The surprising rise of rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been one of the major story lines of this Flyers season. Bobrovsky was named the NHL rookie of the month for November and is among the leaders in All-Star voting, all while the 22-year-old makes the transition to life in the United States.
Bobrovsky talks to the local media through an interpreter, but is obviously more comfortable speaking in Russian. The Daily News wanted to know more about the rookie, and how he's adjusting both on and off the ice, and enlisted the help of freelance journalist Andrey Osadchenko, of the Russian website Allhockey.ru.
Osadchenko spoke to Bobrovsky via Skype and what follows is a partial transcript of their conversation translated into English by Osadchenko. For the rest of their conversation, visit our website at philly.com/flyers.
Question: Living abroad usually changes a person. You've lived in America for 6 months now. Do you feel that you have changed somehow?
Answer: To be honest, I don't even think about it. I think I must have changed a little bit, because the life here is completely different, people are different, everything is different. I might have changed a bit, but I don't feel it yet.
Q. You left Russia with a limited command of the English language. How well can you speak it now?
Answer: Everybody around me speaks only English, so you have to pick it up. I can't say that I have become fluent in English, but . . . I learn something new every day and move forward step by step.
Q. What is the hardest part for you in learning English?
A. I find it really hard to express my thoughts in English. If I'm told something, I understand. I understand what my coach says, what he wants me to do. But I can't really say something on my own behalf.
Q. Among your teammates, do you spend the most time with those who speak Russian?
A. I can chitchat with anybody on my team. Just a few words about the game and so on. But only a few words - nothing more. All the guys are kind and nice. I don't have any problems. If I need help with something, then everyone on the team helps me.
Q. How do you communicate with local reporters?
A. I talk to reporters through an interpreter. Because maybe I'll understand what I'm asked, but I'm new here. I can say something that is wrong, and it then goes to the press, and the entire Internet will read about it. I can be misunderstood, so I use an interpreter for the time being.
Q. Have you gotten used to the American lifestyle and the people in general already?
A. I do not pay attention to the living conditions. I am focused only on hockey. I have a goal, and I try to go for it. Everything else is secondary.
Q. Philadelphia is a historical city. Did you have the opportunity to wander through the local museums?
A. Honestly, I don't have time for it. Our base is located in a suburb of Philadelphia, called Voorhees. Basically, that's where I spend all my time. I don't have enough time to admire the architecture or something else. I won't deny it's interesting, and I'll make sure to spend some time in the museums. As for now, I have to concentrate on something different.
Q. Like many goalies, you have a very interesting design on your mask. Could you tell a little bit more about it?
A. The artist who helped me with the design lives in Sweden. My agent helped me a lot with this . . . All I had to do was to approve the design. I wanted one side to be a site from Philadelphia, and on the other from Russia. As a result, we decided with the artist that the mask will show the Liberty Bell and Kuznetsk fortress. The planes also symbolize the club's name - "Flyers." On side there's an American plane, on the other a Russian.
Q. For the first part of the season you lived in a hotel, like most rookies do. Have you moved to an apartment?
A. Yes, I moved about 3 weeks ago. I live near the practice rink - it's a 5-minute drive to get there. I live close to Nik Zherdev's house, and Andreas Nodl lives on the floor above me. For the time being I live alone, but I'm waiting for my girlfriend. Unfortunately, there are problems with her visa, but I hope that everything will be resolved soon.
Q. As well as the problem of Russian cuisine at home?
A. (Laughs) Yeah, that's for sure.
Q. What do you usually eat?
A. It depends. I grew to love steaks. I love good meat. I don't like hamburgers and all sorts of sandwiches. I try to eat the same stuff I ate in Russia - soup, meat, salad. Of course, I do miss Russian food - borsch, pelmeni and so on . . . I miss it here.
Q. November was a pretty tough month for the Flyers. The team had to play almost every other night. Have you ever encountered such a schedule in your career?
A. No, I never faced anything like this. Yes, I felt it was hard. But I would not draw parallels with Russia here. It's a completely different organization - they do everything for you here. All you have to do is play hockey. After the game you hand in your equipment - and that's it. You have nothing to worry about. You can concentrate on getting ready for the next game. In Russia, it's a little different. So, yeah, you got more games, but preparing for them is a lot easier.
Q. You have spent more than 2 months with the Flyers. When did you finally feel like you made it in the NHL?
A. (Laughs) It is hard to say. I remember the first period in the first preseason game against the Devils. Everything around is new to me, I'm very worried . . . It was quite a feeling. And then I began to adapt step-by-step. I felt more and more comfortable. Now I feel quite comfortable here.
Q. Do you mind that you have to face a lot of NHL stars in every game?
A. People often ask me this question. No, I don't. They are all ordinary people, just with well-known names. Yes, they have great skill, but this is something that "spurs" me. It is interesting to find out who you really are, find out what you're capable of . . . This is a very good challenge. But I don't idolize these players.
Q. You were close to breaking the record for most wins in a row for a Flyers rookie goalie (seven by Pelle Lindbergh). Did you know about it before the game against the Capitals on Nov. 7, when the streak ended at six?
A. Yes, I was told about it after the game with the Islanders (on Nov. 6). It was only then that I learned about it. But I wouldn't say that I pay attention to the records. I was preparing for this match in the same way I always do. Records are not even secondary. They are tertiary. They don't matter. Helping your team to win every game - that is important.
Q. Music helps a lot of people get in the mood before a game. Would you say you're one of them?
A. Yes, before the game at warm-up, I always listen to music on my iPod. I listen to electronic music that they play in nightclubs back home, although I don't have special preferences in music. I can even listen to something retro or to pop music. But before the games I like club music. It is best to help you "wake up" and get charged. After the game I don't always listen to music, it depends.
Q. Last season you played in Metallurg, which didn't make it to the playoffs in the KHL. Now you play for the Flyers, who came this close to winning the Stanley Cup last season. An entirely different level. Does this mean that you should prepare for the games differently as well?
A. No, I wouldn't say that I somehow radically changed my preparation for the games when I moved to Philadelphia. The way I prepare is pretty much the same here as it was in Russia. But, of course, the responsibility has increased. Here we need only to win.
Q. However, your stats at the moment are better than last year. Why?
A. It's not just my stats. This statistic is earned by the whole team - because I'm not the only one who plays out there. I get great help from my defenders. It should be noted here that all the defenders on our team have great skill, and not just Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. No, all six of them are awesome and help me very much. So the whole team has contributed much to my stats.
Q. Goalies always like to help their defenders vocally. Is this where the language barrier kicks in?
A. It happens. When I get excited about anything, it's hard to switch immediately to English, so sometimes I say something in Russian (laughs). It doesn't make any sense, I know. But it happens.
Q. You are one of the leaders in the All-Star Game balloting this year. Would you say it's your goal to get there?
A. No, not really. As I said before, all I care about is my team's results. I try to go out every game and help my team win. Everything else is unimportant.
Q. In North America, it is common to classify players by the number of the All-Star games they appeared in. Do you think this is really a good parameter for evaluating the level of the player?
A. It does make some sense. But what's more important for a hockey player is to win the Stanley Cup and to achieve a good result. Not to get to the All-Star Game. It's not a secret. It is a pleasure and an honor. But it's not a primary parameter for evaluating a player.
Q. Thanks to your success in the NHL, the fans back home now expect a lot from you - the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year), the Stanley Cup, and even success at the Olympics in 2014. A lot of people would get a "star" syndrome. Is that something you're afraid of?
A. (Laughs) No. Once again, for me there is nothing more important than the results of my team. In general, I don't focus on personal achievements. If I had any, they are already in the past. I must look to the future. Every time when I step on the ice I must prove that they weren't accidental. As for what they tell about me or write in the newspapers, I don't pay much attention to it.
Q. Judging by your words, will you consider this season successful only if you win the Stanley Cup?