John Vanbiesbrouck has never met Ilya Bryzgalov, but has been inside his skin and admits never having been comfortable there in his two years as a Flyers free-agent goaltender signee.
When you have been drafted and nurtured by the club, as opposed to being brought in as a free agent, you view things differently, said Vanbiesbrouck, a Flyer in 1998-99, when he lost a tight first-round duel against Torontos Curtis Josephwhom Philadelphia could have signed instead and in 2000, when Brian Boucher was the goalie for a semifinal run.
There probably is more pressure on yourself and the pressure is a self-induced thing, said Vanbiesbrouck, who will be in the Rangers goal in Saturdays Alumni Game, only because they asked him four days before the Flyers did.
Nobody knows whats going on in another persons insides. I didnt even know Bryzgalov was struggling until you just asked me about this. But the pressure he is putting on himself to not only perform but to analyze his performance, he is going to be his own worst enemy for a while. And hes got to go through it until he realizes he is not here to impress everybody during practice, in the press and in management, trying to be Superman.
He is one of the best goalies in the league. They wouldnt have signed him unless he was impressive. To look back, its easy for me to say, but when you are locked and loaded on impressing everybody, its hard to overcome that.
Vanbiesbrouck played brilliantly for the Rangers in monumental 1986 upsets of the Flyers and Capitals, and was flawless through three rounds in taking the expansion Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final in only their third year. But those positive experiences were of little use after the Flyers chose him over Joseph and Mike Richter for half the money those two would have cost and because Flyers Coach Roger Neilson, who had coached Vanbiesbrouck in both New York and Florida, had no preference among the three.
Vanbiesbrouck went 27-18-15 with a 2.15 goals against average with the 1998-99 Flyers and shut out the Leafs in Toronto in Game 1. But he gave up two late goals in a stunning, series-changing, 2-1 loss in Game 2. Then, lost two 2-1 games in overtime and Game 6 1-0 on a late Toronto power-play goal.
The numbers were good, just not good enough because Joseph was better. But looking back on it, Vanbiesbrouck isnt sure he could have played well enough to satisfy himself.
Never, he says, did he get comfortable in his two seasons in Philadelphia, even with all the maturity he thought he was bringing to a Stanley Cup contender at age 35.
Not comfortable enough, he said. I was too unsettled at important times.
Get to the playoffs, again you are trying to impress. People talk about stealing games. When that enters your mind you are out of sorts, think you are going to have the make the difference.
Why did Bostons Tim Thomas look so great last year when everybody doubted him? He was fine in his own skin. Sometimes you dont like your game so you tape your stick different, trying to get locked and loaded into that confident game. It doesnt work.
Even though it was short, I had a great time here. Its a wonderful organization. But they have gone through a lot of goalies.
Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.