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Blue Jackets lock up their "backbone"

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

In the summer of 2010, Sergei Bobrovsky came to the National Hockey League eager for an opportunity to play in the best league in the world.

The Philadelphia Flyers signed him to an entry-level contract and he earned a spot out of training camp, and coach Peter Laviolette named him the team’s starting goalie for the season opener in Pittsburgh. Bobrovsky won 28 games as a 22-year-old but came up short in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, so the Flyers went out and signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract in free agency to replace Bobrovsky as the No. 1 goalie in Philadelphia.

Bobrovsky spent one season as Bryzgalov’s backup, going 14-10-2 in 29 appearances but his numbers slipped. The Flyers traded him to the Blue Jackets for draft picks on the eve of the 2012 NHL Draft, giving Bobrovsky the fresh start and opportunity he had been seeking.

What happened next speaks (loudly) for itself.

After winning a training camp duel with incumbent Steve Mason, Bobrovsky grabbed the reins during the lockout-shortened 2013 season and has not looked back. He appeared in 38 of the Jackets’ 48 games in 2013, posting a 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage as the team narrowly missed on a playoff spot.

That sterling performance earned him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, and in 2013-14, he stepped up large down the stretch in a trying season (mostly due to injury) to lead the Blue Jackets to their first playoff berth in five years.

Bobrovsky also represented his native Russia – the host country – at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and was one of the stars for his team, going 1-0-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in three starts.

So it’s no surprise that the Blue Jackets believe they have one of the best goaltenders in the world in Bobrovsky, making it an easy decision to commit long-term to their No. 1 guy.

“You look around the league and it’s easy to see that the backbone of any successful team is a good goaltender,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen told “Here’s a guy who can carry a big load, meaning if he stays healthy, he can play up to 70 games because of the preparation and the work he puts in every day. He’s a big part of the success we’ve had here recently and we want him to be part of our success going forward.

“It’s important to have a goaltender like Bob, who is capable and durable enough to play a heavy role for us.”

Bobrovsky, 26, is the backbone of the Blue Jackets. He is their great equalizer, the player who gives them a chance to win every single night. He bails out their mistakes, makes the saves he’s expected to make and plenty that he’s not, which is a characteristic of the sport’s elite.

It hasn’t come as a surprise to anyone who spends time around Bobrovsky. Ask any one of his teammates, coaches, trainers or the medical staff and they’ll offer the same refrain: Bobrovsky is one of the hardest workers they’ve ever seen – the first one in and one of the last to leave.

There is a running joke that if you can’t find Bob, you can probably find him on the stationary bike, but that’s more of a statement about his character and work ethic than anything else.

“He’s a tireless worker,” Kekalainen said. “Every practice, every game…he prepares like a true professional and that’s what he’s all about. We’ve seen a great goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky so far this year, but we believe he’s only going to get better.”

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