Despite public denials from four Flyers players and coach Peter Laviolette, multiple sources confirmed to the Daily News that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov did in fact “doze off” during a team meeting on Monday.
His sleep habits, however, were not the reason for Steve Mason making his first start as a Flyer on Tuesday on Long Island in the team’s biggest game of the season.
News of cameras catching Bryzgalov with his eyes closed on the Flyers’ bench during the third period of Saturday’s loss in Winnipeg rippled throughout the team on their charter flight home. Bryzgalov was pulled after allowing four goals in the second period.
(Video of Bryzgalov dozing off on the bench against Winnipeg is posted below.)
After practice on Monday, Laviolette notified both Mason and Bryzgalov of his plans to start Mason.
At that point, multiple players confirmed Bryzgalov closed his eyes during the team’s brief meeting that followed him being notified.
“Whether he was actually sleeping or not, no one knows for sure,” said one player on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution. “It seemed like he may have been doing it to get a rise out of other players. I’m not really sure why he did it, or if he was faking it. Either way, it seemed to catch and lot of people by surprise and angered a few people.”
Once again, Bryzgalov is in the thick of controversy – something that has marred his two years in Philadelphia since signing a 9-year, $51 million deal in 2011.
The Daily News had begun to report the story on Tuesday but was unable to question both Bryzgalov and Laviolette. Instead, Harry Mayes, host from the team’s flagship radio station, 97.5 FM “The Fanatic,” reported Wednesday that Bryzgalov was “benched” because he fell asleep in the meeting.
Bryzgalov would have made his 23rd straight start of the season Tuesday. He was not available to answer questions Wednesday, despite the fact that he practiced with the team’s healthy scratches in Voorhees, N.J.
“Did he get benched because he… (fell asleep in a meeting)?” Laviolette said. “That’s completely incorrect.”
Laviolette responded to the question he was asked. However, he was not asked directly if Bryzgalov appeared to be sleeping.
When pressed to further clarify by the Daily News after his scrum with the media ended, Laviolette offered a blanket statement: “Our meetings are team meetings. They’re not for media or public consumption.”
Whether or not Bryzgalov’s antics on the bench in Winnipeg had anything to do with Laviolette’s decision to start Mason on Monday remains unclear. Laviolette would not answer when asked Wednesday whether Bryzgalov will start against Ottawa on Thursday.
Flyers veteran Mike Knuble said it would be impossible for a teammate to fall asleep in “not even half a cup of coffee meeting.”
“Not unless they’re narcoleptic,” Knuble said. “You hardly even sat down. I don’t think your ass made your spot on the bench warm enough. That’s silly. That’s asinine. You’re sitting in a bright room in the middle of the day.”
Kimmo Timonen also emphatically denied the 97.5 FM “The Fanatic” report.
“That’s not true and I’ll tell you on the record,” Timonen said. “If you want more, ask ‘Lavy.’ That’s not my business to tell you what happened and what didn’t happen. He wasn’t sleeping.”
Ruslan Fedotenko called it a “bad rumor.” Wayne Simmonds said he “did not see him sleeping at a meeting.”
“I don’t know where that report came from,” Fedotenko said, “But nobody fell asleep when I was at the meetings.”
Yet, two other players said Bryzgalov “definitely had his eyes closed” and “it was a big topic of conversation amongst players.” Some voiced their concern that Bryzgalov closed his eyes to show his displeasure of the decision to start Mason.
That wouldn’t be the first time Bryzgalov expressed dissatisfaction over not starting in a big game. Prior to the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park, Bryzgalov famously announced to the world that Sergei Bobrovsky would be in net, as Bryzgalov wanted to make sure he “didn’t forget” his thermos to keep him warm on the bench.
In a rare move this season, Bryzgalov held court with reporters after Tuesday’s pre-game skate on Long Island. He made it a point to explain his fatigue level after starting 22 straight.
“I was tired,” Bryzgalov said. “In general, I don’t have major injuries. But you’re sore here, you’re sore there. Every day, it’s something new.”
Bryzgalov’s exact fatigue level is something only he – and his teammates - know for sure. From afar, it seems like more of Bryzgalov being Bryzgalov. What is abundantly clear, though, is that Bryzgalov’s teammates are tired of his act – and covering for him.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers