Khabby fond of 'Peg

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Nikolai Khabibulin thinks about his time with the Winnipeg Jets, one thing immediately comes to mind.

"I really liked that building (the Winnipeg Arena)," said Khabibulin, who played with the Jets the final two seasons before the franchise moved to Arizona. "I know it was old, but when it was packed and the fans would get loud, it was pretty cool with the white outs and stuff. It was amazing."

Khabibulin joined the Jets, who selected him in the ninth round (240th overall) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, in 1994-95 and admitted the transition from Moscow to Winnipeg was challenging.

"It was a big change from the one country to the other, with the language (barrier) and everything," said Khabibulin. "But I really liked the people in the Jets organization, they really helped me out and made it smoother.

"The people (in the city) were pretty friendly and I miss that a little bit. Maybe one day a team will be back there."

Khabibulin occasionally wonders what it might have been like if the Jets had stayed in Winnipeg and held on to all of its young guns.

"It would have been nice," said Khabibulin. "With Teemu Selanne, Alexei Zhamnov, Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen was there forever, along with Thomas Steen. We had a good team, we just needed a few pieces and needed to stick together a little longer.

"Who knows what would have happened?"

Khabibulin had to wait a while, but he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004 -- an accomplishment he's immensely proud of.

"It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "It's a huge accomplishment for any hockey player. It really makes me feel good. Hopefully I can win another one or maybe two more. I want to do it again because the feeling was unbelievable."

With one amazing run, Khabibulin quickly silenced the critics who wondered if he could get the job done in the playoffs.

"You don't play for the critics, you play for your teammates," he said. "We got really fortunate that year and didn't have any injuries. It was really fun.

"You can never take it away. Your name is there on the Cup."

These days, Khabibulin is stopping pucks for the Chicago Blackhawks and he's optimistic about the upcoming season after watching the Blackhawks add some skill up front in the form of Robert Lang, Sergei Samsonov and Yanic Perreault and youngsters like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

"The team is going to be better," said Khabibulin.

Blackhaws forward Martin Lapointe also likes the additions the team made in the off-season and is thrilled to have Khabibulin as the last line of defence.

"Nicky is a hard-working goaltender, he wants to win every game," said Lapointe. "For us to be successful, he's got to be good and he knows that. But we have to be good in front of him too. There's nothing worse than leaving your goalie out to dry."

"We believe in him as one of the top goaltenders in the league and we know what he's capable of," added Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith. "It gives that much more confidence to know he's been there before and won a Stanley Cup."


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