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Vanbiesbrouck knows Bryzgalov's plight

Guest Vincent05

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John Vanbiesbrouck has never met Ilya Bryzgalov, but has been inside his skin and admits never having been comfortable there in his two years as a Flyers free-agent goaltender signee.

“When you have been drafted and nurtured by the club, as opposed to being brought in as a free agent, you view things differently,” said Vanbiesbrouck, a Flyer in 1998-99, when he lost a tight first-round duel against Toronto’s Curtis Joseph – whom Philadelphia could have signed instead –and in 2000, when Brian Boucher was the goalie for a semifinal run.

“There probably is more pressure on yourself and the pressure is a self-induced thing,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who will be in the Rangers’ goal in Saturday’s Alumni Game, only because they asked him four days before the Flyers did.

“Nobody knows what’s going on in another person’s insides. I didn’t even know [bryzgalov] was struggling until you just asked me about this. But the pressure he is putting on himself to not only perform but to analyze his performance, he is going to be his own worst enemy for a while. And he’s got to go through it until he realizes he is not here to impress everybody during practice, in the press and in management, trying to be Superman.

“He is one of the best goalies in the league. They wouldn’t have signed him unless he was impressive. To look back, it’s easy for me to say, but when you are locked and loaded on impressing everybody, it’s hard to overcome that.”

Vanbiesbrouck played brilliantly for the Rangers in monumental 1986 upsets of the Flyers and Capitals, and was flawless through three rounds in taking the expansion Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final in only their third year. But those positive experiences were of little use after the Flyers chose him over Joseph and Mike Richter for half the money those two would have cost and because Flyers Coach Roger Neilson, who had coached Vanbiesbrouck in both New York and Florida, had no preference among the three.

Vanbiesbrouck went 27-18-15 with a 2.15 goals against average with the 1998-99 Flyers and shut out the Leafs in Toronto in Game 1. But he gave up two late goals in a stunning, series-changing, 2-1 loss in Game 2. Then, lost two 2-1 games in overtime and Game 6 1-0 on a late Toronto power-play goal.

The numbers were good, just not good enough because Joseph was better. But looking back on it, Vanbiesbrouck isn’t sure he could have played well enough to satisfy himself.

Never, he says, did he get comfortable in his two seasons in Philadelphia, even with all the maturity he thought he was bringing to a Stanley Cup contender at age 35.

“Not comfortable enough,” he said. “I was too unsettled at important times.

“Get to the playoffs, again you are trying to impress. People talk about stealing games. When that enters your mind you are out of sorts, think you are going to have the make the difference.

“Why did [boston’s] Tim Thomas look so great last year when everybody doubted him? He was fine in his own skin. Sometimes you don’t like your game so you tape your stick different, trying to get locked and loaded into that confident game. It doesn’t work.

“Even though it was short, I had a great time here. It’s a wonderful organization. But they have gone through a lot of goalies.”

Just reminds me how painful it was to lose that year. Can only imagine if the Cup would've been won with the other goalie. And yet here we are still searching for the "GOALIE" that will bring us the Cup.

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I think Bryzgalov will turn his game around. But it is going to take some time to get back to basics and find that drive...effort....work ethic that got himself to the elite status in the first place.

Bryz has made a lot of statements lately as to how comfortable he is outside the rink.....It is time he makes himself comfortable on the ice as well.

I came across this 2 year old article today.......there are sure some striking similarities that would make you think he said these things last week.

Bryzgalov - A peek behind the mask

by Sarah McLellan - Dec. 5, 2009 03:54 PM

The Arizona Republic

• Bryzgalov credits teammates | slideshow Profile: Ilya Bryzgalov

As soon as three-year-old Vladislav Bryzgalov bounded through the doors of Cold Stone Creamery at Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, he pressed his left hand against the glass display case and shot his right index finger out toward the tub of pale blue cotton candy ice cream.

"I want that one," he announced as his five-year-old sister, Valery; mother, Zjenya; and father and Coyotes goaltender, Ilya, joined him at the front counter.

"OK, small scoop of cotton candy," Ilya Bryzgalov said. "One scoop vanilla."

After ordering an additional cup of cotton candy for Zjenya, the family found a small table near a window. They started talking about the song "Feliz Navidad" that hummed in the background, the horse that Vladislav wanted to go see, and Valery's tendency to lick her ice cream as if she were a dog, letting their language naturally slip between Russian and English.

Ilya Bryzgalov sat watching his kids and wiping sticky faces with ease and comfort.

"I don't worry about anything here," he said.

On the ice, Bryzgalov is a competitor fueled by his desire to win the Stanley Cup. In the locker room, he's a quirky teammate who sings and tells jokes. But neither persona embodies the real Bryzgalov.

"It's a mask," he said. "My face is always under the mask. Truly me is only at home."

Being that person is enough for Bryzgalov, so much so that throughout his career he's contemplated ditching the NHL and moving back to Russia. But his perseverance and support from his wife and kids has kept him here because being an elite No. 1 goalie is not just his goal. It's all of theirs.

Bryzgalov, 29, started playing hockey when he was two years old in his hometown of Togliatti. He played in the house and out in the streets with a puck and stick his father and godfather made in a local factory.

"I always play with older kids," Bryzgalov said. "They usually put me in the net because I was youngest."

School was an afterthought. He rarely paid attention in class because he'd rather be thinking about hockey. He'd even have his dad pick him up early from kindergarten so he could go home and watch hockey on TV.

When he was 8 years old, Bryzgalov joined the local hockey school.

Because he started a year late, his skating wasn't up to par with his peers. His coach decided to stick him in net until his skating improved.

"But coach sees me like, 'Oh, he stops everything. Oh you want to be goalie?' " Bryzgalov recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, why not?' "

Bryzgalov continued to pursue a niche as a goalie, inching through the ranks of the hockey school and carving out a style under the guidance of Francois Allaire.

Not until a few years prior to the 2000 NHL draft did Bryzgalov start toying with the idea of playing in the NHL.

"When I start to realize what is this and what is the NHL, what does it mean, I started thinking, 'OK, why not? You got the opportunity. I will come,' " Bryzgalov said.

He was drafted in the second round, 44th overall, by the Anaheim Ducks in 2000. He joined the club's AHL affiliate in Cincinnati in 2001.

Bryzgalov struggled to communicate in his new surroundings.

"I walk to the restaurant. I can't even order the food because I know just couple words like yes or no," he said, explaining how he'd point to items on the menu.

He started watching TV, flipping through channels to learn the language, and teammates would grab items like a water bottle or an apple and explain how to say the word in English. But Bryzgalov felt lonely and isolated. Meeting Zjenya helped with the transition.

The pair had mutual friends and met at Zjenya's 18th birthday party. She was studying at the University of Cincinnati after moving from Russia when she was 14.

"I call him my birthday gift," she said.

They dated for eight months before getting married. But life in the AHL was difficult.

"Being like 12 or 18 hours on the bus and coming somewhere playing a game and then being on the bus again . . . it was tough," Zjenya, 26, said. "It was all done because he had a goal. He had a dream in mind to play in the NHL one day."

Many times Bryzgalov contemplated leaving and going back to Russia. The Ducks organization was telling him he needed experience in the AHL and needed to learn how to be a No. 1 goaltender. The team made promises of calling him up, but he never stuck with the team. Bryzgalov thought he was ready and was wasting the best years of his career.

Zjenya and he talked about a move back to Russia. During the NHL lockout for the 2004-05 season, Bryzgalov even went back to Russia to sign a contract with the Kontinental Hockey League.

"But something about it stopped us and we stayed for one more year," Zjenya said.

In 2005, Bryzgalov joined the Ducks as the backup goaltender and won a Stanley Cup with the team the following season.

"The dream came true," Zjenya said. "We're finally in the NHL. The next step is becoming No.1 now in the NHL."

In 2007, the Coyotes claimed Bryzgalov off waivers. He'd become expendable to the Ducks when the team signed Jonas Hiller earlier that year, but the Coyotes valued him as their new top goaltender.

"Wayne Gretzky and Don Maloney and other people trusted him here," Zjenya said. "We're so thankful for that."

In his time with the Coyotes, Bryzgalov has kept his approach to the game simple.

"Do whatever you want just don't let the puck across the goal line," he said.

It's a job, but it's also 60 minutes of fun. Sure, he analyzes his mistakes after a loss and carries the disappointment Bryzgalov takes the losses hard. "He gets very upset at times," Zjenya said. " . . . I prefer not to touch the open wound. I prefer to talk about it next day or so."

But that next day Bryzgalov is back to having fun.

"You lose the game, so what? Nobody dies. Tomorrow we win," he said. "It's just a hockey game. It's just entertaining, entertaining business. It's not a tragedy here even if the team loses. Two days later nobody going to remember. It's not tragedy compared to some of the tragedies in some people's lives."

Bryzgalov's having the most fun when he's at home. He's serious at home where he reads philosophy by Socrates, Aristotle and Plato and literature by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. He watches the History Channel.

He likes to involve his kids in most of his activities. They eat together as a family, whether at home where Bryzgalov likes to cook meats or at a restaurant like Chipotle. He helps his kids with their homework, takes them to the movies and plays at the park with them and their Husky dog.

When he has the chance, he picks Valery and Vladislav up from school, and every Saturday he takes them ice skating at noon.

"You have a lot of respect for guys who are doing stuff like that," captain Shane Doan said.

It baffles Zjenya to hear stories about how he's goofy in the locker room.

"He's very serious, very deep soul," she said.

Bryzgalov said only his family and close friends get to see the real him, and he changes his behavior when he's around other people.

"You never know what the people want from you," he said.

His teammates said his behavior lightens the mood around the locker room.

"He's got that personality that comes off a little strange sometimes, but he's a good guy at heart," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "He's fun. He means well. It might be the Russian-English barrier a little bit . . . but he's good to be around. He's funny, makes the guys chuckle."

Doan said Bryzgalov "is his own individual."

"He knows what his opinions are, and he's so unique," Doan continued. "He's a lot of fun to kind of listen to, to see what he's going to say next."

But goaltending coach Sean Burke doesn't see Bryzgalov as a "quirky, off-the-wall guy.

"My guess is a lot of stuff and things he does is pretty calculated," he said. "I think it's probably his way of dealing with pressure, being a No.1 goaltender. He's just a bright guy who kind of knows this is his way of letting off some steam."

Even though Bryzgalov said he loves his current situation with the team, he still misses Russia. He travels back there every summer, but he still misses his parents when he's here. He talks to his parents on the phone at least once a week. Sometimes the isolation wears on him, and he starts to ponder moving back to Russia.

"I even thinking about it now," he said.

But he's here because he likes his teammates, the coaches and the organization.

"It still is the best league in the world," he said. "We play hockey to win something, to prove something."

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett views Bryzgalov's competitiveness as what keeps him here.

"He wants to be one of the top players in the world, and I think this is the top league in the world," Tippett said.

"So he recognizes for him to have the ultimate success, the highest success personally and with the group, this is where he wants to be. And that competitiveness, the competitiveness that he has burning inside of him, overweighs the hardship of leaving your home country."

Zjenya describes Bryzgalov's motivation as more precise.

"The goal is to win (a Stanley Cup) as a No. 1 goalie," she said.

After Bryzgalov finished the rest of Vladislav's ice cream, the family walked outside.

"Hold on, we forget the water," Bryzgalov said before walking back into the store to grab the bottle left on the table.

Zjenya stops to watch Valery and Vladislav chase each other around the trees. Bryzgalov joins her, and the pair pauses to gaze at the scene with smiles.

"They close to us," Bryzgalov said. "We can see each other. That's all we need.

"Nothing else is important."


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What I found interesting in that article comparing to the struggles that he is having today, is the "in between" in which Bryzgalov applied that work ethic, and desire to become on of the elite goaltenders, a Veniza candidate. I think he has it in him to dig a bit deeper and play like the goalie he was in Arizona. As noted by those stats I posted in an earlier article, a lot of his starts this season are not his norm.

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I think his heart isn't into it as much as it was in the past, and he is really struggling with the pressure if being a number one in a major market with expectations. His awkward bit isn't helping him right now, and he has no idea what to do.

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I get what you're saying but that was back when he wasn't established yet. Now that he is and was handed a big contract, his desire might not be there or he can't live up to the hype. He might've thought he was the only option in goal as Bob was still unproven so he didn't work as hard as he once did. I hope I am wrong and that he turns it around somehow or we are f**k for the next 8 years. I hope that the Flyers management has learned again from this fiasco and stop with the stupid long term contracts w/NMC.

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Flyers fans are tough. I know. I have been one for a long time. The despiration of not having a Cup in 35+ years is wearing like a lead anchor. We all need to give Bryz a break. This guy is elite. I don't care if we lose the next 10 games with him in goal if that what it takes for him to get his groove. Nothing matters except getting in the playoffs and the season after the 82 game season.

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Let's Supersize that Vince! If Bryz steals the Winter Classic, all will be forgotton in this city of mercurial fans..

I disagree, but it will help. After all, that would be the first game he has stolen this season. He needs to do quite a bit more, unless we are talking about a certain game seven.

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I think that got our wish doom, eh? Man, Bryz is out there....

I will settle for giving Bob a fair chance, but my wish was to leave Bryz in and let him crash and burn his career right out of Philly. Nothing personal, he just can't stop the puck he is paid handsomely against the cap to do.

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I will settle for giving Bob a fair chance, but my wish was to leave Bryz in and let him crash and burn his career right out of Philly. Nothing personal, he just can't stop the puck he is paid handsomely against the cap to do.

I don't think so. I want Bryz to do well. But, he has some head issues so maybe siting on the bench with his herbal tea today will give him some time to think.

Where is the goalie coach? D

oes not exactly speak well of him that he canlt get Bryz's game back...

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