Sergei Bobrovsky. Source: Getty Images / Fotobank
The Columbus Blue Jackets can no longer be considered a league outsider after the start of this year’s National Hockey League season. In large part, the team has managed a turnaround thanks to the efforts made by its management during the off-season, as well as the amazing game of Russian goaltender and Novokuznetsk native Sergei Bobrovsky.
During his two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets, 26-year-old Bobrovsky has become one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, winning the Vezina Trophy and becoming the first Russian to win the best goalie award during the regular season.
The club’s fans have listed Sergei as the team’s second-best player after ex-captain Rick Nash. Whether Columbus is able to make it to the playoffs again and get past the first round for the first time in its history will largely hinge on “Bob’s” game.
Bobrovsky told RBTH about his life in the United States, his relations with his American teammates, the role that Russians play in the NHL, and the Russian team’s victory at the World Championship in Minsk.
RBTH: You have been living in the U.S. for four years. What are your impressions of that country?
Sergei Bobrovsky: I’m very comfortable in the U.S. I’ve always been surrounded by really good, responsive people in Philadelphia and Columbus [Ohio]. Of course, most of my time is spent on games and training, but sometimes I manage to get out into the city.
I love to walk around the parks with my wife, go to local museums, eat out with friends. Columbus locals recognize me on the street, take pictures with me, wish me luck. There are no negatives.
But the most important thing for me is the atmosphere in the hockey arena. There is a full house at every match. In the NHL you’re always playing in a full stadium, and that really makes me happy.
RBTH: Which of your partners do you get on with the best?
S.B.: I mostly hang out with Russian guys like Fedor Tyutin and Artem Anisimov. It’s always more comfortable when you’re around your compatriots, although I wouldn’t worry too much even if I were alone. I get along well with my other partners, too. We have an excellent team. I can ask any player for advice. Plus, I need to constantly practice my English.
RBTH: NHL star Scott Hartnell said you were his favorite teammate of his entire career…
S.B.: It was so nice for me to read that interview with Hartnell. The feeling is mutual. I hope he adapts to his new team quickly and scores in every game.
RBTH: This season you have the Russian and American flags on your helmet. What does that mean?
S.B.: These are two countries I have a major connection with. I would like to express those feelings. I also have the Columbus emblem on my helmet.
RBTH: What has been your most memorable match in the NHL?
S.B.: My debut match in the NHL. They told me I would be playing in goal just a few hours before the match.
I was shaking a little with nerves. It was the first game of the season and also the Pennsylvania derby with Pittsburgh.
We were the visiting team, and our fans always give plenty of ‘mutual love’. At first I had to cover my ears from the noise, but then I coped with the pressure and played pretty well, and my team won [Philadelphia beat Pittsburgh 3:2, Bobrovsky deflected 29 shots and was the first star of the day].
RBTH: At Philadelphia you shared the goal with another Russian – Ilya Bryzgalov. How did you get along?
S.B.: We were friends. If I needed advice, Ilya, as the more experienced goaltender, always shared it with me. I struggled on the ice at each training session. I really wanted to play more, but whenever I got the chance, I burned out and didn’t do well. Nonetheless, I’m positive about the experience. I learned a lot from it. I got experience and learned lessons in goaltending mastery every day.
RBTH: Philadelphia traded you to Columbus, and you became the best goalie of the regular season from the get-go. Were you insulted by that?
S.B.: I don’t hold any grudges. I spent two amazing years at Philadelphia. I got stronger there, both as a player and as a person. Yes, our paths diverged, but we’re moving forward – Philadelphia on its path, me on mine.
It was nice to win the Vezina Trophy and be the best goaltender in the league. That was really great. But the most important thing is for your club to perform successfully.
When Columbus wins, everyone experiences the same positive feelings and pride for the club. I’ll continue to train so I can play even better. The team has certain goals, and we want to accomplish them. We need to produce a smoother game during the season.
RBTH: Who was your goalkeeping idol as a child?
S.B.: Idol? I never had one. My only dream was to play in the NHL. I’m happy that I managed to achieve it, but I worked a lot for it.
RBTH: Do you remember the day you first stood between the goalposts?
S.B.: I was training for my hometown team, Metallurg. My parents didn’t want me to be a goalie, and I played as a defender. But our goalie fell ill, and we were scheduled to play the next day. We didn’t have a second goalie, and the coach asked whether I wanted to go in goal. I agreed. I liked it, and I’ve stayed in goal ever since. At first I had trouble with flexibility, but I made up for lost time.
RBTH: There is an opinion among hockey experts that the role of Russian players in the NHL has weakened. Whereas 10 or more Russian superstars played in the NHL in the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, now the players are mediocre.
S.B.: I don’t agree with that opinion. A lot of Russian guys play a definitive role on their teams. We have a lot of amazing hockey players besides Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin. I won’t name them all because I don’t want to forget anyone. The NHL also has a lot of talented young people from Russia. Valeri Nichushkin, Nail Yakupov, and other guys might become leaders in their clubs in the near future.
RBTH: You played at the World Championship in Minsk with Malkin and Ovechkin. What memories do you have of that tournament?
S.B.: The Belarus championship showered me with a mass of great memories. As I’ve already noted several times, the atmosphere at the World Championship was excellent. But it was especially good on our team. The Russian team was a unified whole. Each player put the team’s goals – not personal goals – at the forefront. The result was ten wins in a row and a gold medal.
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