Bryzgalov at peace as his career winds down


Ilya Bryzgalov will turn 35 in June and his contract with the Ducks expires at the end of this season. (Kyusung Gong/AP)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Right now the planets are aligned. The universe is in order.

This is Ilya Bryzgalov in his happy place: Relaxed and appreciative and reflective, playing (although barely playing) what could be his final NHL season.

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He is a man who has seen things, who knows things, and is at peace with a circuitous career that has taken him right back to the beginning. The Ducks drafted him 44th overall in 2000. They extended him an opportunity to return as a well-paid backup last month.

“I have lots of connections with California,” Bryzgalov said Wednesday morning. “Me and my wife were married here, my son was born here, we built the first house here, we won the (Stanley) Cup here. …

“When my agent called me and said ‘It’s Anaheim,’ I said: ‘It’s a great idea.’”

From a hockey standpoint the jury remains out. Bryzgalov openly admitted he hadn’t spent much time getting in playing shape prior to signing his contract on Dec. 9 and he has an .836 save percentage to show for his three appearances with the Ducks so far.

However, he’s encouraged by the progress he’s made during the past month and you have to think Anaheim is going to need more from him down the stretch.

Frederik Andersen is set to make his 28th appearance in 30 games against Toronto on Wednesday night and managing his minutes should be a priority for an organization with Stanley Cup aspirations. Bryzgalov wasn’t given a $2.88-million, one-year contract to be permanently nailed to the bench.

These kind of discussions, or decisions, don’t much concern the 34-year-old.

“If they decide to make me play in a game, I just go there and play well,” he said. “It’s all I can do.”

More than anything, Bryzgalov comes across as a man at peace. His financial future is already assured — a buyout from the Philadelphia Flyers will pay him $1.6-million annually through 2027 — and he was extremely content while unemployed earlier this season.

His 10-year-old son, Vladislav, is an avid hockey player and his eight-year-old daughter, Valery, loves to figure skate. The family resides in New Jersey and Bryzgalov was so comfortable with the idea his career might be over that he barely gave any thought to the NHL.

“It was great,” he said. “I felt no pressure, nothing. I was enjoying my time with the family. … It was a great opportunity to be with my kids and my wife and see their routine every day.”

The time away from the sport also gave Bryzgalov a chance to reflect on his accomplishments and he holds no regrets about anything that happened earlier in his career.

“Life is beautiful,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky in my life.”

The Russian seems to have taken an interest in international affairs, greeting three Canadian reporters by saying: “Oh yeah, you guys put some sanctions on our country.”

Bryzgalov regularly communicates with friends back home and believes media coverage of the economic conditions in the country has been misleading. The falling Russian ruble hasn’t had a huge impact on daily life, according to Bryzgalov.

“It’s just bad in the newspapers,” he said. “I feel very comfortable at home. When I talk to most of the guys, they don’t know the country. They say like, ‘Oh it’s lots of crimes, mafia and other stuff.’ (I say) ‘Guys, you don’t know the country, there was nothing like that.’

“It was a nice European country. Everything what you want you can get. They have good schools. Yeah, obviously like every country in the world we have some poor, middle class and rich.

“Do you have in Canada the same thing?”

Bryzgalov concedes that a life in Russia still holds allure for him, but he couldn’t bring himself to sign a KHL deal in the fall because his wife and kids would have stayed behind in America. The family isn’t likely to head back there on a full-time basis after he retires, either.

But those remain concerns for another day.

All that occupies his time now is preparing to play when called upon and trying to help the Ducks bring another championship to Southern California.

“We’ve set the goal for ourselves to win the Cup,” said Bryzgalov. “That’s why we love sports: It’s unpredictable, it’s unpredictable.

“Who knows what’s going to be in the future?”

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