Oilers Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin Didn’t Foresee His Career Longevity

RP – Original Article by Robert Tychkowski

EDMONTON – When he was a kid lacing it up for the old Winnipeg Jets back in 1995, Nikolai Khabibulin never dreamed he’d still be turning heads at 40.

“I never thought I could play till 40, to be honest, I was just happy to actually play in the NHL,” said Khabibulin, adding he doesn’t have a wager going with another ex-Jet, Teemu Selanne, over who’ll last longer. “He was light years ahead of me as far as accomplishments. He was one of the stars on the team and I was kind of looking up to him, so it never got that personal, but it’s nice to see him still playing.

“And I’ve been fortunate enough to play till this late. As long as anyone still enjoys the game and can still play, more power to them.”

Shane Doan, 36, will likely be the last Jet standing, but you never know, the way Khabibulin can turn back the clock. He realized early on that the fountain of youth is located in the gym, and the more often a player visits it, the longer he can last.

“I realized how important off-seasons are, regeneration and workouts,” said Khabibulin, who earned the start Tuesday against Los Angeles on the strength of a brilliant relief effort Saturday against Colorado. “It almost feels like every summer I put in more and more work to keep up with the young guys. In some ways you have to be smarter in what you do and when you do it, you have to keep learning.”

He’s just glad to be back in the mix after it looked early on like Devan Dubnyk might play all 48 games.

“It’s nice to get playing time,” he said. “Any athlete wants to play. Nobody wants to just practice. I’m the same way, I want to play. But he was playing really, really well and the team was doing well.

“You have to be patient and look at things positively. It gave me a little bit more time to practise and be with the guys on the ice.”

It helps to get his name and his game out there, though, given that he’s in the final year of his Oilers contract and he fully intends on playing next season.

“I sure hope so,” he said. “But I don’t want to look took far ahead — I just want to try to keep working on my game and try to get better. That’s pretty much the game plan.”