It was clear when goalie Sergei Bobrovsky re-signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets for two years and $11.25 million that a tremendous amount of pressure was going to be placed on the netminder.
With a two-year contract, the pressure is actually two-fold: He is playing to earn his new contract while also playing to try to earn his next contract, which is likely to be a long-term one.
He has the hopes and expectations of a franchise trying for its second-ever playoff appearance in 2013-2014.
Sounds like a lot of pressure for a soon-to-be 25-year-old to deal with.
This week, the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia turned the pressure meter on Bobrovsky all the way to 11.
Bobrovsky was named as one of five Russian goalies that will attend Olympic training camp August 23-24 in Sochi.
One thing looks pretty clear from that list: Barring poor play or injury, Sergei Bobrovsky will be the starter.
Bobrovsky will start for Russia, on home ice, with a home nation expecting nothing less than a gold medal.
How is that for pressure?
For those who are too young to remember, there was a time when the Russians dominated Olympic hockey. When Russia was part of the Soviet Union (and as the Unified Team in 1992), the Soviets won Olympic gold in all but two Olympic games from 1956 through 1992.
The only two losses came in Squaw Valley in 1960 and Lake Placid in 1980, both to the United States.
So in 10 Olympic games from 1956-1992, the Soviets had 8 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal.
Since becoming their own independent country, however, the story has been much different. The Russians have no gold medals since 1992. They have just two medals total – a silver in Nagano in 1998 and a bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Now, Russia hosts the Olympics looking to try to recapture gold for the first time since the Unified Team did so in 1992.
A whole nation will be counting on the same thing we will count on here in central Ohio – the outstanding play of Sergei Bobrovsky.
I would argue Bobrovsky faces more pressure than any former or current Jacket has ever faced in a season.
Unlike some people who expect a drop-off from Bobrovsky this season (like Paul Grant at ESPN.com in this story), I think Bobrovsky will flourish under the pressure.
One of the things that makes Bobrovsky so special is his intense work ethic. He is not the type to fall apart when the going gets tough.
As far as bringing a gold medal to Russia, I’m not sure Bobrovsky alone can do that. If anyone can steal a medal for a team, it is a hot goalie.
I think the Russians don’t have the team to defeat the likes of Canada and the United States, among others. If Bobrovsky gets hot, he will have a chance.
But even if he does not win gold, I think Bobrovsky will play well for his country.
I also think he will play well for the Blue Jackets, and will help steer the Jackets to the playoffs at season’s end.
And if at season’s end the Jackets end up in the playoffs and Bobrovsky has an Olympic medal hanging on his neck, it may go down as the most successful season a Columbus Blue Jacket has ever had.
If anyone can, it is Bob. I cannot wait to see him prove the doubters wrong in this pressure-packed season.