New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) cools off during...

New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) cools off during a break in play in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Elmont, N.Y. The Islanders won 3-0. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Ilya Sorokin was skiing before he could skate.

The Islanders goalie was born in Mezhdurechensk, Russia, and there were plenty of mountains nearby. So, Sorokin said his parents quickly had him comfortable on skis.

Like, really quickly.

“I started at two years old with my family,” said Sorokin, adding he first played hockey at age 5. “After that, [skating] it’s easy.”

Sorokin, now 27 and entrenched as the Islanders No. 1 goalie in his third NHL season, makes a lot look easy in the net even as the degree of difficulty on some of his saves is off the charts.

Through Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Detroit in which he made a cameo appearance after starter Semyon Varlamov was pulled for concussion spotting, Sorokin has won four straight starts, stopping 127 of 132 shots in that span. He was 5-3-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage, putting him 10th in the NHL in both categories.

He went 26-18-8 with a 2.40 GAA and a .925 save percentage despite the Islanders’ inconsistent play last season, garnering one vote for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie.

Sorokin, drafted in 2014, finally came to North America in 2020, joining the Islanders in the playoff bubbles and immediately working with a tutor to learn English. As his comfort with the language grew, more and more of his personality emerged in the Islanders’ dressing room.

That has certainly helped his game, too, though not as much as his seemingly super-natural athleticism and flexibility.

“I think over the last year and a half or so he’s really kind of come out of his shell and really fit in here really well,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “It’s a tough transition. You’re coming over from Russia and you don’t really know much English. It’s kind of hard to really truly be yourself. He’s put in so much work with English classes and just learning the language.”

Remarkably, for as natural as he seems playing goalie, Sorokin started off as a forward for two years in the Russian youth leagues before getting in the net at age 7.

“I don’t remember, really,” Sorokin said when asked why he became a goalie. “Maybe I like the equipment. I liked the gear and I don’t like running.

“The team gave me equipment and it was very old but I was happy. For me, it doesn’t really matter. But my father bought new equipment and I was the happiest child in the world.”

Still, Sorokin doesn’t recall standing out as a goalie at first.

“Like the usual guy,” Sorokin said. “Like the same guys at my age. Nothing more.”

That’s obviously changed. A lot.

From the pod

Former Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, newly hired as an MSG Networks studio analyst for the team’s broadcasts, was the guest on Episode 145 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast, discussing his new career and why he didn’t pursue coaching.

“You see the amount of work and the amount of dedication it takes to be a coach,” said the 33-year-old Hickey, who played 456 games for the Islanders from 2013-22. “I feel I’ve gone through that stage where you’re somewhere new every year, you don’t know where you’re going to be and there’s less stability. To be a coach, you’ve got to do that same grind all over again. I feel like I was at a point in life where it’s, ‘Hey, I want to take a little bit of command over where I’m going to be.’

“Coaching is something I wanted to do when I was younger. But you have to be fully committed to that and I felt, for me, I’d rather fully commit myself to something I’d enjoy more and would suit my lifestyle better. This worked out perfectly.”

AHL honors

The Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgeport started the season 6-1-1 with Brent Thompson becoming the 22nd coach to notch 300 wins in North America’s top minor league and Ruslan Iskhakov being named the rookie of the month for October with seven goals and four assists.

“I’m not a big guy so I’ve got to be quick and shifty,” said the 5-9, 165 Iskhakov, a second-round pick in 2018 who spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in Finland and Germany after two seasons of collegiate hockey at the University of Connecticut.

Iskhakov is adjusting to playing wing this season after being used as a center in Europe.

“I think he’s confident, that’s the biggest thing,” said Thompson, in his 10th season coaching Bridgeport. “He’s finding open ice. He’s attacking the net. He’s not afraid to get on the walls.”

Thompson said he has an overriding philosophy when working with prospects.

“It’s not a rush,” Thompson said. “Everybody wants to be in the NHL now. I get that. We’ve all been there. But I think the longer you take, it’s not a big deal. Be the best at the AHL level and then you have the opportunity to excel so when you do go up, you’re not coming back down.”

Long-running Lou

The Islanders’ Saturday matinee in Detroit marked president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s 3,000th game as an NHL GM, including playoffs. Here’s the breakdown:

Devils (1987-2015) – 2,140 regular season; 252 playoffs

Maple Leafs (2015-18) – 246 regular season; 13 playoffs

Islanders (2018-present) – 300 regular season; 49 playoffs

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