Occasionally a player comes along who takes
their sport to new heights. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods did it for golf.
Lance Armstrong did it for cycling. And now Russian-born Ilya Bryzgalov
could be doing the same for ice hockey.

Bryzgalov, a goal-keeper with the Mighty
Ducks (Anaheim), has stopped all but one of the 95 shots that flew his way during
his last four games. 229 minutes have past since that last goal, a new record for a rookie in the NHL play-offs.
Further, he has just completed his third consecutive shutout (keeping the
opposition scoreless), giving the Ducks a 2-0 lead in their semi-final play-off
against the Colorado Avalanche. He’s now the first rookie to post consecutive
shutouts in the play-offs since 1945.

Like those mentioned above, he’s re-writing
the record books every time he plays. What makes his story more than just
another tale of a player having a run of freakishly good form is that he came from
nowhere; he’s largely untested in the NHL and hails from Russia,
not a noted producer of goalkeepers.

As hockey commentator Scott Burnside has
written: “Russia is,
by comparison (to French Canada), an international goaltending vacuum … There
simply isn’t a culture of goaltender development in Russia.”

While it’s rare, it’s not unheard of. Vladislav Tretiak is an NHL Hall of Famer and still consults on
goalkeeping with the Chicago Blackhawks. And next time Bryzgalov steps onto the
rink, he’ll get his chance to write his name alongside Tretiak’s in the NHL
record books.

If he can keep the Avalanche scoreless, he’ll break
Frank McCool’s 1945 record of three consecutive shutouts. If he plays more than
40 minutes without letting a goal through, he’ll break George Hainsworth’s 1930
record of 270 goal-less minutes. And he’ll most likely put the Ducks into a
commanding 3-0 lead in their quarter finals.

Not bad for a player who was largely unknown before
the season started.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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