About ten or so fans linger along the fence overlooking the players’ lot at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, awaiting the arrival of their Philadelphia Flyers. Ilya Bryzgalov is one of the first to arrive, and he’s met with a smattering of applause from the Flyers faithful. With a smile on his lips, he ducks his head and lifts his hand in a dismissive wave.
“We love you, Bryz!” someone yells, and Bryzgalov chuckles, albeit awkwardly, and says, “I love you guys, too.”
Bet he never got much of a reception like that in Phoenix.
It’s a new city and a new fanbase for Ilya Bryzgalov, and he seems to be adjusting rather well. A history fan, he spent his first few weeks in Philadelphia exploring all of the different things the city has to offer.
He went to the National Constitution Center and took a ride through the historical district on a horse-drawn carriage with his family. He loves how green Rittenhouse Square is. Bryz seems quite pleased with his new city, and the new city’s fanbase has been quite pleased with him.
Heading into last night’s game against the Washington Capitals, Bryzgalov’s numbers were pretty solid – a 3-0-1 record (including a shutout), goals-against average of 1.99, and a save percentage of .927. There are times during games where it seems like he’s still learning to adjust to the new team in front of him, but he’s been very good so far.
Then, there was last night’s game. The Flyers defense struggled, and three goals went in off of re-directions or deflections. That single game caused Bryz’ numbers to jump to a 2.59 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. To make a long story short – stats aren’t everything. Bryz has made some clutch saves and will only continue to get better as he gets used to playing behind this new squad.
There’s much more to Bryz than just his skill between the pipes. He’s a character (see here and here for some highlights). Beat writers and his teammates have told stories of the jokes he’ll crack in the locker room. He talks of how friendly everyone in the city has been towards him, how he gets free coffee in the morning – but he knows he’ll be charged double if the team loses.
His personality can be zany at times, but it’s a welcome addition to a locker room that was rumored to have been a little too tense last season. As the season progresses and the Flyers attempt to make another playoff push, it’ll be important to keep things from getting too overheated in the locker room. Bryzgalov’s personality will certainly aid in keeping things light. Not to mention, he’ll be an absolute riot on HBO's “24/7.”
Flyers fans have been programmed to be nervous when it comes to their goalies. Maybe Bryzgalov can be the one to quell those fears and make this a new era of Flyers goaltending to go along with this new era of Flyers hockey.