By Jameson Olive
Portraits by Eduardo Schneider
It’s only two days into training camp, and Sergei Bobrovsky is still settling into his new surroundings. After signing a seven-year contract with the Florida Panthers in July, he knows this will be his home for the foreseeable future, but there’s a lot of work to do in this new setting. “Right now, I’m in adjustment mode, but that’s normal coming to a new team, system and city,” says the limber 6-foot-2 goaltender, still soaked in sweat from a long practice at the Panthers IceDen. “When you get used to that, you get more comfortable, you get going… I love the game. I want to be the best.”
This summer, Bobrovsky’s future was all anyone who follows the NHL could talk about. After seven seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets—a tenure that made him a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy, an award given annually to the league’s top goaltender, saw him compete as a 2017 NHL All-Star and earned him a league-leading 115 wins over the past three seasons—he entered free agency as a hot commodity, with several organizations reportedly vying for his prowess in net.
Having broken into the league undrafted with little fanfare in 2010, Bobrovsky, 30, says he didn’t get caught up in the buzz. He was aware of the rumors that started to pop up daily but managed to tune them all out as he prepared for the upcoming season. “It’s all noise on the outside,” he says of the media frenzy. “Inside, I’m the same person.” On July 1, the opening day of free agency, the guessing game ended when he put pen to paper on a deal with the Panthers, signing a contract reportedly worth $70 million.
In recent summers, Bobrovsky and his wife, Olga, have used vacations in Miami as a chance to decompress after the long and arduous grind of the hockey season. Raised on the other side of the world in Novokuznetsk, Russia, known for frigid winters, he’s always had an affinity for South Florida’s tropical offerings. “I loved the area after the first day I came with the Philadelphia Flyers,” he says of his former team. “We played against Florida. I came out after the game in a suit, and the weather was so nice. It’s a good lifestyle here.”
Time has passed since that inaugural visit, when Bobrovsky led the Flyers to a 4-2 win over the Panthers on February 16, 2011. Since then, he’s gone from relative unknown to one of the best goaltenders in the league. In his final season with the Blue Jackets, he went 37-24-1 and led the league with nine shutouts before backstopping the team to a shocking four-game sweep over the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lighting in the Eastern Conference First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
He’s tasted success in the playoffs but is still searching for his first Stanley Cup. That’s why, he says, he ultimately aligned with the Panthers, who are considered one of the league’s up-and-coming clubs. Stepping out of the shadow of former goaltender Roberto Luongo—who retired in June after 19 seasons in the NHL and will have his No. 1 jersey retired by the Panthers in March—Bobrovsky is excited to follow an icon he calls “a Hall of Famer,” even though he says he has his “own path” to tread.
Incredibly introspective, Bobrovsky describes his position as if he were a dedicated craftsman. “I love what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s my life. It’s my art. I try to build the best version of myself every day.” With the Panthers, he hopes to achieve his magnum opus.
Joining a team that already boasts superstars such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, the goalie, who states proudly that he’s “still the same kid from Novokuznetsk” after all this time, believes he and his new teammates are
ready to compete for the Cup.
“That’s what we play for,” Bobrovsky says. “It’s the biggest trophy in the sport. I don’t have it yet. And that’s my motivation.”
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue.