Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Ilya Bryzgalov makes his anticipated return to Winnipeg as the Jets host the Philadelphia Flyers later this evening.
Tonight, the MTS Centre will open its doors to public enemy number one since the Winnipeg Jets made their return one year ago.
In the spring of 2011 with rumours swirling around an NHL relocation to Winnipeg, Ilya Bryzgalov had some disparaging things to say about our hometown, words that still resonate with the city's sports-loving population today.
At the time, Bryzgalov was the starting goaltender for the Phoenix Coyotes; prime candidates for relocation after being purchased by the NHL and waiting for someone -- anyone -- to keep the team in Glendale, AZ.
When asked about the possibility of moving to the (204) area code, Bryzgalov didn't mince words. He was opposed. Damn, damn, damn opposed:
"You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said after the Coyotes lost to Detroit, Wednesday night. "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."
The 30-year-old Russian's knowledge of Winnipeg comes from a visit or two when he was with Cincinnati in the AHL. "I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold," Bryzgalov said. "I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."
First blood had been drawn.
Although he later tried to back off his comments, the damage had already been done. That summer, Bryzgalov was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers where he would later sign an albatross 9-year 51MM contract which caught the hockey world by surprise. And when the Atlanta Thrashers made their move to Winnipeg for the start of the 2011-12 season, it meant that the Jets would host the eclectic goaltender who was better known for his Socratic soundbytes than he was for stopping pucks at least twice a year.
The Russian goaltender made one start in Winnipeg last season, a 5-4 overtime victory in which he was taunted and booed mercilessly, despite getting the better of the crowd, at least on this occasion.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that Bryz gets the start tonight in the Flyers first visit to The Peg, especially considering the Toronto Maple Leafs lit him up last night, scoring on him four times before he was pulled in the second period. Ed. Note: It has been reported that Bryzgalov will garner the start for the Flyers tonight.
But whether he starts or not is irrelevant. Jets' fans will be there, ready and waiting to unleash in unison with chants and verbal jabs. With Bryzgalov, it's personal. Let the sing-songs begin.
Is Ilya Bryzgalov your most hated opponent? Let us know in the comments section below!