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Lundqvist one of many influences on Georgiev with Rangers

Veteran teammate example for goalie, who honed game in Russia, Finland

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Alexandar Georgiev incorporated influences from far and wide on his way to the NHL, including some he shares with a fellow goalie who is influencing him at the moment: New York Rangers teammate Henrik Lundqvist.

Georgiev developed his skating as a child in Russia and evolved the technical part of his game during summers in Finland, but former NHL goalie Fredrik Norrena, a teammate of Lundqvist's in Sweden, played a major role in Georgiev's development. It began during the 10 summers Georgiev attended the Gold in the Net school in Norrena's hometown of Pietarsaari, Finland, and continued when Norrena was the goaltending coach during Georgiev's three seasons with TPS in Turku, Finland. 

Norrena was a goalie for Frolunda HC in 2002-03, sharing duties with Lundqvist during a run to the championship. Each goalie played in the final series.


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"You could see the same determination in [Lundqvist] as in Alexandar," said the 45-year-old Norrena, who is eight years older than Lundqvist. "Henrik is from that era when the goalies he watched growing up -- and played with when he stepped up to the men's level -- were kind of hybrid, stand-up goalies like me. So he grew up in the era where you were teaching both ways, stand-up, butterfly, half-butterfly, hybrid, like [Martin] Brodeur, kind of."

The butterfly drop style is a default for most of the goalies in the NHL, but Lundqvist is a rarity with his reliance on patient, upright, still-on-the-skates saves. At the other end of the ice in practice, there is similar purposeful patience in Georgiev's approach.

"He's always had that high posture, but standing up on your feet, that's also kind of a courage thing," Norrena, who played for the Columbus Blue Jackets for three seasons from 2006-09, said of Georgiev. "It's easy to say, but it's harder to do that."

Video: NYR@EDM: Georgiev makes two saves on Cave

The 23-year-old focuses on it in practice. 

"As not a huge guy, patience is key," said Georgiev, who like Lundqvist is 6-foot-1. "In practice especially, I try to be standing on high shots and then it translates into the game. Henrik is one of the best in the League at reading the shot. I picked up a few things from him, especially in tight, but he just reads the shots so well and also in practice he tries to be patient with it."

In his first full NHL season, Georgiev has done a pretty good job of following Lundqvist statistically too. After going 4-4-1 with a .918 save percentage in 10 games last season, Georgiev is 10-12-3 with a .905 save percentage in 27 games (24 starts) this season, not far off Lundqvist's .909 save percentage in 49 games (all starts) with a rebuilding team.

Georgiev's strengths start with his skating, which he honed with drills that sometimes left him crying as a 6-year-old in Russia. 

"We'd do one hour (on) ice and I would not go in the net at all, just (do) skating drills for one hour straight," said Georgiev, who was born in Bulgaria but moved with his family to Russia soon afterward. He is a dual citizen and has played for Russia internationally.

The skating foundation has served Georgiev well, but the lack of modern goalie coaching in Russia during his formative years made for an awkward transition after his parents found out about Norrena's summer camp online. They first made the trip to Finland, more than 10 hours by car, when Georgiev was 10.

"Russian goaltending was a bit behind the Finnish one, so I came in a completely different style, playing like Martin Brodeur, old school, making split saves all the time," Georgiev said.

Ironically, what Norrena mostly remembers from that first summer together was Georgiev's exceptional skating. 

"That was my first impression, and because he was good on his skates he was also good at catching pucks," Norrena said. "When you don't have to focus on your skating you are able to focus on the puck instead."

Georgiev took a VHS tape of himself from that first camp back to Russia and spent the subsequent season focusing on improving the modern technical elements introduced in Finland. 

"The next year I came back and I was a totally different goalie," Georgiev said. "Nobody could recognize me, from being a technical mess to being solid and sharp."

That evolution continued through 10 summers at the camp, where Canadian influence was also introduced via the Gold in the Net instructional video series. It was designed by founder Perry Elderbroom, a goaltending coach from Parksville, British Columbia, who worked for the Blue Jackets during the 2008-09 season.

"Those videos are how he kind of studied the goaltending game," Norrena said. "He improved every year."

Georgiev also adjusted the positioning of his hands to make them more active based on playing two seasons with Finnish goalie Teemu Lassila in Turku, and now relies on another Canadian, Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, to complete his transition to the NHL. 

"[Allaire] emphasizes always being stopped before the shot," Georgiev said. "He says, 'Beat the pass, question, answer.' The player asks you a question and you have to have the right answer." 

From Russia to Finland to New York, with influences from Sweden and Canada mixed in, Georgiev has prepared to correctly answer the questions asked in the NHL.

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