Sergei Bobrovsky takes a long pause to consider what has fuelled his resurgence in the Columbus crease this season.
There’s a look of contentment on his 28-year-old face.
“I think I just more appreciate what I have,” says the Russia goaltender. “I’m happy to come to the rink every day and work hard on my game and just play games and go out on a game shoulder to shoulder (with) my (teammates)…and just enjoy the wins with them.”
Evidently, a shift in approach between the ears is behind a turnaround between the pipes. Bobrovsky has been a big reason for the Blue Jackets stunning rise into the NHL’s elite class this season, the undrafted netminder from a city in Siberia leading the league with 28 wins while sitting near the top of the pack with a .929 save percentage.
His numbers mirror those of the 2012-13 season when he captured the Jackets’ first and only Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
Bobrovsky wasn’t loving life in the NHL quite as much last year, especially during a stumbling start to the season â€” 23 goals against in his first five starts â€” which led to Todd Richards losing his job as head coach after only seven games. But it went deeper than that for Bobrovsky who felt stressed more often than not, consumed by this desire to constantly improve.
He wasn’t having fun anymore.
And so this year, he decided to change his mental approach to the game and look for better balance between work and life. He couldn’t be dialled in all the time. He needed to find opportunities to relax. He also wanted to be more thankful for the life he’s found in the NHL, which has meant enjoying every game, practice and experience at the rink.
“I looked around (at) myself and I think I have a great life,” said Bobrovsky, who played two-plus seasons overseas in the KHL. “I have lots of things to appreciate and be thankful for. I just want to feel that way too.”
His first all-star appearance this past weekend was particularly exciting as legends of the game mingled with stars of today in Los Angeles.
“Look around,” said Bobrovsky, who joined Washington’s Braden Holtby in the Metropolitan Division net. “Everywhere you look there is the big stars, there is the Hall of Famers all over the hotel and it’s great to be part of it.”
A Vezina Trophy contender again this year, Bobrovsky gave up five goals in a season-opening loss to Boston, evoking memories of last year’s dreadful start. But he quickly recovered and finished October with two shutouts and a .940 save percentage.
When Columbus went on to reel off 16 straight wins it was Bobrovsky leading the way with a 14-0-0 record alongside a 1.64 goals against average and .941 save percentage.
“Well, everybody knows the importance of goaltending in the National Hockey League,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in an interview earlier this season. “You cannot expect to be successful without good goaltending and Sergei’s a great goaltender and he was not on top of his game last year at the beginning of the year. But he’s recovered well and now he is on top of his game.”
Kekalainen had a feeling that Bobrovsky would find his game again this year after watching his performance for Russia at the World Cup of Hockey in the fall. Bobrovsky posted a .930 save percentage over four starts, doing all he could to keep the Russians alive in a semi-final match against Canada which was ultimately lost 5-3.
“We basically knew it’s just a matter of time before he’s going to get back to his own level,” Kekalainen said.
Bobrovsky will soon eclipse a career-high for wins (32), but it’s not just all the winning in Columbus that has him feeling good. It’s more than that. Even if you lose, he says, “you still have a good life. You just have fun (and) enjoy your life. You write your own story. Enjoy it!”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press