Ilya Bryzgalov Becomes a Cosmonaut

By Emma Harger
If hockey hadn’t worked out for Ilya Bryzgalov, he was going to go into the field of space exploration. Now he gets a chance to see what that would mean. Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The history of space exploration in Russia is a storied one, dating back of course to the launch of Sputnik, the race to put a man into orbit and then on the moon. Of course, America won that last round (U.S.A! U.S.A!), but the legacy of space exploration endures in Russia today. The KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup is named for Yuri Gagarin, the first man to finish an orbit of the Earth back in 1961. Gagarin’s name is also on the national cosmonaut training center in a Russian town called Star City. No, really, it’s called Star City. It’s located near Moscow and used to be pretty closed off back in the Soviet era, but today it’s more open and welcoming.

It recently welcomed Ilya Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers, who is currently with the KHL CSKA Moscow team. Bryzgalov once said that, if hockey hadn’t worked out for him, he would’ve gone into the cosmonaut field instead. Then, of course, came his musings on life and the size of the universe in last year’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic. (The universe, you see, is so humaaangous big that our earthly problems are nothing in perspective.)

So perhaps his visit to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in old Star City is the extension of his old dream. He met with Valery Tokarev, a man who completed two space walks before retiring in 2008. Tokarev gave him the grand tour, even letting him try on a space suit. Bryzgalov is used to wearing bulky gear in his normal job, but seeing him decked out like he’s headed to the International Space Station is definitely a new thing.

The video below is in Russian with no English subtitles, but still shows Bryzgalov’s joy at checking out the things people must do before they can leave the confines of Earth. He seems pretty dizzy after trying out what looks to be a zero-gravity simulator and tries on the regalia at about four minutes into the video. Then the Star Wars theme tune starts as Bryzgalov goes to a launch simulation. Again, not kidding. Wriggling him out of the suit seems like a complex task akin to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, but Bryzgalov looks like he enjoyed his time.

I’ve profiled a few of the odd jobs NHL players have taken on due to the lockout. P.K. Subban‘s attempts at broadcasting and pizza-slinging; Kevin Bieksa trying to do the weather; Shawn Thornton helping out at a Boston Pops holiday concert; Dustin Penner interning for Conan O’Brien. This experience, though, may top them all.

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