Brilliant move for Bryz Kid

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

As his opening-game shutout with the Coyotes suggested seven weeks ago, Ilya Bryzgalov wasted little time making an impression with his new Phoenix teammates.

However, it was a conversation the waiver-wire pickup had with Darren Pang days later that demonstrates just how much of an impact he's had on a once-fragile team.

"He said, 'Normally around here, April 6 is final game, April 7 physicals, April 8 fly home. Not anymore,' " recalled Pang, the netminder-turned-broadcaster. "And that's the kind of attitude that is needed to change things."

Asked if they received a similar pep talk from the colourful Russian keeper, Shane Doan and Derek Morris shrugged .

"He could have said that but I never understand a word he says," laughed Morris.

"Maybe he was speaking in Russian," jumped in Doan.

Perhaps more memorable for Doan was the goalie/comedian's reaction following the Nov. 17 game in L.A. for which he showed up mere hours before puck drop after the Anaheim backup was plucked off waivers.

"He jumped on the bus, waved and just said 'thanks guys' and left," smiled Doan, who didn't see the netminder until several days later when he returned to the team with clothes he didn't have time to retrieve before his heroic debut.

"I don't know any other way to say it other than he's a goalie in every sense."

That is to say, a little off his rocker. Coach Wayne Gretzky prefers to call him something else: A saviour of sorts.

"He stabilized our franchise," said Gretzky. "I can't say enough about how much he's brought to our team.

"The first 15 games we were getting good goaltending -- that wasn't an issue with the squad. When we were able to get Bryz, we got great goaltending."

Running his record to 13-8-1 as Coyote with a 3-1 win at the 'Dome last night, Bryzgalov's 30-save effort not only improved on his 2.20 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, but moved Phoenix within two points of a playoff spot. Not bad for a castoff having half his salary coming from a Ducks squad he beat last week.

And while several Calgary media types were quick to draw the comparison between Bryz's impact and that of Miikka Kiprusoff here in 2003, Gretzky downplayed it.

"Well," he laughed, aware the Flames reached the final that year, "we've got a long way to go. We're pretty proud of what we've done the first 40 games. We've come so far in six months. We were pretty bleak in April. To turn around the franchise as quickly as we have -- and to know the future is even brighter with these young guys -- is exciting."

As one of the only people to survive a massive front office purge last summer, Gretzky has returned to ice a lineup that features plenty of good young talent, including last night's goal scorers Keith Yandle, Joel Perrault and Daniel Winnik, who have played a combined 96 NHL games.

"Bryz kind of showed up in our lap and made everyone better," said Coyotes goalie coach Grant Fuhr.

"He's so confident he's elevated everyone's game. We just try to make sure he's happy. He's an off-the-wall guy and he's good for the guys to keep them loose."

Even on game day when a club policy prevented the pending unrestricted free agent from speaking to the media, Bryzgalov spent 15 minutes after the morning skate picking reporters brains on everything from Alberta's oil to the state of his abs. He loves to gab.

This is the same character who was a YouTube hit after jokingly chastising reporters in Edmonton for coming down on Chris Pronger's decision to escape the city's horrific weather.

"I know in the past he appeared a little loosey-goosey, maybe a little immature, but I think he learned from J.S. Giguere and he's grown up a little," said Pang.


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