The much anticipated arrival of the Edmonton Oilers' newest goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, finally came to realization today as the backstop practiced with the team for the first time since being signed to a one-year contract on November 8.
"It was a good practice," said Bryzgalov. "I skated one week in Oklahoma, came here and it's a little bit different speed of the practice, of the games and it takes some time to adjust."
Bryzgalov played two games in Oklahoma City for the Oilers' affiliate on a conditioning stint. After a rusty start in his first game, in which he let in five goals on 28 shots to the Abbotsford Heat, Bryzgalov rebounded with a solid second game.
The goaltender led the Barons to a 4-1 victory with a 25 save performance.
"The first game I was a little bit clumsy. "Obviously I felt a little uncomfortable, it's a lot of players skating back and forth in front of you. The second game I felt pretty much good and much better."
As for when the 33-year-old netminder will start his first game in an Oilers' sweater, there has been no timeline set. It will happen when not only he feels comfortable, but when the goaltending situation calls for it.
With Devan Dubnyk playing at a high level, Bryzgalov has more time to get prepared for duty.
"I'm comfortable when he's comfortable," said Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins. "A lot of this will have to do with if Dubnyk can keep rolling like he is. If Dubnyk keeps going lights out, then he stays in the net. But if we get an average game or, maybe it's not even (Dubnyk), maybe it's the team. We struggle, or whatever it is. The short answer to your question is, I am going to be talking to Bryz every day, how do you feel? Where are you at? Do you think that you're ready to play? So, if he wanted to play the next game, then he would be a consideration.
"He's a veteran guy, he knows his body and he's going to know when he's ready. That'll be more when he gets the big, green checkmark, that he's ready to go."
Bryzgalov comes to Edmonton with many preconceived concerns with his personality, stemming from the way he was framed in an HBO television show while with the Philadelphia Flyers and his 'falling out' with the local media there.
When asked if there were character concerns, the Oilers' bench boss was adamant in his response.
"I find Bryz to be a very intelligent man, maybe with different interests than myself," said Eakins. "Maybe different interests than some of his teammates. But this is an intelligent guy. I have absolutely no concern with how he was framed in a TV show."
During his first press conference as an Oiler, Bryzgalov said he didn't want to talk about the past and that his qualms with the media were behind him.
Ilya Bryzgalov in Oklahoma City. Photo by Steven Christy.
"Great," said his new head coach. "Whatever happened there was the past. I saw bits and frames of it from apart and gone back and looked at it. He seems so far past it. It was a turbulent time I think with the team, the organization and certain individuals in it and it's over."
"I am just enjoying to return to the NHL and have some opportunity to play in Edmonton," said Bryzgalov. "Thank you to the organization for giving me the opportunity."
When it comes to concerns about what people think or say about him as a person, Bryzgalov says it's up to each individual to make their own judgements and not rely on what others have said in the past.
"It's my personal opinion, that I never listen to people. I judge about the person myself. I got to know him first, what's his actions and what's he doing enough to make a statement myself. I don't care what the other people are saying about anyone."
Bryzgalov's career in Philadelphia ended with the organization buying out the remainder of his contract. He faced down the question of whether or not it was difficult for him, as a professional, to be paid to not play hockey.
"Not at all," he said with a small laugh. "It's out of my control, I can't do anything about it if the team buys me out to not play for that team. I just say okay guys… If you decide to make that move, I've just got to accept it and move on."
And he has moved on.The goalie is now excited to come to a city with a fiery passion for the sport he loves to play.
Defenceman Justin Schultz says he hasn't had a chance to meet Bryzgalov yet, but is looking forward to it.
"We're really excited to have him," said Schultz. "He's a really talented goalie and very proven. We're excited to see what he can do."
Forward Mark Arcobello added, "I hear he's got a pretty good personality. Hopefully he can come in here and feel comfortable and become a big part of this group."
Bryzgalov made one thing clear on his first day as a member of the Edmonton organization. He hasn't lost his passion for his game or the drive to improve himself. He says if anyone loses that, they shouldn't play the sport anymore.
"It doesn't matter what sport you play in," he said. "I think whether it's hockey, baseball, football or whatever. If you want to play, you've got to continue to prove to yourself and to others that you're good enough to play. If you don't want to do this, or you're tired or you can't, you should just retire or something and let the young guys come in and play. It's a sport. It's a sport where you've got to prove something everyday."