Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t being a cool customer when asked about facing his most recent former team for the first time during the Flyers game on Thursday with the Phoenix Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center.
Bryzgalov admitted that it wouldn’t be a basic run-of-the-mill NHL game. He said he appreciated the chance he was given to blossom. In Phoenix he got his first chance to be a full-time starter and a workhorse at that, averaging 64.25 games in four seasons.
No wonder he’s so grateful. Bryzgalov’s work in Phoenix landed him a 9-year, $51 million contract from the Flyers.
So at least on the day before his matchup with his former team, Bryzgalov was doing nothing but throwing bouquets.
“I really appreciate all they did for me,” he said following Wednesday’s practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. “I wish them the best and am really happy they are doing well without me because they deserve it, they work hard.”
Now his replacement, Mike Smith, has been a major reason why Phoenix has been among the early-season NHL surprises. In 13 games, Smith is 8-2-3 with a .933 save percentage. The Coyotes are 9-4-3.
The Flyers sense that Thursday's game is has special meaning for Bryzgalov.
“It’s always special when you play your old team,” said Danny Briere. “The emotion is a little higher.”
The key will be not to allow the emotion to get the best of him.
At the least, this is a brief time for reflection for the Flyers goalie.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the whole Phoenix organization and my teammates for a great four years that I will never forget and will always be special," he said.