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Nabokov aims for third trip to Olympics with Russia

by Staff

Evgeni Nabokov struggled while playing goal for Russia in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, so he is glad to have been one of five netminders invited to Russia Olympic orientation camp.

But Nabokov, who re-signed with the New York Islanders this summer, said the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February aren't the only thing on his mind as he prepares for the season.

"Everyone understands that this is the year of the Olympics, and the Games are very important for the country," the 38-year-old said this week in an interview with R-Sport. "However, you should understand that playing for our own club is no less important. Moreover, one supplements the other here: If you play badly for the club, you will not get to the Olympics.

"Therefore, each of us thinks about playing the first club game and later we will think about the second game, and then, in February, we will think about the Olympics. Now we have to prove to the coaches that we deserve to play on the national team, and I can only do this with the help of [playing well] with the Islanders. Believe me, I will not be thinking 24/7 about the Olympics."

Nabokov has had mixed results in two trips to the Olympics for Russia. He played seven games in 2006 and had a 1.34 goals-against average leading his team to the semifinals. But four years later, he had a 4.16 GAA in three games and was driven from the net in Russia's 7-3 quarterfinal loss to Canada.

"Four years have passed and much has changed," he said when asked by R-Sport about playing for Russia for the first time since the 2010 Games. "You know, I do not sit at home thinking, 'When will I get a call from the national team?' My task is to do my job well and to hope that, one day, I will get an invitation. The coaching staff of the Russian National Team makes the decisions, not me, as to whom to invite or not invite."

Nabokov is one of three NHL goaltenders invited to camp; the others were Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche. Two Kontinental Hockey League goaltenders, Konstantin Barulin and Vasily Koshechkin, also were invited.

One goalie who didn't get an invitation was Ilya Bryzgalov, who's still looking for a team after being bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this summer. Bryzgalov backed up Nabokov in 2010.

"I was surprised a little," Nabokov said of Bryzgalov's absence from camp. "Ilya is a very good goaltender. However, that's just it: There are lots of good goaltenders, but the coaching staff can select only three [for the Olympics]."

Though Bobrovsky seemingly rates as the favorite for the starting job after being named the NHL's top goaltender last season, Nabokov bristled when asked if he'd be content to be a backup.

"I do not understand why everyone considers me a reserve player," he said. "We have a coaching staff, and none of them has said anything about who will be the first goaltender and who will be the second or third. I am happy to be on the national team, and that is enough."

Nabokov has spent the past two seasons with the Islanders and helped New York advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring for the first time since 2007. He said getting back to the postseason again will be a lot harder.

"The season was very positive for the team. It was short but dynamic," he said. "We fulfilled one of our tasks: We made it to the playoffs. The Islanders took a great step forward. However, now we are facing greater challenges, and it will be much more difficult to take the next step. We will have to make the playoffs again, but the tasks will be very different this time. I think that this season will be much more difficult for us than the previous one."

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