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Dmitry Chesnokov

Puck Daddy chats with Flyers' Sergei Bobrovsky about being NHL's top rookie goalie, Chris Pronger and battle to be Philly's No. 1

Dmitry Chesnokov
Puck Daddy

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Despite being one of the season's biggest surprises, Philadelphia Flyers rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky(notes) didn't just materialize out of thin air.

Bobrovsky, 22, came to North America after playing out his five-year professional contract with Metallurg from the Russian city of Novokuznetsk. He was determined to make the Flyers in the preseason, which he did; and now, he's the NHL's top rookie goalie in GAA (2.19) and save percentage (.926), with an 8-2-1 record that ranks right behind Michal Neuvirth(notes) of the Washington Capitals among NHL freshmen.

Most importantly, Bobrovsky has given the Flyers stability in goal, allowing them to reach the top of their division. Chris Pronger(notes) told reporters recently: "He's definitely proven every guy in here a believer, that's for sure."

Bobrovsky's reply, via Philly.com:

"I honestly try not to think about it, the only thing I try to think about is playing, because that's the only thing that matters, not words. But at the same time when a big-name player like Pronger says something like this, of course it makes me feel good."

I spoke with "Bob" last night about a number of topics, from his battle to be the best NHL rookie to his battle to be the Flyers' No. 1 goalie to the challenges in playing in North America vs. Russia. Oh, and Pronger, too.

You're a Russian playing in Philadelphia for the Flyers. That's something unheard of. And on top of that, you're actually pretty good.

BOBROVSKY: [Laughing] I know the history of the club. Every Russian person in Philadelphia who spoke to me told me that they were shocked that there were now Russian speakers playing for the Flyers. I have heard a lot about that.

It's not that there were no Russian players in Philadelphia, they just weren't very successful with the Flyers.

I don't think it's because they were not liked there, but something must not have worked out. I think it is too early to pass any kind of judgments regarding me. I am just too new to the organization. Let's wait until the end of the season and then we can say whether I will have made it or not. I just don't think it's appropriate to say anything after having played only about 10 games here. I just need to keep working and working and keeping that bar set high, try to win every game I play in.

You were undrafted. Did you ever expect to play in the NHL?

Yes, I was never drafted in the NHL. To be honest, if I go back even a year, I couldn't even imagine that this would happen to me. Playing in the NHL was in my thoughts, in my goals, in my head. I kept thinking that I had to get there, I had to keep working, keep trying. But I just couldn't imagine that a possibility of playing in the NHL would arise.

And how did it eventually happen?

I don't even know how it all happened, to be honest. Towards the end of the last season I was playing for the [Metallurg Novokuznetsk] junior team and we were playing away at Krilya Sovetov. I pulled my back and wasn't playing in that game, watching it from the stands. And that's where I was approached by a scout from Philadelphia who told me that there was an interest in me. That's how it all started. But all of the communications after that were done through my agent. I didn't fill my head with thoughts about it.

How did you feel when you decided to come to the NHL? Was there a lot of pressure?

I didn't actually feel any pressure, even though everyone around me kept telling me ‘[you're going] to the farm team, only the farm team.' But I kept telling myself all the time that it was going to be extremely difficult, that I would have to suck it up, that it was going to be tough. I always kept those thoughts in my head. I was trying to prepare myself psychologically. Maybe that's the reason that I don't feel that it's all that difficult for me.

Everyone kept telling me that at first you are very homesick, that it's very difficult. And I don't have that. I feel absolutely normal here. All the guys here welcomed me with such warmth. Everyone's been very kind to me in the locker room. It is a pleasure to work here, to play for this team. I don't know what else to add.

Did you talk to anyone about the NHL before you came over? Maybe a former player?

Not really. No one gave me any advice as to what to do and what not to do. I just read certain things, heard some rumors as to what the rules are. My agent told me a lot. But I didn't really have all the information as far as what to expect.

When you came to Philadelphia the media touted you as the next big thing, the next big goaltender for the Flyers. Did you feel the weight of expectations?

I don't pay any attention to that. During the season I try not to read anything at all, especially the media, especially what's written about me. I try to draw my attention away from hockey when I have free time and just socialize, use the Internet. I try not to read any sports, hockey news. Because if it's always hockey, hockey and more hockey all the time, it's not good. That's the reason I don't feel any pressure. I simply don't read what's written about me.

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A lot of good things are written about you.

Really? Well, that's good then! [Laughing]

What type of a goalie are you?

I wouldn't say that I am a 100 percent butterfly goalie. I am a hybrid.

Maybe you try to mimic someone else, another goaltender?

No, I don't. Maybe when I was a very young boy I had an idol - Martin Brodeur(notes). But when I seriously started playing hockey I had no idols. I watched every goaltender I could, watch their game to figure out the best I could adopt from them. Every hockey goaltender has his own style, his own vision of how to play hockey. You just create your own style and make it fit for yourself. So, I wouldn't say that I am similar to any other goaltender.

Hockey in the NHL is a lot different from the KHL. You face a lot of shots from every angle, you have to be ready all the time. How tired are you after games? Does it take a lot to recover?

Actually the Flyers' defense is very, very decent. It happens a lot when you don't face a ton of shots. We had a few games when I had to face 20 or less shots. It's not always there are 30-40 shots. Our defensemen help me out a lot. But it doesn't matter how many shots you face. You always have to concentrate, you always have to be ready to catch that puck. If you are facing 20 shots, then you have to catch all 20. If it's 30, then you have to stop all 30.

As far as recovery... It's difficult to say because you have such an intense schedule on one hand, and on the other the level of organization is so high that you don't even think about anything other than hockey, when to sleep and what to eat. You don't face any other problems of every day life or problems with equipment. The club takes care of everything.

Do you remember your feelings when you played your first regular season game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center?

To be honest I felt pretty comfortable in that first regular season game. The most nervous and intense game for me was the third period against the New Jersey Devils when I came out from the bench.

Back then, I didn't know what to expect from the league. Everything seemed so new around me: the atmosphere, the fans, the locker rooms. It felt like I was in another world. It was like I fell from the Moon. And then with every moment, with every day I started becoming more familiar with things. I started understanding what is what here, what the rules are, how certain things are looked at. And in that game against the Penguins I felt more or less myself.

There were no thoughts like 'Here comes Sidney Crosby(notes) skating against me?'

No, I had no thoughts like that. I will tell you more, you shouldn't have any thoughts like that. It can get in the way of making saves if you start thinking about players you face. I actually love playing against very good, strong players. Only when you face players like that, the best players in the world, will you be able to grow as a goaltender. When you play against the best players you get a chance to find out how good you are, what you're made of, what your strengths and weaknesses are. That's why I wasn't nervous playing against the Penguins on the opening nights. My knees weren't trembling. It was very interesting."

What was the most difficult team you have faced so far this season?

I don't think I can even tell you right now. You see, regardless of where a team is in the standings, all of them are very good. They play, battle hard. It's not like you're just standing around, freezing yourself out there against someone. Every team shoots pucks at you. There are always moments against any team when I have to be at my best. That's why I cannot tell you what the most difficult game has been for me. I can tell you that there weren't any easy ones. I had to earn every win."

The season only started but you have been playing very well. Do you think you have established yourself as the No. 1 in Philadelphia? Or at least as one of the starters?

No, I don't think so. And I don't think it's even appropriate to think this way. You have to prove in every game that your good play in the previous game was not just a fluke. You play a good game, and then it's history. You have to prove yourself again. People can talk about the past, but no one can predict the future. No one knows how you're going to play next. With every game you have to move forward. You played well yesterday, well, today is a new game and it doesn't matter how you played yesterday. Prove yourself again. Prove that it was the right decision to trust you to be the starter again.

How ready are you to fight for the No. 1 starter when Michael Leighton(notes) comes back from his injury? He was the goalie for the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals last year.

Of course I am ready. This is my goal. This is what I have been working towards my whole life, you can say. To play in the NHL as a regular starter. And now I have this opportunity, I have this chance. I have to hold on to it and do everything possible not to let it go.

What's your relationship like with Leighton and Boucher? Do they help you out with advice?

Not really. But that's because my English is not that good yet. I don't understand a lot of things, nuances. I can exchange a couple of simple words with guys in the locker room. But as far as some technical elements, no. And also, every goaltender has his own style, and it is pointless to give advice.

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When you came to the locker room for the first time and saw people like Pronger, Richards, were you star struck a little?

Not at all. Maybe when you're far away looking from a side, especially after you read the media, they are these big stars. But they are such nice wonderful people, very open and kind, and they are not spoiled at all. You don't feel any arrogance coming from them. It just feels good to be around these guys. It's just I am still having difficulties with my English and cannot express myself too good yet.

Goaltenders usually quarterback their defense, tell them what to do. Do Flyers' defensemen understand your Russian now? Maybe Pronger can be interviewed in Russia now?

[Laughing] No, they don't understand Russian. But you're right. When you're in a game and you spoke Russian all your life, when you communicated with your defense on the ice in Russian all your life, you keep doing it. I think in Russian and sometimes when I tell our defensemen what I want them to do, I do it in Russian. And then as the game goes on you realize that your words make no sense, that no one will understand them.

There is a tradition in the NHL when rookies take their teammates out for dinner. Has that happened to you yet?

No it hasn't happened yet. But I have certainly heard about it. I don't know what I should get myself ready for. I have just heard some rumors as to what to expect. But I don't think it will be something out of the ordinary. I think we'll just have a nice dinner.

Do you ever think that if things keep going the way they are you may be a contender for the Rookie of the Year award?

No, I don't think about it at all. It is not that important. Individual trophies are not something I am thinking about. For me the team is the most important. The most important is for the team to win. Little by little, game by game we should collect points for our overall success. And then we'll see what is going to happen. But the team is the most important.

How do you spend your free time?

There isn't much of it, to be honest. I usually spend it browsing the Internet. I also talk to my parents and my girlfriend on Skype all the time. Nothing else. My parents plan on visiting in December or January, depending on what the schedule is going to be like. Right now they are applying for visas and then they will come over with my little sister. I miss them. I wouldn't say that I am climbing up the walls from being homesick, just miss them a bit.

What impressed or shocked you the most when you came to the United States?

I don't even know. As I mentioned earlier, I kept convincing myself that it was going to be extremely difficult over here. Life is so much different here. Russia is one thing, and America is completely different. It's an entirely different world. So, I can't pick just one thing that surprised me the most. I try not to pay too much attention to distractions.

NHL season is very long. Are you ready for this rhythm?

I don't even know how to answer this question. I just keep playing game after game, and there is no time to think whether you're ready or not. I just try to play for the win. And then, when the game is over, it's forgotten. It's time for the next game.

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