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Goalie Alexandar Georgiev Tries to Make the Most of His Chance With the Rangers
29 ìàðòà 2019 ãîäà. New York Times. By Mark Mazzeo
Alexandar Georgiev, an undersized goaltender no team seemed to want, was not supposed to get here.
Yet there he was on Feb. 10 at Madison Square Garden, repeatedly foiling the Toronto Maple Leafs’ shooting barrage. In all, Georgiev, an undrafted rookie, made a career-high 55 saves, carrying the Rangers to a 4-1 victory in a nationally televised game on his 23rd birthday.
It was the second-most saves for a goalie during a regular-season game in franchise history, after Mike Richter’s 59 on Jan. 31, 1991, but Georgiev was not upset with his teammates over all the rubber he faced.
“No. No. No,” Georgiev said in a recent interview. “It was a great day to be a goalie for the New York Rangers. It was fun.”
It has been a season of trying to look on the bright side for the rebuilding Rangers, who were sellers for a second consecutive trade deadline and will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year. They have received various future assets, including young players and draft picks, and are in the process of evaluating and developing their young core.
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After winning the backup goaltender competition in training camp, Georgiev has posted a 12-13-3 record in 30 games, along with a 3.05 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Last weekend, he beat the Maple Leafs again, making 44 saves in a 2-1 victory against the league’s second-highest scoring team. On Monday, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat him, 5-2, but on Friday night, he made 44 saves again, in a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
He has managed to learn a lot from watching Henrik Lundqvist, the longtime face of the franchise. Backups to Lundqvist rarely play, but lately the two have been sharing time between the pipes. Lundqvist has posted an .895 save percentage since Jan. 1.
“His work ethic is at Hank’s level, but he’s also fast and quick like Hank,” Nick Bobrov, the Rangers’ director of European scouting, said in a reference to Lundqvist. Bobrov is primarily responsible for the Rangers’ eventually landing Georgiev. “He’s got the character and desire to be great.”
Rangers fans have taken notice of Georgiev’s skills.
While he made the 10-minute walk to the arena before a game from his Midtown Manhattan residence one day, a car stopped in the middle of the street and began beeping at Georgiev. A Rangers fan — who was also going to the game — jumped out of the vehicle, introduced himself, and asked if Georgiev would take a picture with his son.
“I wasn’t startled or anything, but it was a bit unusual,” said Georgiev, who obliged.
Georgiev took a pockmarked path to become the first Bulgarian-born player to reach the N.H.L. At 6-foot-1, he is on the short end for a pro goaltender.
The prevailing stigma is that smaller goalies take up less of the net, and therefore must be lightning quick to prevent pucks from beating them. That left Georgiev on the outside looking in.
“I was really disappointed about not getting drafted, and I wanted to prove people wrong,” he said. “That’s kind of been my career so far, proving to people that I can be more than they expect.”
Georgiev’s parents, Georgi and Natalia, moved to Moscow from Bulgaria when their son was a year old, giving him dual citizenship.
Georgiev began playing hockey when he was 5, but could not quite find his footing as a youngster in Russia. In search of improvement and opportunity, he left to attend a goalie camp in Turku, Finland, run by the former N.H.L. goalie Fredrik Norrena.
Georgiev eventually earned a recommendation to join TPS Turku, a club in the top Finnish league, and continue his development. Still, playing time was hard to come by early on, with older netminders ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I was sitting in the stands every game dreaming about the N.H.L. and feeling like I should be playing,” Georgiev said. “But I realized I had no control over it. So I practiced harder and tried to grind through the season.”
The Rangers’ front office got its first real look at Georgiev during the 2016 world junior championships. He wound up making the Russian team in a tryout camp, beating out Ilya Samsonov, a 2015 first-round pick of the Washington Capitals, for the starting job. He backstopped the team to a silver medal after a 4-3 overtime loss to a Finland team that featured the future N.H.L. stars Patrik Laine and Mikko Rantanen.
Bobrov said he was watching the tournament with the Rangers’ assistant general manager, Chris Drury. “We were saying among ourselves that it’s too bad he’s not bigger, because he’s very good,” Bobrov said.
The Rangers did not draft Georgiev in 2016 or 2017, his breakout season with TPS Turku, during which he led the Finnish Elite League in goals-against average. None of the other N.H.L. teams did, either.
It was not until Drury needed a goalie for the team’s A.H.L. minor league affiliate that Georgiev’s name resurfaced as a possibility.
“I said we have this kid ‘Georgie’ who we’ve been watching for two to three years now,” Bobrov said. “His size isn’t traditional for the N.H.L., but he’s been proving everyone wrong his entire life, and he’s still doing it. So why don’t we try him? We took a very educated guess that this kid would turn into something special.”
The Rangers invited Georgiev to their developmental camp — and after a daunting excursion to get his United States visa that included an overnight train trip — he earned an entry-level contract with the team on July 18, 2017.
Benefiting from his time working with the goalie coach, Benoit Allaire, Georgiev ascended much more quickly than anticipated, overcoming a slow start in the minors as he transitioned to a smaller North American rink that features different shot angles. He made his N.H.L. debut on Feb. 22, 2018, making 38 saves in a loss at Montreal before picking up his first career win the following night at the Garden.
It remains uncertain whether Georgiev will be the heir apparent for Lundqvist, who turned 37 this month and has two years left on his contract. The Rangers have another highly touted goalie prospect, 23-year-old Igor Shestyorkin, who has excelled in the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia. The team is in the process of bringing him to the N.H.L. next season.
Regardless, Georgiev has been in this position before, and his ultimate goal remains the same.
“I want to become a No. 1 goalie eventually,” he said. “And obviously help my team to win the Stanley Cup.”