Opportunity is everything, and Rangers goaltending prospect Alexandar Georgiev is making the most of his in Hartford.
With the team's No. 1 goaltender Marek Mazanec on the shelf due to injury, Georgiev has stepped in and has played the best hockey he's played during his first season in North America, going 6-0-1 with two shutouts since Jan. 19 to help the Wolf Pack move to sixth in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference.
"It's been a mix of a lot of things," Georgiev told NYRangers.com of his recent success. "The guys have played really well in front of me. They were really good at taking away back door options and trusting me with making the first save."
"It just clicked at the right time," the 21-year-old added. "It's a lot easier when you play a lot and getting into this kind of rhythm."
Georgiev secured a spot as one of Hartford's two goalies out of training camp, along with fellow free agent signee Chris Nell. The two acted as a 1a, 1b tandem at the start because, as head coach Keith McCambridge stated, the Wolf Pack were a group finding its way early on thanks to an influx of first-year players still finding their footing in the AHL.
"It's all about opportunities," McCambridge said. "Georgy gets this chance again to run with it and he's made the most of the opportunity. You can see his confidence, his belief in himself grow every game. Just as importantly, you can see the team in front of him have that much more confidence in that if there is a breakdown - and that's going to happen - that he's going to be there to make the saves. You can see that with where his numbers sit right now."
Georgiev, who signed with the Rangers in July, went through a big adjustment upon his arrival in North America for training camp. The Moscow-native who spent three seasons in Finland's Liiga had to get acclimated to a new style of hockey as well as a new culture altogether.
"It's been an adjustment. New country, new team, new league, new teammates, everything," he said. "A different mentality. Even the small things like shorter warmups on the ice and things like that. Everything is a bit of an adjustment.
"Trying to get sharper movements from side to side," Georgiev added. "The game is really fast here for a goalie, which really stresses the importance of meeting the pass every time. That was one adjustment. Staying a bit more at home, playing deeper in the net."
Away from the rink has also presented Georgiev with new challenges, though some he's able to laugh about.
"Just the basics. Trying to figure out where everything is in the city. Where the grocery stores are, what time everything opens and closes," he said with a laugh. "Just the small things in my life."
Those struggles are some McCambridge and his staff in Hartford take seriously. The first-year head coach of the Wolf Pack said it's important for him and his players to make players like Georgiev, as well as others like Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson, comfortable in their new environments because it will only help on the ice.
"There's a difference from when you have a first-year guy coming out of college or junior compared to a guy coming over from Europe that might not understand or speak the language as clearly as he needs to to get through day-to-day conversations with hockey-related topics and also just dealing with life," McCambridge said, adding that includes off-ice activities, housing and more.
Two men making Georgiev's transition a bit smoother are Rangers goatlending coach Benoit Allaire and Hartford's goaltending consultant Eric Raymond, who spend hours with Georgiev and the other Wolf Pack goaltenders on the ice and in the video room.
"Benoit helped me with making adjustments to the game in North America the way he wants his goalies to play," Georgiev said. "I'm learning to be more sharp with the passes and being more patient and back home.
"Eric Raymond, he also has the same approach as Benoit," Georgiev continued. "He's been really helpful also with the mentality of always bringing that positive attitude as well, like Benoit. He's always watching video with me when he's here. It's great being able to get on the ice with them and learning from them."
The opportunity knocked and Georgiev answered. And with the Wolf Pack in the thick of things in the playoff race, Georgiev isn't looking back on past accomplishments, just ahead at the task at hand for him and his teammates down the stretch.
"It's very fun right now," he said. "It's tough to get wins in this league. It's really fun that we have a goal right now to get into the playoffs. We have to take one step at a time going forward with it."