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WHO WAS THE NHL'S FIRST STAR LAST WEEK... AND THEN AGAIN THIS WEEK?



THIS GUY.

And this is reason enough to get off my ass and post my primer on Ilya Bryzgalov, and Why You Should Love Him.

Disclaimer: I got into hockey about two months ago. I wrote this because the alternative was babbling about my Bryzgalov Feelings to [personal profile] jamethiel until she got sick of me. I may have gotten things wrong. Proceed With Caution.






So, way back in 1980, this adorable moppet was born in Tolgliatti, Russia, a biggish industrial city. Philly hires blue-collar even when the locals spell it рабочий.

Bryzgalov started his pro career in 1999, in the Russian Superleague. He played for the Spartak Moscow in the Russian equivalent of the AHL for about half a season, then got bumped up to the majors to play for his home team, the Lada Tolgliatti.



Other notable Lada boys: Alexander Semin, Alexei Kovalev, and Sergei Gonchar. Possibly there is something in the water in Tolgliatti.

Bryz won Best Newcomer for the 1999-2000 season, and, oh yeah, posted a .971 save percentage and 0.77 goals allowed in the 2000 World Juniors, helping Russia take silver.



Then in 2000, Bryzgalov was drafted by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the second round, 44th overall. Huzzah! The United States! Bright lights! Big city!



Annnnnd playing for the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in the AHL for four seasons, because Anaheim already had two goalies. Whoops.

It's okay though, Bryz used the spare energy to take a road trip to Salt Lake City with the 2002 Russian Olympic team. He didn't, uh, actually play, at all, but they won bronze, so that's nice.



During the 2004-2005 lockout, Martin Gerber fucked off to Switzerland to play for his old team, then signed with the Hurricanes, opening up a spot on the Anaheim roster and allowing Bryzgalov to finally make his NHL rookie debut for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2005, at the ripe old age of 25.



Unfortunately for Jean-Sébastien Giguère, the Ducks' main goalie, but fortunately for Bryzgalov, Giguère spent a lot of that season being really broken. Bryz got a good amount of ice time. He did respectably in the season, then ripped it the fuck up in the playoffs, recording three consecutive shutouts against the Flames and the Avalanche before he kinda lost it against the Oilers and Giguère took over again. The Oilers won, and the Ducks were denied the Stanley Cup.

NOT FOR LONG.



That's right, in 2007, the newly-renamed Anaheim Ducks pulled it together and got themselves sparkly, sparkly rings. But first, Bryzgalov started down his long and glorious path of letting his mouth get the better of him.

First, he gave this wonderful interview, in which he was making fun of someone else and yet which is still in the top three list of interviews people quote to prove that Bryz doesn't treat the game with the respect it deserves, causing my right eyebrow to twitch a lot.



Then, and more seriously, he said some things about the Ducks' coach, Randy Carlyle, not having confidence in his abilities as a goaltender. I have been unable to find a transcript of this bad-mouthing, but apparently for a mouthing, it was pretty bad. Carlyle benched Bryzgalov for much of the playoffs, including all of the finals.

He still got to take the Cup home to Tolgliatti, though.



Visiting his dad's workplace at the auto factory. Such a good Russian boy!



Unfortunately, the Russian border security confiscated his fashion sense. ILYA, DARLING. I know decision-making is hard, but you really do have to pick one shirt and stick with it. Sewing together the seven possibilities into one Frankenshirt is not an acceptable solution.



I really tried to find Cup photos of Bryzgalov without the Frankenshirt. They don't exist. Possibly the shirt ate them.

Anyway, in 2006 the Ducks re-signed Giguère and picked up Jonas Hiller in the draft. Having filled his goalie quota without resorting to mouthy Russians, Carlyle put Bryzgalov on waivers, where he was snatched up by the Phoenix Coyotes.



He played for Phoenix for four seasons, including two playoff runs, and averaged 33 wins per season and a .917 save percentage.



He helped lead Russia to victory in the 2009 World Cup, earning his first international gold medal. (He's said that the Stanley Cup meant more to him, though.)



Bryz also did that whole “Olympics” thing again in 2006 and 2010, though Russia couldn't get their shit together enough to medal either time.

I mention these four years of strong performance in the NHL and in international competition in to put what's about to happen in context.



Okay, so, at the end of the 2010- 2011 season, Bryzgalov was a top-fifteen-in-the-league goalie and an unrestricted free agent. He was set to become a franchise player.

The Flyers, on the other hand, were set to become crazy. They'd spent the last two seasons going through 11 goalies, non of whom were, uh, good. In a wild fit of desperation, they traded away their best forwards, these two dudes you might have heard of, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, to open up enough cap space to sign Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million dollar deal.

This deal was widely considered ill-advised. It made Bryzgalov the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, despite the fact that he had a worse record than Tomas Voukoun, another, younger free-agent goalie who negotiated a new deal that summer for much, much, much less. Down Goes Brown made jokes about it. Jeff Carter hid down the Shore and refused to come out. It was the trade of the summer, and it made Philadelphia in general, and Bryzgalov in particular, hard to ignore.

And then HBO's 24/7 crew followed the Flyers around for two months, and Bryzgalov was impossible to ignore.

Okay, look, if you haven't watched 24/7, you really should. It's only four hours, I can give you download links if you PM me, and you get to see how hockey teams operate. But besides that, Bryzgalov is … How shall I put this?

In news, when you're recommending a source to another reporter, there's this joke that when someone has a knack for phrasing things in a really interesting way, that they “give good quote.”

Bryzgalov gives AMAZING quote. Like, unbelievably good. I have this image of the 24/7 editing bay, filled with editors who've just gone over the dailies lolling back in a near-post-coitial daze, smoking their cigarettes and saying “Where did we FIND this guy?”

Just watch.

On the Universe:



On Dogs and Defensemen:



On Tigers:



HE'S WONDERFUL. I want to take him out to Smokes, get him drunk, and let him talk philosophy with the physics majors from Penn. HOW IS HE REAL?

Unfortunately, during this whole period, his playing was un-wonderful. It was actually super-bad. Like, bottom-five in the League bad. Like, the back-up goalie for the Flyers, Sergei Bobrovsky, was doing better than him, even though Bobo was in a sophomore slump. Like, his save-percentage at December 28 was .888. Like, Philly was calling for his head on a hoagie roll.



Wit wiz.



Interestingly enough, what seemed to piss people off the most wasn't that Bryzgalov was being paid a lot of money and playing badly; it was that he wasn't self-flagellating enough in interviews. Or he was self-flagellating too much. Or that he was too arrogant. Or that he wasn't "mentally tough," despite having played pro hockey for a decade. Or 24/7 did it. Something. I don't even know. Everyone had a theory, everyone was angry.

Sometime near the end of January, Bryz all but stopped talking to reporters, stopped going on social media (his Twitter is glorious, but it's been dead since January), and apparently started working his ass off in practice.



Whatever happened, it paid off. Since then, Bryzgalov has fully regressed to his mean, playing like a beast. He's 16-5-4 in 2012, and 8-0-1 in March, including four shutouts, three of which were in a row. During the three-in-a-row shutouts, he broke the Flyers franchise record for longest streak without giving up a goal, going 249.6 minutes without a goal. To put that into perspective, that is long enough to watch Gone with the Wind and take bathroom breaks. It's a long, long time.

Bryzgalov's save percentage has bounced back from .888 in December to .911 in March, and there's no reason not to expect it to keep climbing. In short, Ilya has gone from Bryzaster to Brickwallov, making a lot of Flyers fans less depressed about the prospect of a newly-healthy Sidney Crosby rejoining the Pens for the playoffs.



Bobrovsky dances for us all.



The Philosopher Goalie

You guys. In case the 24/7 clips didn't make it obvious, Bryzgalov is a COLOSSAL nerd. (At least, by hockey player standards. I'm looking at you, Cam "I'm a goalie, I don't read" Ward.) In Phoenix, his goalie coach asked him for reading recommendations. Bryz gave him Crime and Punishment.



Yes, that Crime and Punishment. The one you were supposed to read in English class when you were sixteen and probably got halfway through before you gave up and went for the Cliff's Notes. This is Bryzgalov's go-to rec. He's also mentioned reading Tolstoy, Chekov, and a lot of Russian history. The man is a pro-hockey player and a bookworm. I love his brain.

According to Wikipedia, which never lies, Bryzgalov spent five summers going back to Russia for college until he earned his degree. I'm starting to think that "Goalie Summers" should be the NHL's next reality show. Ilya Bryzgalov goes to college! Henrik Lundqvist tours with his band! Carey Price is a not-so-secret cowboy! Tim Thomas insults sitting presidents and embarrasses his team! It could be a whole thing.

When Bryz was traded to Philadelphia, he decided to make his new mask an homage to his new city. Expected themes for a hockey player's tribute to Philly might be Rocky, cheesesteaks, or the LOVE statue.



Bryzgalov went with Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, and the Preamble to the Constitution.

How is he so great?



There's actually a whole rap devoted to Bryz's Philosopher-Goalie-ness. It's pretty amusing, you should watch it.

Bryzgalov vs Winnipeg

This little saga spans Bryz's time with the Coyotes and the Flyers, and also is hilarious, so I went ahead and broke it out into its own section.

This is Winnipeg.

"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said after the Coyotes lost to Detroit, Wednesday night. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family."
The 30-year-old Russian's knowledge of Winnipeg comes from a visit or two when he was with Cincinnati in the AHL. "I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold," Bryzgalov said. "I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."
OK, frigid weather aside, would he re-sign with GM Don Maloney if the team relocated?
"Probably not. I better go to somewhere in Russia, KHL, to be honest. Because KHL is Russian people, it's family, friends. Even as a cold place, I can speak to people in Russian language."


That's right, Winnipeg is worse than Russia. As a Texan, I fully support this statement. -40 isn't a temperature, it's an absurdity.

Winnipeggians (Winnipeggers? Winnipegos?) do not share this opinion, however. They would like you to know that they have loads of parks, and also entertaining! Somewhere. In the tunnels. For a year, their fury seethed, until finally Bryzgalov, now with the Flyers and no longer facing the threat of Canadian relocation, came to their native land.

And oh god, did they get some revenge.



Bryzgalov didn't start this game; Sergei Bobrovsky did, giving up five goals in the first two periods. After he was pulled, Bryzgalov gave up four goals in ten shots, and then gave up even more in the post-game interview, as seen above. It tied for the highest-scoring game in Flyers franchise history, and Bryzgalov got ripped apart in the Philly media for being “defeatist.” Y'all, The Flyers'd just been defeated. I'm not sure when is a more appropriate time to BE defeatist.

Bryzgalov, rightly terrified of the wrath of the Winnipeglegs from high atop their many parks' jungle gyms, apologized.



And then, during warm-ups before the next game in Winnipeg, in which he didn't play, he gave his hockey stick to an eight-year-old Winnipegasus hater. This really ought to be the new standard for international conflict resolution.



But the Winnipegigolos were unassuaged by stunning acts of cuteness! In his first start against Winnipeg since this mess all started, Bryz kinda fucked it up, letting in three goals, including one where he appeared to have been distracted by a passing butterfly. Philly won in overtime, thanks to a shot by Jaromir Jagr. Bryzgalov's post-game interview should go in the dictionary under “black humor.”

Bryzgalov: “You know, I like it. It was great atmosphere. I wish every building going to be supportive like that. They going to support me like here, you know. It was nice to hear cheering, “Ilya, Ilya!” I never hear it before anywhere. When 15,000 people support you, it's very impressive.”
Reporter: “Just like Philly, huh?”
Bryzgalov: “No, here they cheer me. In Philly they boo me.”


Oh, Bryz. Philly loves you now (and I do mean now, that shit could change at any second)! Whether Winnipeg has forgiven you remains to be seen. Maybe you should open a park there in the off-season.

The Quoteable Bryzgalov

On the rivalry between the Flyers and the New York Rangers: “It seems like there’s going to be lots of murders. Make sure we have enough ambulances.”


On childhood: “Childhood is when you are running from the bathroom in the middle of the night, happy you didn't get eaten.”

On what he wears on-ice: “I always wear long underwear and I usually wear lingerie too...”

On Edmonton: “Here is like the North Pole.”

On his 24/7 interviews: “Hey, guys, you should read my Russian interviews with what I said in Russia. I was an angel in this interview.”

MORE PICTURES



The man knows how to rock a suit.



This is a real thing that really happened.



What do you say to the haters, Bryz?

This magnificent human being thanks you for your time.

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