CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is entering a new chapter of his life.
Last week he and his wife Olga welcomed their first child into the world, a baby girl named Carolina.
Becoming a father for the first time is the kind of indescribable feeling that you can only understand through experience.
It’s life changing.
Speaking about it for the first time on Wednesday, Bobrovsky discussed his first days of fatherhood that just happened to occur during the final days of Panthers training camp.
“It’s definitely been fun,” he said of the past week of his life. “It’s a new energy, a different level of responsibility.”
No doubt, becoming a parent brings a sense of duty and accountability that is hard to rival.
To his credit, Bobrovsky, known as one of the hardest working players in the NHL, hasn’t skipped at a beat around the Ice Den in Coral Springs.
Not that it’s a surprise, but Bobrovsky genuinely seems to enjoy juggling all the things that come with being a new dad and all the work he puts in as a professional hockey player.
One good example came after Florida’s final preseason game last Saturday.
Bob came home after playing a full 60 minutes and facing 29 shots from the defending Stanley Cup Champions and immediately took over dad duties, giving his wife a chance to get some much-needed rest.
“She hasn’t slept for five days,” Bobrovsky said with a smile. “We’re going to figure it out. It’s a nice problem to have.”
Putting the lack of sleep aside for a moment…in terms of an emotional uplift, Bobrovsky couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off a new season.
Just ask his head coach, who has three children of his own and knows a thing or two about the joys of parenthood.
“He’s been in a pretty cool place the last week or two,” said Panthers coach Joel Quenneville. “I think he’s looking forward to getting back and being himself, like he’s been in the past, and recapturing what it’s like to be one of the top goalies in the game.”
The positivity from Coach Q is wonderful to hear, but with Bobrovsky, expectations must be tempered.
The 33-year-old is entering his third season with the Panthers after signing a seven-year, $70 million contract during the summer of 2019.
Years one and two have not lived up to that deal, a fact that has been frustratingly clear from South Florida to Saskatchewan.
Really, when comparing to what he did during his pre-Panthers career, they haven’t come close.
In two seasons with Florida, Bobrovsky holds a 42-27-8 record to go with a 3.10 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Compare that to his career save percentage of .916 and GAA of 2.56 and you can see where the frustration comes from.
“Every season brings new energy, new excitement and a new opportunity for everybody,” Bobrovsky said. “Everybody starts from zero.”
Keeping with that positive vibe, there is no denying that Bobrovsky was better in year two with Florida than in year one.
Statistically, his save percentage went up (from .900 to .906), his GAA went down (from 3.23 to 2.91) and he won 19 of his 30 starts (compared to winning 23 out of 50 starts the year before).
“I thought last year he improved off the year before,” Quenneville said. “I think there were stretches in his game where he was more consistent. I think this year, his approach and how he looks in the net, he looks bigger. Seems like he’s tracking pucks, he’s more efficient and his attitude is fine.”
Indeed, Bobrovsky has appeared to kick his game into high gear over the past couple weeks.
He’s been making spectacular save after spectacular save during practices in Coral Springs as he prepares for what he hopes to be his best year yet in a Panthers sweater.
While he hasn’t given any details, Bobrovsky has said he made some minor changes to his game during the offseason that he hopes will make a big difference when the games start to count.
“It’s always over the summer, during the course of your career, that you change little things, you tweak little things,” Bobrovsky said. “You kind of investigate and make decisions and see how they work.”
Quenneville said Wednesday that Bob will be in goal for the Panthers when they open the season on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Really, Coach Q has been saying since the start of training camp that Bobrovsky would be the guy once the season began.
That makes sense, as you’d expect Quenneville to give Bobrovsky every opportunity to succeed early in the season. The question is…how long of a leash does Bob get?
Florida is expected to be among a handful of teams with a legitimate shot at competing for the Stanley Cup, and behind Bobrovsky is a 20-year-old goaltending phenom named Spencer Knight who has played exceptionally well over the past few years at every level he’s competed at, from NCAA Division I to the World Junior Tournament to the NHL and right up to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as we saw last season.
“He’s definitely a talented kid,” Bobrovsky said of Knight. “He has a bright future, and I’m glad to be a part of his development process.”
For the Panthers, it’s not a bad situation to be in.
One goalie is a proven veteran in a great place mentally who’s game has been slowly improving, and the other is an ascending young talent with a ridiculously high ceiling that has shown he can excel at this level.
It may not be the position Bobrovsky expected to find himself in back when he initially signed with Florida, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t happy and making the best of the situation.
“I love it here,” Bobrovsky said. “I love the life outside of hockey, I love the team, I love the management. I’m happy here. The organization treats me well.”