When Sergei Bobrovsky left Columbus at the close of last season, he had played just 37 games and finished the campaign with a save percentage of .908. Injuries had plagued the former Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender throughout the year and he, much like his team, didn't meet expectations.
"The first year in Columbus, Bob won the Vezina," goaltender coach Ian Clark said. "The next two years were very good years for him. Did we have ebbs that needed to be better? Sure. But last year was the really tumultuous year. It was any number of things that were punches to the gut."
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But goaltending is a unique alchemy of mind, body and spirit, and working on each has returned Bobrovsky to form this season. He's led the Blue Jackets to the upper echelons of the NHL standings, while taking his place among the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy in 2016-17. He also made his NHL All-Star Game debut in late-January.
When did everything start to change for Bobrovsky? Clark noticed things as soon as last season ended that would feed his resurgence.
"Bob always likes to have something in his focus," he said. "The good thing about his departure after last year was that he had lots of things on the horizon, starting with the World Championships. It was something he was looking forward to in order to turn the page. It was good for his mind and his spirit."
Bobrovsky had a tremendous tournament playing for Russia in his homeland. He put up a .931 save percentage in nine games, allowing just 15 goals on 218 shots against. Ultimately, Team Russia defeated Team USA to take home a bronze medal.
That performance was a strong first step in closing the book on 2015-16. Next up, Bobrovsky took a few weeks off to travel, be with his wife and forget about hockey for just a bit.
"There were lessons from last season," Bobrovsky said. "The rest of it you try to throw in the garbage, reset your mind, relax, and get ready for what's next. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday. Tomorrow is most important and today is the life - that's the thing."
His mind rejuvenated, it was off to Austria to train. Clark was in constant communication with the 28-year-old to check in.
"Bob is a very intelligent goaltender," Clark said. "He has the ability to help monitor himself through off-season training. I would put a camp of drills together for him and send it off to him. I stayed familiar with where he was tracking as far as his mind and where his body was."
But there was a new aspect to Bob's training focus, and it wasn't about how he played. It was about his body.
"There's not a lot of adjustments as far as how he plays the position," Clark said. "He had put in an enormous amount of work the season before with the idea that extra muscle was going to make him bigger, stronger, faster.
"At the end of the day, I think we all - including, and most importantly, Bob - felt that it was weight that he didn't really need. So the big focus was to cut back and get lighter and more limber in his body.
"He tinkered with how he prepared his body to give it more resilience. I think the weight loss was part of that. This also included some of his routines and some of his daily off-ice activity and the volume of activity."
By the time summer had ended, Bobrovsky had lost 17 pounds.
"I felt like it's more right for me and it fits my style of the game," Bobrovsky said. "The weight will support my game more."
Video: MET@PAC: Bobrovsky robs Burns with great blocker save
Armed with the fruits of his labor, Bobrovsky had one final step in his rejuvenation process before he hit the ice in Columbus, and it was playing again for Team Russia at the World Cup of Hockey.
In four games, the Blue Jacket played brilliantly. His save percentage was .930, and he helped Russia reach the semi-finals, where they fell to eventual champion Canada. His performance in the tournament signaled to both Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella and Clark that Bobrovsky was back to form.
"I think he felt great about his body condition," Clark said. "He was very spiritually reinvigorated. The past season was something in the distant past because it wasn't like he hadn't played since then."
Bobrovsky hit the ice in Columbus and didn't look back. Bobrovsky was an integral part of the Blue Jackets' run towards history as he played in 14 games during the club's 16-game winning streak from Nov. 29, 2016 to Jan. 3, 2017. The streak fell one game shy of the NHL record of 17 set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I just take what each game and my teammates give," Bobrovsky said. "Some nights, the game pushes you to be better and help the guys more and some games you just have to support them and make the timely saves. I don't want lots of attention, I just enjoy what I'm doing. I just enjoy the atmosphere in the locker room to play with the guys shoulder to shoulder."
Many in the organization will tell you this is the Bobrovsky the team always knew they had. Through it all, he's remained a leader in the locker room through his competitiveness, preparedness and discipline.
"It's all about process," Bobrovsky said. "It's too early to say, 'I was great.' We've got lots of hockey ahead of us, and I look forward to that. It all comes down to me. I am responsible for my life, and I write my own story."
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