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Ken Baker

Bryzgalov's eccentricities continue a goalie tradition

Sunday, 12.25.2011 / 9:00 AM / Goalie Insider

By Ken Baker - NHL.com Goalie Insider

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Bryzgalov's eccentricities continue a goalie tradition
Ilya Bryzgalov, part-time goalie and full-time non sequitur-spewing stand-up philosopher, has been the breakout star of HBO's "24/7" series. And, of course, by "breakout" I mean Bryz apparently has broken out of a loony bin.

His Flyers teammate Danny Briere recently seemed to confirm my diagnosis, calling the free-spirited Russian "a little crazy," before quickly adding, "and it's a good thing."

But is it really a good thing for your $51-million starting goalie to utter some of the most outrageous quotes of the season. And is it truly beneficial for the team to hear him confess he sometimes can "hate" being a puck-stopper. So much so that, according to the man himself in Episode 2, he recently surmised, "Man, I don't want to be goalie anymore" and then continued to explain how he would rather answer phones as the office secretary.

Well, I agree with Briere. Crazy is a good thing for a goalie (not to mention for cable TV reality shows).

Flyers goaltender, Illya Bryzgalov. (Getty Images)
The reason being that most every NHL goalie who has achieved greatness has at some point exhibited behavior that would make you think their mask doubled as a delivery device for air laced with cuckoo chemicals.

We've all heard the old-timer legends about Glenn Hall barfing before every game, of Tony Esposito not allowing anyone to ever, never, ever touch his gear (even equipment mangers), of Jacques Plante knitting socks and scarves alone in his hotel room rather than socializing with his teammates.

And Dominik Hasek, right up there with Patrick Roy as among the greatest modern-era goalies, required a set of nail clippers be stuck on his locker stall (home and away) with a Velcro strip so that – get ready for it – he could clip his nails in between periods. That's right. A winner of six Vezinas and a Stanley Cup, Hasek, when not shutting himself off from his teammates for hours on end playing an old-school hand-held electronic chess game, had convinced himself that he needed to give himself a manicure twice a night. You know, just for good luck.

As for Dom's equally quirky contemporary Patrick Roy, let's not forget that he famously talked to his goal posts and played with a nervous facial twitch right out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

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Current elite goalies are continuing the cray-cray tradition. New York Rangers backup Marty Biron wraps a roll's worth of clear sock tape around each of his ankles. I once counted the number of revolutions at 26. Although modern-day skates provide ample ankle support, Biron has explained, "I feel naked without it. I feel like something is missing." Hmmkay.

Meanwhile, an hour before every game, Ryan Miller "meditates" alone on his Sabres bench, staring blankly at the empty sheet of ice while desperately clutching his goalie stick.
 
Besides their obvious, uh, eccentricities, the common thread among all these colorful guys is that every one of them is exceptionally skilled at the craft of goaltending.

Whether you have to be weird to want to be the the lonely masked one guarding the goal, or the pressure-packed position turns you a bit off-kilter, is a never-ending debate best left for another column. Or, perhaps, a psychiatric symposium.

But, whatever the cause, all the great guardians are about as normal as, well, Ilya Bryzgalov. That is to say, not very normal at all.

But, judging by the illustrious record of the long list of eccentric netminders who have come before the sound-bite machine currently occupying Broad Street, it's a good thing -- as long as he keeps stopping the puck.
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