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Father knows best -- just ask Nabokov // San Jose Mercury (на английском)
Sharks' precocious rookie learned the nuances of goaltending at an early age from a familar face
By Rick Hurd TIMES STAFF WRITER
SAN JOSE -- The lessons are a part of Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov's earliest memories. He'd strap on the goalie pads, cover his face with a mask and then head to the crease.
Once there, his father held court. He'd put the 6-year-old with dreams of being a professional goalie through the ABC's of goaltending. And always, one message reverberated a bit more than the others.
"He always told me that if I wanted to play goalie, I had to have a (cool) head," Nabokov said. "It's one of the most important things."
Nabokov's father wasn't just your average doting parent. Viktor Nabokov was a professional goalie -- and, Evgeni says, one of the better ones -- for 18 seasons in what is now Kazakhstan, a part of the former Soviet Union.
Nerves were a part of playing the position, Viktor often would tell his son. But successfully channeling them was the key to playing the position well.
This message, Evgeni Nabokov says now, was as much a part of the daily drills as anything else. As he got older, the physical drills changed. But the message about the mentality of a goalie stayed the same.
"Sometimes, I go out there and I'm nervous," Nabokov said. "But I just can't show it."
Success no surprise
No problem there.
Nabokov, now 25 and the Sharks' stellar rookie goaltender, has stood in net at the outset of a game eight times this season. He's won six of them and tied one, the second-best winning percentage among goalies in the NHL. He's saved 93.6 percent of the shots he's faced, fourth-best in the league. He's allowed only 1.79 goals per game, fifth-best.
All the while, he's looked as stoic as a marble statue.
Viktor Nabokov's lessons, it appears, still are front and center.
"He's been awesome," Sharks winger Jeff Friesen said. "Just the way he plays, he's given everyone more confidence. You never see him rattled, or shaky. He's just been phenomenal."
So phenomenal that it's easy to forget Nabokov still is considered the Sharks' No. 2 goalie. He's endured his longest stretch as an NHL starter only because Steve Shields, the team's No. 1 goaltender, sprained an ankle Oct. 12 in the Sharks' second game of the season.
That could have been a crisis point. Instead, the Sharks have raced to the best 10-game start (7-2-1) in franchise history. And to a man, the Sharks say one thing. The calm goalie has had a calming effect.
"Goaltending has never been a problem for this club," center Mike Ricci said. "And we knew that it wasn't going to be a problem when Steve went down. We knew Naby would step in and play great for us, and he has."
Perhaps they knew it because Nabokov wore a persona that indicated he knew it, too. He'd certainly provided clues during an 11-game stint last season, the most notable being the 39-save effort he produced in a scoreless tie against the Colorado Avalanche in his first NHL start Jan. 19.
Perhaps they knew it because Nabokov had traveled such a difficult road to the NHL. He was a ninth-round pick in the 1994 entry draft and spent three full seasons in Russia and three more in the minors before getting called up last season.
"This is a player that's been given the proper foundation," Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi said. "He's experienced the ups and downs that he should've experienced and has worked real hard to get here. That's prepared him."
Or perhaps the Sharks knew it simply from the way Nabokov appears on the ice.
"I mean you look at him on the ice," winger Todd Harvey said. "Nothing fazes him."
Passes early tests
Harvey has a point. Nothing does seem to faze Nabokov.
Not a penalty shot. Pittsburgh's Martin Straka, one of the league's best skill players, took one 40 seconds into the Sharks' 3-2 win Wednesday. He tried to go around Nabokov with an adroit bit of puck handling. Nabokov nonchalantly took the bottom corner away and made a pad save.
Not a one-on-one confrontation with arguably the world's best player. Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr got loose on a breakaway during the second period. Again, Nabokov stood his ground like a tank, then slid over to make a toe save.
Not even a puck to the face. Nabokov took six stitches over his right eye in a game at Carolina after being blasted in the face by a Sandis Ozolinsh slap shot, then returned to the game without even returning to the bench.
"I'm a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable," he said. "(But) I'm still learning how the game goes. ... I'm still trying to deal with that."
He is dealing with it the only way he knows. He won't look beyond his next scheduled start Saturday against Carolina. He cares not to analyze what will happen when Shields is ready to return, something that could happen as soon as this weekend. He has little time to assess what he's already accomplished.
"I'm not thinking about proving something," he said. "I'm just going out and doing the best I can. I try to keep it simple and not worry about the other stuff."
Viktor Nabokov taught his son well.
Страничка Евгения Набокова на
сайте "Звёзды с Востока"
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