Today it begins. Ilya Bryzgalov’s career as a Philadelphia Flyer. He’s excited.
"The Flyers are a great team. That’s what I wanted; to play in one of the best teams in the league. Everyone on the Coyotes will remain in my heart forever, I have a lot of friends there. But now I’m in Philadelphia. I can tell that this is a hockey town. And the team is like a family. They say ‘once a Flyer, always a Flyer’. There are a lot of ex-Flyers players working in the organization. That’s very cool."
Bryzgalov has noticed the difference in the level of interest from the media as well.
"There are a lot more reporters here. Though the questions are often the same everywhere."
Additionally, there are also the HBO documentary cameras chasing him.
"I just close my door on them and don’t let them in! This team is full of stars, so why would they film me?"
Known for his positive attitude, Bryzgalov says the positivity is a choice he’s made.
"I made a choice for life once; be happy. Of course I can be in a bad mood sometimes, but I try to fix it quickly. [After a bad game] I go to sleep. I wake up the next morning and if the sun is up, everything is fine again. I try to get back on my feet quickly."
A positive attitude might be needed, since the expectations for him will be massive since day one.
"Some people are expecting me to be a Messiah. But sorry, I’m not Jesus Christ. I have the same attitude towards the game as before. The puck is still that same small and black thing. Hockey players are still the same. We have to get to work, but time will tell how it pans out."
Coming with the pressure and expectations is also the old stereotype of restless Philly sports fans booing and throwing snowballs if things aren’t going their way.
"Yes, I’ve heard about that."
And he’s not afraid.
"Of what? That they’d throw snowballs at me? No. And if they boo me, then I deserve it!"
Bryzgalov says he’s been interacting with the fans and it’s only been a positive experience so far.
"Yeah, people are asking for autographs and wishing me luck."
Bryzgalov also gave his stick to young fans after a practice, but says it won’t become a habit.
"If I give my stick to someone after every practice, the organization will go bankrupt!"
"I had been training with that stick for a few days and it was a little banged up, but still fine. Some kids were really happy to get it, so I signed it."
While Bryzgalov is thrilled with his new masks, the color of the cage of his tiger mask is still giving him problems.
"It looks a little off if it's white. But I can’t see well if it’s black. I tried the black for several games and practices and it bothered me a bit. I’m still thinking about it. I’ll probably have it white eventually."
While the tiger mask is a just simple design on a simple concept, there are historic symbols in the other mask. There’s a responsible reason for the historic mask to exist.
"It’s for educational purposes. If some kids skip school, we can teach them history with my helmet."
While Bryzgalov says he’s enjoyed interacting with the fans, that might not happen on Twitter for a while. He says he’ll probably take a little break from social media now that the season starts.
"First of all, the season begins now. And I’ve gotten a little bored with it. I’ve lost my interest in it for now."
Bryzgalov is looking forward to working with Sergei Bobrovsky and says he’s always had good relations with his goalie partners.
"I’ve never had problems working with the other goalie. I’ve only had good relations. The other goalie is my partner, my buddy. We do the same thing. We must help each other. There is healthy competition, but people need to deal with it with class."
"I can give advices to Sergei if he asks me. Though to me it seems that Bobrovsky is just fine by himself."
"Of course it’s nice to have a fellow Russian on the team. There’s always someone to talk and laugh with."
Bryzgalov is also excited to be working with the Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese, though he says it won’t be anything ground breaking at his age, but more about fine tuning his game.
"We’re working on some technical details with the goalie coach, but no one can change my style. It’s too late for that. It’s more of a progress on keeping up the level that has been reached."
When Bryzgalov comments about the banana throwing incident in the preseason game in London, he notes that racism in sports is more common in Russia.
"There are always some fools out there. Of course that’s something you can’t do. But who knows what that guy was thinking?"
"People always throw bananas at black players in Russia. But I had never seen it in North America. We didn’t really discuss it in the locker room. Wayne is a very smart and nice guy. He’s able to respond the right way to such things."
A while ago Bryzgalov compared the NHL to F1. So are the Flyers like Ferrari?
"Flyers, well... We have a very good car. And a lot of very good drivers."
Looming in 2014 are the Olympics in Sochi and the tournament has been drawing the interest of Russian NHL players for a few years already. For example Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin have said before that they will play in Sochi, no matter what. Bryzgalov is more reserved about it and reminds about the business aspect.
"We’ll see. I think the NHL should let the players go to the Olympics. Otherwise I don’t know how it could happen. Maybe it will be decided at the last minute. On the other hand, how can you just leave? I have a commitment to an organization. I signed a contract and I studied it carefully. And then I’d just say: ‘Guys, you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to the Olympics.’ It just seems unprofessional to me in a way. That’s not how you handle business. You’ve accepted the terms. They pay you and then you’d just respond by acting like an idiot."
This report was based off of a Russian-language story in the publication Sovetsky Sport.