NEW YORK - Ilya Bryzgalov is a popular guy.
Thanks to HBO's groundbreaking reality series, "24/7: Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic," Bryzgalov has publicly waxed poetic about such topics as the universe and Earth's place in the solar system, happiness and, most recently, his family's dog, a Siberian husky. In last Wednesday's second episode, he likened her to a "blonde girl with blue eyes," saying she is "a hot girl, man."
In Dallas earlier last week, Bryzgalov spoke about quantum physics with a Russian-language reporter.
Even before the show aired, rumors had circulated about Bryzalov's unique personality. But his quirkiness, on display on a daily basis inside the Flyers' locker room when the cameras are not there, has made him a rock star on television.
"My husky, Nila, is a worldwide sensation now," Bryzgalov said yesterday.
Inside the Flyers' locker room, they have nicknamed their goaltender "Universe." Because of "24/7," Bryzgalov also has been a frequent topic inside the Rangers' locker room.
"Guys were talking a little bit," Rangers forward Erik Christensen said. "They were talking about how funny he was, things like that."
We wouldn't be surprised if Bryzgalov's talking fueled on-ice trash talking, starting with last Friday's game at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. It was the Flyers' final game with the Rangers before their Jan. 2 battle outdoors at Citizens Bank Park in the Winter Classic. In fact, Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo said the show could provide ammunition for "chirping" if he needed it.
"You definitely could use it," Rinaldo said. "But I probably wouldn't use it. Your off-ice lifestyle is who you are. I'm not one to do that."
At the same time, some think HBO may have softened a brash rivalry between Broad Street and Broadway. The players have tuned in to the show at varying lengths - some have not seen a single minute of a single episode yet, waiting to watch them all at once - but suddenly, they are seeing an in-depth look at a team they are supposed to hate.
Like any other sport, it is not uncommon to see opposing players fraternizing after a game. Some players are from the same hometown or played with one another in the junior ranks or on another NHL team. Jody Shelley, for instance, played briefly for the Rangers in 2010.
But HBO's show takes cameras off the ice and introduces viewers to players in family settings and away from the rink. Just yesterday, Rangers forward Brian Boyle said, cameras were at his house in the morning to watch him get out of bed on the day after a game.
It's not hard to be drawn to players' personalities.
"I don't know if 'appreciate' is the right word, but I think in the hockey world, as much as you don't like a team and you want to beat them and hit them as hard as you can, you see that they are just like guys on our team," Scott Hartnell said. "They are good guys, and they have a good sense of humor, and all of that type of stuff."
Christensen, who played in the original 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo while with the Penguins, said he hadn't seen much of the show. But he wasn't surprised to learn a little bit more about the Flyers.
"I think we're living it ourselves," Christensen said. "What they go through is no different than what we go through day-to-day. You're probably interested to see what guys are like off the ice. But I think it's mostly just for fans who only see us on the ice and only see us with our helmets on."
From the Flyers' perspective, both Hartnell and Rinaldo said that the peek into the Rangers' personalities won't change anything. They still want to pound them into the ice, especially after having not scored in two straight trips to the Garden.
"I'm not changing anything on the ice just because I know them a little bit better now," Rinaldo said. "On the ice is a totally different ballgame."
Danny Briere sat out Friday night's game in New York with a bruised hand. He is day-to-day, according to general manager Paul Holmgren . . . The Flyers have not fielded a healthy lineup at forward since Oct. 26 . . . Sean Couturier (head injury) and Brayden Schenn (concussion) both skated on their own and handled off-ice exercises at the team's practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. It was Couturier's first time on the ice since taking a Kimmo Timonen slap shot to the head last Saturday.