VOORHEES, N.J. - Ilya Bryzgalov already has a fan club. Wearing his Flyers jersey and cap, he finished a press conference and left to mingle with autograph seekers and picture snappers waiting for the all-star goaltender at the bottom of the stairs.
On his way back up, a woman hollered, "You look fabulous!"
An orange crush has already developed and Bryzgalov hasn't even played a game yet.
The Flyers sure think he looked great in that No. 30 orange sweater as they showed off the goalie for the first time since he was acquired in June from Phoenix. Bryzgalov was an instant hit with the fans Thursday—and he'll be an even bigger one if he can become the netminder that brings the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia for the first time since 1975.
"This is a team with rich history," Bryzgalov said. "The highest goal is to win the Cup. That's what this game is all about. That's all that matters."
Bryzgalov participated in a light workout with Danny Briere and a handful of teammates as the off-season winds down and the Sept. 17 start date for training camp looms. He knows the Flyers are counting on him to be as durable and successful as he was his last few seasons with Phoenix. Bryzgalov was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2009-10, and went 36-20-10 with a 2.48 goals-against average and seven shutouts last season.
His contract demands made him expendable and the Flyers pounced. They acquired his rights, then signed him to a US$51-million, nine-year deal to kick off a summer of change. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dan Carcillo were among the veterans jettisoned out of town to make room for Bryzgalov and a slew of new, young players.
Bryzgalov understands expectations are Stanley Cup or bust.
"I never put the pressure on myself," he said. "I know my job. I know what I have to do."
Bryzgalov quickly endeared himself in Philadelphia with a humorous Twitter feed that found the city's newest citizen asking where he should live. As rain pounded the building and tried to drown out his press conference, Bryzgalov quipped that Philadelphia reminded him of Russia.
He could add some needed levity to a locker-room during a gruelling season.
Asked how the media turnout was compared to Phoenix, he joked about it.
"There's much more of you here," he said, "and you look better."
He coughed as pulled on his jersey and cracked, "I've got to quit smoking."
Bryzgalov then, seriously, amended the statement by saying he doesn't drink.
That had to make coach Peter Laviolette pleased. Laviolette instituted a "Dry Island," the name of a pledge in which he asked his players to stop drinking for a month. Richards and Carter repeatedly declined to take part in the pledge over the past two years—and were traded the same day.
The 31-year-old Bryzgalov hit on all the usual points from any introductory press conference: Philadelphia is a "top-notch" organization, he's ready to play 70 games if that number is needed to win a Cup, and he doesn't expect much of a tough transition to a new team and conference.
"Philly is a great place to play hockey," Bryzgalov said.
It's not a bad place for history buffs, either. Bryzgalov flashed a new helmet with the team logo and "We The People," airbrushed on top, Benjamin Franklin on the side, and the landmark Philadelphia Museum of Art also makes an appearance.
The Flyers can't wait to find out how all the pieces fit.
General manager Paul Holmgren said defenceman Chris Pronger should be ready for the start of the season. On Friday, Pronger visits the doctor who performed his off-season back surgery and expects to receive clearance to participate in training camp. Holmgren doesn't know if Pronger will play at all during the pre-season.
"I know," Holmgren said, "it's been kind of a whirlwind of a summer around here."