilles' heel.

"What I lived through this season I wouldn't wish to an enemy…  [But if you started on something, finish it]. I need to keep working. I understand the fans. They paid their money and want the show. But many forget that we are not robots, but living people. We have feelings, worries. It's easy to turn away when the club is going through tough times. But if you're wearing orange sweaters, then support Philadelphia until the very end! Don't denounce your team. There won't be a different one. And I know that the Flyers have dedicated fans who understand hockey and will always support."

Did a wish ever come up to tell everything where to go?  To ask for a trade, slam the door?

"I am not one of those people. I will not give in when facing difficulties. I have eight more years to work under my contract with Philadelphia. If I am criticized, then I will endure it. You can't tie up people's tongues. It is their right to let the emotions go."

How to live under such pressure?

"I don't even know. I got very tired this season, to be honest…"

Maybe go to the KHL?

"Where will I go? This is out of the question. I have a contract with Philadelphia."

You won't change the fans, the media as well.

"You can change your own view of the situation. Not be reflective. To listen and read less negativity. As I said, I learned a serious lesson. And next season I will only be better."

What doesn't kill you make you stronger — is this about you?

"Yes. Now I know what it's like to be a goaltender in Philadelphia. Maybe from the outside it looks like there's nothing to it. You only realize it on your own."

I know that you can play a lot better. But you come out on the ice, give up a silly goal, like the one from Clarkson, and you get discouraged.

"But let's pretend that New Jersey didn't score a weird goal but some other one. What's the difference? I don't get discouraged when a forward misses an empty net. 'Damn, if you can't score [in these situations], what's the point to keep playing?' No one gave up on our team. We fought until the very end. But New Jersey were better."

Philadelphia is a close team? I spoke with a few Flyers and they are of a good opinion of you.

"We have an excellent team. All the guys are good, the management is great. But there is a lot of negativity surrounding the team. You did everything you could on the ice. You go to the locker room and someone yells some nonsense at your back. They're ready to eat you alive. It's unpleasant, because we are all people. You should understand that I am not speaking out against the fans. Philadelphia has great fans, they are the majority. They are always with the team in difficult times. Even after a mistake they say words of support. But who didn't make mistakes in this world?"

Even New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur made mistakes.

"It's just they scored and we didn't. We hit the post and theirs went in. That's the whole difference."

Would the Devils get this far without Kovalchuk?

"Ilya is a wonderful player. But remember the second game of the series that New Jersey played without him. They crushed us!"

The Flyers made it into the trap set up by the Devils time after time in the neutral zone.

"There was very little we could do overall. As if we were banging our heads against the wall."

Maybe the series against the Penguins drained you emotionally?

"I wouldn't say so. It's just Pittsburgh plays and lets others play. And New Jersey plays but doesn't let others play."

Your prediction: who will make the Finals?

"I won't be surprised if it's Phoenix in the West. And in the East you have to see who wins the New York-Washington series. Although if New Jersey play like they did against us, they'll be able to succeed."

Is it tough that your former club Phoenix could win the Stanley Cup?

"God willing!  I have a lot of good friends over there. Excellent coaches, general manager. Coyotes went through a lot of thorns. If they become champions, I am all for it. Now I am rooting for them."

Do you regret not staying in Arizona?

"I don't regret anything."

Last summer Philadelphia lived through a fundamental change. No one expected heroics from the team, but it made the quarterfinals.

"We have a young team. Yes, a lot of newcomers. I think that Philadelphia didn't play bad. You can't write off the good moments of this season. Although I understand that we are expected to win the Stanley Cup every season. Regardless of the objective circumstances…"

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