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Isles new goalie Ilya Sorokin is living his 'dream' to play in NHL

New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin looks on

New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin looks on during training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ilya Sorokin has heard you, Islanders fans. Well, not in person, given the fact he has yet to play a game for the team and there is no telling when he might play one with spectators at Nassau Coliseum.

But the Russian goaltender said on Tuesday he knows how excited fans are about his arrival and that he hopes to live up to his billing.

"Yes, my friends send me pictures and messages from Islanders fans [who] are happy," he said in his first interview since signing with the Islanders in July.

Sorokin said that support is "very important" to him, then he turned to his English teacher and translator to properly convey his next thought:

"He feels like he’s now indebted to his fans and has to work hard for it to deserve this excitement," the translator said.

That is the plan.

Sorokin, 25, began the acclimation process by spending the summer with his new teammates in the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, even though he could not play.

He also made it a point to pursue a crash course in English. He knew some from his early school years but recently ramped up, saying he has spent four months working with his current instructor.

Given that, he did well, needing a translation for most questions but answering most in English. When it was over, he smiled and said, "It was very hard. On the ice, it’s easier."

That is how Sorokin will be judged, no matter the language. He will start the season behind countryman Semyon Varlamov, whom Sorokin called "like a big brother."

But coach Barry Trotz said he anticipates working him in early, especially with the schedule far more tightly packed than is customary early in the season.

"You have to deserve the time," Sorokin said.

He most recently played with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, but said he chose to leave to pursue "my dream."

"[The NHL] is the best league in the world, and all guys have dream of playing in the NHL," he said.

The bubbles were invaluable, he said, for bonding with teammates and learning what the demands of NHL life are like. "It was a good time," he said.

He called Mitch Korn and Piero Greco "two very great goalie coaches," who have tweaked "little details" in his game and helped him improve.

Sorokin has had no shortage of Russian goalies to admire, starting with his "first idol," former Islander Evengi Nabokov, and later Sergei Bobrovsky, who grew up nearby. Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers is a contemporary and longtime friend.

Sorokin said he has enjoyed life on Long Island so far.

"I drove to the ocean and walked on Jones Beach," he said. "I like the ocean. I like this area. It’s very peaceful . . . I was in Manhattan, and I don’t like it, because it’s a lot of people, a lot of stressful. Big city. I like peaceful place."

Speaking of peaceful, he said that is his personality in the net.

"Short memory," he said, then asked his interpreter to help flesh out his thoughts.

"He feels he has just a task to come out on ice and stop the puck from going in," she said. "Sort of simplifying the task to just that. He feels himself to be calm, yes."

Notes & quotes: Casey Cizikas practiced after suffering a left arm injury on Sunday. "Obviously, we got a scare the other day, but he felt pretty good," Trotz said . . . Kieffer Bellows was on a line with J-G Pageau and Ross Johnston. "I feel he’s had a real strong camp and he’s worked himself into the mix of the opening night roster," Trotz said of Bellows . . . The opening day roster was due to the league at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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