Hurricanes net a winner in Khudobin

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— Anton Khudobin came to the Carolina Hurricanes this season not knowing what to expect.

The goaltender had a one-year contract. Cam Ward was the Canes’ established No. 1 goalie, and no one could say how many games Khudobin might play.

But it’s early February and Khudobin is playing every game.

Khudobin was in net for every Canes game in January, won 10 times and was named the NHL’s first star for the month. He’s earned a lot of recognition, become a fan favorite and even has a sandwich named for him in local Harris Teeters – “Dobby’s Butterbrot” – that was introduced Wednesday.

As for the workload, no problem, Khudobin said.

“I feel great,” he said. “I didn’t really tire as much playing the last 15 games. I just get confident more as the games go on.”

His play has been, at times, spectacular.

“He loves to compete,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said.

A native of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, Khudobin spent time competing in the East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League, working his way up through the minors. Drafted by Minnesota in 2004, he played six games for the Wild before being traded to the Boston Bruins in February 2011.

Khudobin was the Bruins’ third goalie behind Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask as Boston won the 2011 Stanley Cup. That earned him a ring, though not his name on the Cup. Thomas’ departure after the 2011-2012 season opened the door for Khudobin to be Rask’s backup, and last season he had a 9-4-1 record.

Khudobin was an unrestricted free agent after the season but salary-cap limitations kept the Bruins from re-signing him. He signed with Carolina in July for $800,000 – in retrospect, as big a bargain for the Hurricanes.

Now, Khudobin would like to be a No. 1 goalie. He has seen the top goalies in the league and believes he can match them.

“Of course, why not?” he said. “At some point it’s supposed to turn to my way, right? I’ve been battling for many years to get (to) this level. I knew I can play at this level.

“I work hard, I never give up. I knew I can be ... a first goalie. But for right now, it’s just go and play.”

Go and play. It has been that way since he was 10 and first became a goalie.

“I (started) as defenseman,” he said, smiling. “At some point I was blocking shots a lot and my coach came to me and said, ‘Maybe you want to be a goalie?’ I figured after one week I wanted to be a goalie.”

Khudobin, 27, had a strong start to the Canes’ season, winning his first two starts, only to suffer an ankle injury on Oct. 13 when he left the net to play the puck. He was out until Jan. 2, when he started against the Washington Capitals and the Canes pulled out a 4-3 overtime road victory.

Khudobin’s return came just as Ward went back on the injured list with a lower-body injury. Ward missed all of January but is ready to play, and the Canes are back to having three goalies on the active roster with Justin Peters also available.

But it may be hard to dislodge Khudobin, who started Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets and likely will be in net Friday against the Florida Panthers. He had a 2.19 goals-against average in January, when he tied the franchise record for wins in a calendar month – a mark set by Ward in March 2009.

Although he’s a newcomer, Khudobin has easily fit in among his teammates.

“He has a nice personality to him,” said defenseman Brett Bellemore, who sits next to Khudobin in the room. “He jokes with the guys a lot, a good team guy. He’s very opinionated, speaks his mind.”

Muller was asked this week how to best describe Khudobin to those who don’t know him.

“Hmmm … character?” Muller said, laughing.

Muller noted Khudobin was a big draw for those attending the Hurricanes’ Casino Night charity event last weekend at PNC Arena.

“He has popularity,” Muller said. “He’s good for reporters because he doesn’t usually give the typical hockey answer. He’s colorful. He’s got a unique personalty.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service