Eccentric. Witty. Goofy. Wickedly funny. Intellectual. Engaging. Off the wall.
That's how sports writers have described Ilya Bryzgalov, a 33-year-old Russian goaltender who will be in net for the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night at the Cox Convention Center.
Released last summer from the final seven years of a $51 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers, Bryzgalov (pronounced briz-GAL-ahv) signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal last week with Edmonton.
One of the NHL's more interesting personalities, similar to basketball icon Bill Walton, Bryzgalov will use Friday's game to help determine how long it will take to him be NHL-game ready.
“It will be good to feel your legs, get a feel for the game again,” Bryzgalov said after a Barons practice. “This will tell you if things need to be fixed.”
Bryzgalov has compiled a solid resume during his seven years as an NHL No. 1 goalie, but he is sometimes better known for his bizarre comments.
During filming of HBO's 24/7 series for the Winter Classic, Bryzgalov said people on our planet are too consumed with everyday challenges. “The Solar system is so humongous,” Bryzgalov said. “Our galaxy is like a small tiny dot in the universe ... so be happy, don't worry.'''
His most famous line was before a playoff series with Pittsburgh. Bryzgalov was asked if he was afraid of the Penguins. He responded he's only scared of a bear in the forest. (That offseason it was revealed Bryzgalov was referring to a picture of a friend who had been mauled to death by a bear.)
“He's a very intriguing guy, someone very interesting to talk to,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “To have him here is exciting for the guys to have a high-profile NHL player come through here.”
On a conditioning assignment with the Barons that can last up to 14 days, Bryzgalov will start Friday's game. Depending on how his body responds, he might start again Saturday night. He could report to Edmonton early next week or might travel with the Barons on an upcoming three-game road trip.
Bryzgalov has worked out daily while waiting to sign with a new team. He's not 100 percent. A game or two with the Barons will determine the next step.
Before Edmonton called last week, Bryzgalov was helping coach his 7-year-old son's hockey team in New Jersey where he and his wife and two kids live.
“That was fun,” Bryzgalov said. “It's pretty exciting to see how focused they are, how hard they battle. They really enjoy the game.”
Bryzgalov has a degree, which would allow him to teach and coach in Russia if he ever returned to his homeland. He regularly reads books and studies philosophy. In a handful of interviews since he signed last week, Bryzgalov's comments have been no-nonsense, to the point.
“I want to leave everything in the past because I was misunderstood so many times,” Bryzgalov said. “I don't want to continue talking about those things.”
Since both players will be free agents, Bryzgalov and Oilers' starter Devan Dubnyk could be competing for the Oilers' No. 1 goalie job next season.
Bryzgalov led the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup title in 2007. He owns 208 career NHL wins, a 2.55 goals against average and .913 save percentage. He was the starting goalie when Team Russia won back-to-back world championships.
His overall stats dipped slightly (2.61 GAA, .905 saves percentage) his two years in Philadelphia, a hockey crazed market that was a much brighter spotlight than Phoenix and Anaheim.
In a business decision, the Flyers bought out his contract for salary cap relief. Bryzgalov will receive $23 million over the next 14 years, roughly $1.6 million a year through 2028.
Five months later, Bryzgalov will be in net for the Barons, his first minor league game since 2005.
“He's a very honest person,” Nelson said. “I talked to him about his time in Philadelphia. He was very honest how he played. Right now, he's very hungry. That rubs off on our guys. Our guys will benefit from seeing how motivated he is.”
One of Bryzgalov's attempts at humor was in 2006 when he defended Anaheim teammate Chris Pronger for requesting to be traded from Edmonton, which he likened to the “North Pole.” Bryzgalov said earlier this week that he was joking since he experienced frigid weather growing up in Russia.
“Edmonton is my team right now,” Bryzgalov said. “I'm here (in Oklahoma City) trying to prepare myself so I can play hard for (the Oilers). I want to make them better.”