Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bryzgalov apologizes for Winnipeg slurs

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HE'S a world-class goaltender with dandy skills. And Ilya Bryzgalov showcased as much Friday with a highlight-of-the-night type save.

The Philadelphia Flyers netminder issued a straight-up apology to the people of Winnipeg for comments he made about the city, its climate and inhabitants last spring as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.

"You know, let's make this straight once and for and all," began Bryzgalov after Flyers' practice at the MTS Centre in advance of this afternoon's game against the Jets. "We were losing (at the time), I was disappointed, first of all. And second of all I didn't want to move anywhere.

"I'm pretty sure good people, beautiful people, live in Winnipeg. I'm pretty sure there are passionate fans. I didn't mean it and I didn't want to offend anybody. Sincerely, I apologize if I offended anybody and fans in Canada and Winnipeg. I didn't mean it."

It was last April when Bryzgalov, then a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, stated publicly he would not move to Winnipeg if the franchise had been relocated here.

"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said then. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family.

"I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold. I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."

No doubt Jets' fans won't be as forgiving this afternoon, but...

"I hope they're not going to be tough on me," said Bryzgalov with a chuckle. "It's the fans' right to do whatever they want. It's my job to just play the game."

Asked if he had seen much of the city since the team's arrival late Thursday, Bryzgalov added: "I haven't had an excursion yet. Maybe later in the day I'll take a tour."

Bryzgalov signed this summer with the Flyers as a free agent and since a 9-8 loss to the Jets last month has been solid. Overall he has eight wins, a 2.65 goals against average and .905 save percentage, but since that crazy contest -- afterward he said he had zero confidence and was 'lost in the woods' -- the 31-year-old Russian is 5-0-1 with a 1.66 GAA.

FEHR WATCH: Jets' winger Eric Fehr has yet to play this season while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but his status has been upgraded to 'game-time decision', meaning he could be in the lineup against the Flyers, or next Wednesday in Washington against his old club.

"I wanted it to be last night (against the Caps), so you just take what you can get and when they tell me I'm OK to play I'm going to try to play," said Fehr. "I got a little bit of line work in with some guys and got my legs under me and I feel pretty good."

"Let's recognize he hasn't played a game in four-five months or whatever it is," said head coach Claude Noel. "The expectation level is the last thing we need to worry about. Let's just get him into a game and get him comfortable and feel our way around a little bit. I'd just like him to have some fun, enjoy his time with his teammates and play some minutes."

OH CANADA: "It's exciting just coming to this city, a Canadian city where the fans are crazy. I feel bad for the hockey fans in Atlanta, but watching the highlights at night and seeing how excited and rowdy this crowd is... I can't wait to get on the ice. It's so much more fun, it's so much more easier to get motivated for a game like this." -- Flyers forward Daniel Briere.

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2011 C4

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