Sergei Bobrovsky is settling in on the Flyers and the NHL better and better each day. He calls the way the Flyers found him an "accident", talks about the endless amount of nicknames he gets, what's on the menu this week, what he thinks of fighting in hockey and why he's not the next Ron Hextall and takes a wild guess on who the Flyers fans hate the most.
He also has big goals set for this season and isn't worried about his durability.
He says he was playing in the junior playoffs last spring, when the Flyers approached him.
"It was at the end of the season. I was playing for the Metallurg junior team in the MHL playoffs. I was approached by a Flyers scout. He explained to me that the club is interested in me."
"I thought about it for a while. The NHL has always been my goal. Then I just decided that I would give it a try."
It wasn't all that simple.
"No, of course not! I was surprised the scout had any interest in me. We hadn't even spoken on the phone before."
"The whole meeting was an accident. I was in Moscow, but missed the game that day. We had lost the previous game where I got pulled."
Off ice adjustments
Bobrovsky says he doesn't have much free time to look around the city.
"I live in a hotel, five minutes from the Flyers training rink. I don't have time to walk around the city. After games, I rest, sleep. Then do some exercise and rest again, eat in the evening and go back to sleep."
But next game won't be until Thursday against the Ducks, so the players have more time to break the routines this week. Bobrovsky also has some plans.
"Now we have four days without a game. I go out somewhere with Zherdev and Bartulis. Well, the guys on the team who speak Russian."
"I already do know some places here. I found two restaurants."
But not Russian ones.
"Nope. One Brazilian and the other has some even more exotic cuisine. But good food."
"This is basically my first time in the US. I first came here in July for the rookie camp. And now I'm just learning everything."
Despite a lot of adjusting to do, Bobrovsky says nothing has really surprised him so far.
"Nothing. I came here only thinking about hockey and I don't pay attention to details of everyday life. I spent all summer preparing myself mentally for this and preparing for it to be hard and I felt I was ready for it."
"It's a completely different life in America. Different rules and laws."
"I spent my whole life playing Novokuznetsk. I used to walk to the rink from home. I knew everyone, everyone knew me."
No more walking. It's time to buy a car.
"I already talked about this with my agent. I'll buy one this week. You can't do anything without a car in America."
Bobrovsky says he's also making progress with his English.
"I was given a teacher. When I came to Philadelphia in the summer, I had a lot of free time to do something every day. The teacher doesn't speak any Russian. She wrote these lists and if I didn't know some words we just googled them on the internet. It helps the grammar, but the emphasis was on spoken language."
Bobrovsky says he's starting to understand the coaches.
"I actually understand it all. But for me to speak, that's harder."
Bobrovsky says he couldn't get lost in the city, but that's not because of his linguistic skills...
"No problem! I always carry the business card of my hotel in my pocket. [laughs]"
The media interest towards the players is bigger on the Flyers than it was on Metallurg, but Bobrovsky doesn't mind the attention.
"I don't get hung up on it. I'm fine if the media finds me interesting. If they don't, it doesn't matter. I don't find it annoying to talk with the press. I understand that it can help you to build your career. It's a form of advertising."
Bobrovsky has always been the man with a thousand nicknames. Metallurg fans called him Bobyor ("Beaver" in English) and Flyers fans and media have already come up with a bunch of other names. Bobrovsky is a little amused by all the names and doesn't mind what people call him. "Bobs" reading in his goalie gear makes him smile.
"I don't mind what people call me. I have Bobs written everywhere in my equipment, including the mask."
"When I came here I was asked: 'What's your nickname?' and I told them: 'Bob!'."
So Bob wasn't given to him by someone on the Flyers.
"No, it was me. I was called that on Metallurg."
In addition to "Bobs", there's all kinds of other stuff painted in Bobrovsky's mask. He says he wanted the Flyers theme in there with the fighters.
"On the other side, there's a Russian fighter flying over the Kremlin. I really love Russia and want to show it to the world. Everyone recognizes the Kremlin and knows it's in Russia. There's also the Kuznetsk fortress representing my hometown."
"On the other side, there's an American fighter. It's all because the team is called the Flyers. There's also the bell and a local building on that side."
Rivalries and history
The season is only a few games old and the Flyers and Bobrovsky have already faced the Penguins twice. Bobrovsky doesn't have to think for long who is the most hated player around.
Bobrovsky doesn't mind the goon image that was stamped on the Flyers a long time ago and still seems to stick around.
"Fighting is a part of hockey. It provides a pshychological advantage when your player beats his opponent in a fight. It energizes your team."
"And it looks spectacular."
"Of course I was aware that the Flyers were known for physical game. But last season when they changed the coach the team started playing more."
Bobrovsky has heard of Ron Hextall, too.
"Yes, of course. A famous goalie. The crowd loved him because he fought sometimes."
We might not see Bobrovsky doing that.
"It's too much. Why should I fight? I need to stop the puck."
"I've been studying the Flyers history in general. There are many great moments there!"
Bobrovsky hasn't met Bobby Clarke yet.
"Not yet. But I talked with Ed Snider, who brought the NHL to Philadelphia in 1967, And they won two Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975."
On ice adjustments
So far Bobrovsky has been able to make his transition pretty smoothly. Switching from the KHL to NHL doesn't look a like huge leap. Is it?
"You could say that. I played on a weak team, so I had a lot of game practice. Every team was stronger than us. There were tons of shots on my goal. And I'm a fast learner."
"Coming here, the biggest difference is the size of the rink. The goal is very close to the corners. So it's necessary to change your style of play."
"But it is for the better. I like the smaller rink the best. You're always involved in the game."
Bobrovsky isn't used to playing a season with 82 games in the schedule, but isn't worried about his own durability or the fact that there's a lot more shooting in the NHL.
"I don't play all the 82 games. I'd be fine with even half of them. We have a great gym here. It's all about work, nothing complicated."
"It's the same thing on the ice. I'm not there to dodge the shots. I'm there to catch them. It's my duty."
Despite being a good skater, Bobrovsky says he never wanted to be a forward.
"I always wanted to be a goalie as a kid. When I went to school I played a couple of months as a defenseman. And then I went in goal."
"I looked up to Vadim Tarasov who returned to Metallurg for that season. I watched a lot of his games, and picked up some things from him. I didn't have much goalie coaching."
Bobrovsky says his goals for this season are simple but big.
"I really want to gain a foothold in Philadelphia. And help the Flyers get to the playoffs. It's even possible to get to the Stanley Cup finals. I have very big goals."
Even the Calder Trophy could be a possibility.
"It's secondary. I'd rather help the team."
Bobrovsky was mentally prepared to play the season in the AHL and knows that it's still a strong possibility even if he tries not to think about it. He is on a two-way contract.
"Yes. If the coaches aren't happy with my game, it's not excluded that they can send me to the Phantoms. But I don't think about that scenario. I got a chance. And I have to hold onto it the best I can. The competition is huge. We all have to work hard."
"Although when I came here, I prepared myself mentally to the fact that I can end up in the AHL."
The rhythm in the NHL is demanding, but Bobrovsky says it doesn't feel too overwhelming.
"I'm not complaining. Last game was a while ago now, so I have time to recover. Eat well and sleep. Normally you still feel it the next day."
Bobrovsky says he has already started scouting other players in the league.
"In principle, yes. I remember who they are and what to expect from them. Though I have no time to watch other games."
"There's still so much to be learned about this league."
The Penguins have the most experience from Bobrovsky by now and Evgeny Malkin admits he didn't know much about his countryman before these two games.
"I knew pretty much nothing about this guy. Just that he had played well for Metallurg. I've seen him two times in my life now, two games in the last ten days."
Malkin offered a few compliments for the rookie.
"He looks calm and confident. Not every young goalie can do it in the NHL."
Timonen freaked out
Bobrovsky's veteran teammate Kimmo Timonen has quickly noticed the talent level of the young netminder. But he wasn't sure how to react when he heard who would start the season opener.
"I had seen him play probably one game in the preseason. And when I heard that he would start the season opener, I almost freaked out. [laughs]"
But now Timonen isn't as worried about Bobrovsky's play. It's his English that needs more practice. 'Yes, yes' and a smile is all you get most of the time. When Sean O'Donnell asked Bobrovsky how his steak was at the team dinner, the response was 'medium' and a wide smile.
While offering amusement for his teammates is never a bad thing, Timonen thinks it's important for Bobrovsky to learn the common language quickly. Timonen has told Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese to focus more on teaching Bobrovsky some English than shooting pucks in his glove. According to Timonen, Bobrovsky's vocabulary in English consists of 20 words - at max.
"He has no problems in catching the puck, but there are some problems with communicating", Timonen says and laughs again.
But Bobrovsky's positive attitude has become evident despite the language barrier and Timonen says the young goalie is a popular person on the team already.
"He's worked real hard since day one in training camp. He's definitely serious."
"Boucher told me that he had carefully followed Bobrovsky since the start of training camp. And according to him, Bobrovsky is the quickest goalie he's ever seen."
"And that's one goalie talking about another goalie."
This report was based off of a Russian-language story in the publication Sovietsky Sport.