Sergei Bobrovsky leaned back in his locker stall, closed his eyes and tried to recall his emotions after knowing something went wrong in the third period of a Dec. 3 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. His team was holding a 1-0 lead and he had just made a flashy, timely glove save on Tampa’s J.T. Brown.
But in a split-second, the roller coaster reached its peak and then violently crashed.
As he backed into his net following the save, Bobrovsky’s leg collided with the post and he immediately knew something was wrong. He felt it physically. He felt it mentally. The only feeling he can vividly recall from that moment is being helped off the ice by his teammates, and by the end of the night, realizing that his recovery would not be an easy road.
He’s only 25 years old, but Bobrovsky has played a lot of hockey in his young career. He can’t remember all the games and moments one-by-one, but he is absolutely certain that he never had to miss a month due to injury. Not even close, he said.
The only way Bobrovsky knows to approach life is with a smile. During practice, after practice, passing him in the hallway, it’s the same guy. “He’s just Bob, and we love him” as Nick Foligno once said, and that’s the overwhelming consensus among his teammates. They love playing for the guy, they love his infectious attitude and he’s pretty good at stopping the puck, too.
And when he had to watch someone else stop the puck, Bobrovsky found it difficult at times to ignore the rear view mirror.
“I can’t remember missing this much time,” Bobrovsky told BlueJackets.com. “It was tough, but I don’t focus on what’s tough…it just happened. I accepted that and pushed through."
”It’s happened before…every sportsman in their life and hockey career goes through injuries. It’s probably part of the game, part of your life. I just stayed positive, (focus on) hard work, and focus on my job.”
That’s all well and good in theory, and Bobrovsky admitted that the first few days after his injury were the most difficult. He couldn’t skate, he couldn’t work out, he was walking gingerly and timidly. On top of that, he was on the outside. He wasn’t in the battle with his teammates and wasn’t part of the day-to-day.
It’s like the worst nightmare for a guy who thrives on the next moment, and making the next save.
“At first, you’re really disappointed,” Bobrovsky said. “Like I said before, empty. The first couple of days was really tough. I told myself mentally that it’s happened, it’s in the past and there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to move forward.”
Originally slated for a 4-5 week recovery period, Bobrovsky was determined that he would be back on the ice within that window. It was eating him up. When he did return to the ice (on the road in Raleigh, N.C. just before the Christmas break), it was back to work with goaltending coach Ian Clark, with whom Bobrovsky has formed a solid relationship and he credits Clark with many improvements in his game since arriving in Columbus.
The rehab was longer than he wanted. It was difficult, mainly because it wasn’t hockey. But when Bobrovsky finally got back between the pipes last week at Madison Square Garden, it was shades of “Vezina Bob.,” or “spring Bob,” as coach Todd Richards said after practice on Tuesday.
He battled with one of the game’s best, Henrik Lundqvist, for 65 minutes and into a shootout - and Bobrovsky got the upper hand.
“I was really excited,” Bobrovsky said about making his return at MSG. “I missed the guys. They’re my teammates, and I was happy to be back playing with them. It was lots of fun.”
Bobrovsky is 3-0-0 since returning from injury and has allowed just two goals in his last two starts - including a 36-save shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes last Friday night. And this being an Olympic year, Bobrovsky has tried his best to keep the Sochi Games from the forefront of his thoughts but the calendar is starting to approach February.
He’s in the mix, along with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, to be the No. 1 goaltender for his home country and the host nation at the Olympics. Did the injury and subsequent month off have Bobrovsky thinking about his Olympic status?
“I tried to focus on the ‘today.’ I tried to not think about any negative things, would I miss the Olympics, any of that stuff,” Bobrovsky said. “I want to live in the today - today’s the day, you know? - and that was my main focus when I tried to get healthy again.”