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Dunnigan: From Russia With Gloves

In July, Russian goaltender Ilya Sorokin signed an entry level contract and a one-year extension with the Islanders. The fan base, to say the least, had been anxiously waiting for his arrival. When the deal was announced Isles’ social media erupted.

Sorokin joined fellow countrymen Semyon Varlamov, who had signed with the organization prior to the 2019-20 campaign. Being a veteran NHL goaltender from the same country, Varlamov was a perfect fit to fill the mentor role. But with the hype and fanfare surrounding Sorokin, it would have been easy to see him threatened by his younger counterpart. As Sorokin emerges, his starting role on Long Island could be under threat.

Instead, thanks to professionalism and time spent training together in Russia years prior, the two have formed a close-knit relationship, that is now like family.

“We have Semyon Varlamov, he’s like a big brother, a big help to me with any questions in the process,” said Sorokin during training camp. “I’m very happy to work with him. He’s a team leader and I’m learning from him.”

Months later as this brotherly mentorship has grown stronger and stronger the Islanders are seeing the results on the ice, not just in their post-game hugs.

The Mentor-Protégé relationship has paid massive dividends for the Islanders and the two netminders themselves. The Isles are currently third best in the NHL in goals allowed per game. Varlamov has thrived as the “big brother” flirting with a career year and Sorokin is a rising star proving the hype was justified.

Varlamov is still the Islanders preferred option in net with an impressive 11 wins, 2.10 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. This has him ranked in the top three in wins, sixth in goals against average and eighth in save percentage. Varlamov is also tied for second in the league in shutouts. “Big brother” is on pace for possibly his best season ever. 

He’s been pretty incredible all year against all the teams he’s faced honestly,” teammate Cal Clutterbuck of Varlamov said earlier this season. “It seems like he keeps getting better, calm and cool in there. We’re lucky to have him.”

Meanwhile, Sorokin is living up to the lofty expectations, even after the rocky start to his NHL career. His debut saw the New York Rangers put five past him. After that he was handed two more losses. Since then, Sorokin has won four straight games including two historic back-to-back shutouts. He became the second Islanders’ rookie goaltender to ever record back to back shutouts. Also, he became just the second Islander to shutout the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first since 1986.

The Islanders leaned on Varlamov to start the season, but with the team’s jam-packed March and Sorokin impressing, Coach Barry Trotz has indicated that we will see more of the backup.

Goaltending has been a strong suit for the Isles since Trotz arrived and the new pairing looks capable of continuing that trend.

After another solid performance from Varlamov in last night’s win over Boston, the Isles continue to hold on to first place in the East. This climb has coincided with the Russian tandem quickly blossoming into one of the league’s best.

To stay on top of the division, they will need Varlamov to continue to put up career numbers and Sorokin to continue to prove Islander fans that their years of yearning were well founded. 


Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryandunni

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