Facetime with Nikolai Khabibulin

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By Paul M. Banks

One of the biggest names to clear the NHL waiver wire recently is Chicago Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, affectionately nicknamed “the Bulin Wall.” In the summer of 2005, Khabibulin, coming off a Stanley Cup title with the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous NHL season, was signed by Chicago to a four-year, $27 million deal, making him the highest paid goalie in the league. It was a blockbuster deal at the time, but unfortunatley, Nikolai’s play on the ice never quite lived up to the expectations surrounding his $6.75 million annual salary. His NHL resume includes four All-Star appearances, but he never seemed to recapture the high level of play that he enjoyed during his prime with other NHL teams. On the plus side, his saves and GAA (Goals Against Average) statistics did improve last season versus his other two Chicago campaigns. 

When the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet this past offseason, the Bulin Wall became expendable. He’s been granted permission to negotiate with Russian professional teams and is likely to find another team soon. I had an exclusive with him at the Hawks first ever Training Camp Festival at the United Center on September 28th.

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Khabibulin established himself as a goaltender for the Russian national team, winning an Olympic gold medal with the Unified Team in 1992, and a bronze for Russia in 2002. I began the conversation by bringing up his status as a member of the Gold Medal winning team in 1992 at Albertville. “Any time you’re on a winning team, winning the last game is awesome. Probably something that I’ll remember forever,” Khabibulin said.

I followed up by asking him about his 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic experience where Russia finished with a Bronze. However, Nikolai was selected as the Games best goaltender by the IIHF.

“That was a little different because I actually got to play in Salt Lake. We didn’t win the Gold, but it was still great because the Olympics happens only once every four years and every team gets their best players, so it’s exciting to be at the Olympic Village and just to see all the athletes around,” Nikolai answered. 

Our conversation also included my asking about any difference between the International game and the NHL. “In 92 it was a big difference because they weren’t too many professionals. In 2002 the NHL players were allowed to play, so it was a hockey showcase. Every team had a lot of stars on it; it was a really fun time,” the accomplished goalie said. 

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  1. paulmbanks says

    No one wants to comment on Khabibbulin? I find that hard to believe. where’s the love for Nikolai?

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