“The Wizard of Bryz Takes Voorhees”; Flyers Prized Offseason Acquisition Meets the Press
By Anthony Mingioni
Photos provided by Zack Hill
Flyers prized free agent acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov participated in his first team skate on Thursday morning.
The imposing Russian netminder stepped out onto the ice at 10:01 am, donning his “Amur Tiger” mask and what appeared to be brand new Flyers-colored Vaughn equipment. He went to occupy a crease that the team is hoping he will play at least 60 plus games in.
Drills were fairly low contact as expected in late August, but it was the first opportunity for Bryzgalov to work with his new team mates. For the most part, he gobbled up many of the shots directed at him, often looking like a black hole in net.
Two plays of note got by him: A nifty stick handling job by Danny Briere got him to open up his pads and allowed the shifty Flyers forward to slip the puck past him. As he skated by, Bryzgalov shook his head, while Briere smiled wryly along the right boards. The second involved a streaking Matt Read darting into the slot and firing a tight wrist shot, glove side just under the bar.
Bryzgalov’s response? He looked skyward as he threw his stick up towards the rafters.
About 30 minutes after practice, Bryzgalov met with the assembled media and proceeded to discuss his mindset heading into his first season in Philadelphia.
“The Flyers is always going to win the Stanley Cup. That is what this game is about. Winning is all that matters. I’ve been in the league for eight years and every year I see the Flyers have good players. Two years ago the team reached the Final and tried to win the Stanley Cup.”
“Even when I was in Russia, I followed the NHL too and I saw that the Flyers were one of the top organizations who always have the ultimate goal of winning the Cup.”
Leaving Phoenix, he reiterated respectfully that his former team had difficulties in pursuing a title.
“(His agent) spoke with me this season. He worked with (the Phoenix) ownership and we saw that it wasn’t going anywhere. At that time, we knew we had to find a different team for me to play for. With all due respect to the ownership in Phoenix, it’s tough to do that out there.”
His first practice allowed him to get somewhat of a feel for his new teammates.
“I see a lot of talent and passion. These guys want to play hockey and win. I played with Chris Pronger and Todd Fedoruk in Anaheim and Phoenix. Chris has always said Philly is a great place to play hockey between the management and the players here. We have a pretty good relationship.”
There is little question that Bryzgalov is jumping into a pressure cooker in Philadelphia, a team that has had a revolving door of goalies in recent history.
It is not something he is shying away from.
“I never put pressure on myself. I know my job and I know what I have to do. It’s from you (the media). It’s you who put the pressure on us and create the pressure on the team.”
Laughing at that, he continued: “It all depends on how you handle it. I think I can handle it. I know what I have to do when I play bad and what I’ll have to do to fix.”
Certainly, Bryzgalov has a lot of insight into his game and his candor about it will be refreshing to the local media and fan base.
A major focus of conversation discussed on how often he will be used in Philadelphia’s lineup and how he was able to handle the lion’s share of starts that he had in Phoenix.
“It’s all about practice time versus ice time. When you physically and mentally feel tired and you feel like you have to take a break, you have too because it’s tough to do. You would be exhausted.”
“You can do some light workouts with the trainer, but when you play a lot, you need some break time.”
In terms of the number of games he will play, he seemed flexible.
“It depends on how much the team needs me. If they need me for 70 games, I will play 70. If they need me for 50 games, I’ll play 50.”
He is also in the process of finding a home and taking in the city and surrounding area.
“It’s fun. It reminds me of Russia a little bit. It’s very green here. There’s a lot of trees. The area around Rittenhouse Square is a beautiful area. The people are friendly. I like it a lot.”
In the end, though, the most important thing for him right now s playing for a team that has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
“We are all hockey people. We know why we are here and what we have to do to win.”
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