The Islanders Finally Have Their “White Whale” Ilya Sorokin On Ice

Peter Schwartz

It’s not a surprise when there’s a whale sighting on Long Island.  In fact, Long Island is one of the best places in the United States to go “Whale Watching” and there are even cruises available that give people the chance to see whales off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound.

A “White Whale” is defined by Macmillan Dictionary as “something that someone pursues and with little chance of success”.

Ilya Sorokin has been referred to as the Islanders’ “White Whale” because they have pursued him for six years and there were times when there was a belief that he would never leave Russia and arrive on Long Island.  But Sorokin finally joined the Islanders over the summer and was with the team for the playoffs in the bubble.  He wasn’t eligible to play, but after the Russian goaltender signed a one-year entry level contract as well as a one-year contract extension on July 13th, Sorokin joined the team to practice, to get used to the North American style of hockey and to get to know his new teammates and coaches.

You know you’re a big deal when you haven’t even played a game for your new team yet, but a local eatery has already named a sandwich after you.

The excitement over the 25-year old’s impending arrival was so big that the popular Blue Line Deli in Huntington came up with the “White Whale” sandwich that features chicken cutlet, bacon, onion rings, gravy and cheese.

Just on a side note, let me say that the sandwich is amazing!

Sorokin can certainly stop the puck and all he’s done in his career so far is win, so the Islanders are hoping that translates to him help bring the Stanley Cup back to Long Island.  He’s getting pretty good in the English department, a process that started when he joined the Islanders in the bubble.

“He speaks English much more clearly than I do,” joked Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz as training camp began this week at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow.  “He has done a great job.  He’s a very bright kid.  He’s worked with the English language…studies…right from the bubble through the whole summer till this day he still continues to work at that.  Having a long time in the bubble with our guys has really helped.”

Ilya Sorkin Brings A Very Impressive Resume To The Islanders: 

Sorokin’s journey to Long Island began in June of 2014 when he was selected by the Islanders in the third round (78th overall) of the NHL Draft.  He did participate in the Islanders 2014 rookie mini-camp, but he would return to Russia where he compiled a storied career with CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).  Sorokin’s resume is impressive to say the least.

*A career regular season KHL record of 134-64-22 with a 1.70 goals against average and 44 shutouts.

 *Led CSKA Moscow to the Gagarin Cup (KHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup) in 2018-19 and was named playoff MVP with a record of 16-4 with a 1.79 goals against average, a .947 save percentage and five shutouts.

 *A KHL All-Star Selection in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

 *A career 50-17 KHL playoff record with a 1.37 goals against average and holds the all-time KHL record with 16 playoff shutouts.

 *A member of the 2018 gold medal winning Olympic Athletes From Russia at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.

Last season, Sorokin was 26-10-3 in 40 appearances before the season was cancelled midway through the playoffs because of COVID-19.  The Russian Hockey Federation would declare Sorokin CSKA Moscow the Russian Champions.

The excitement from the team and the fans to see Sorokin in an Islanders uniform has been building over the last couple of years when it became apparent that he was ready to embark on a new challenge in his hockey career.

“I think he’s very excited for a new career for him…for the fresh start,” said Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov who has already working out with and skating with Sorokin in the weeks before training camp started.

Varlamov will combine with Sorokin for a Russian 1-2 punch in goal for the Islanders.

“He spent a lot of years playing in the KHL and he’s been very successful in that league,” said Varlamov.  “I’m sure he wants to establish himself here in the NHL and I think he’s definitely able to do that.   He’s very talented and I think he’ll be a great fit for our team and this organization.”

The Islanders’ New Goalie Will Have To Adapt To Hockey In North America: 

Before signing with the Islanders, Sorokin was referred to by many hockey experts as the best goalie in the world that wasn’t currently in the National Hockey League.  He brings that label with him to the Islanders but even though he was with the team in the bubble, he still has to adjust to the NHL game.  The rink is smaller in North America and the game is faster.

Because of the condensed training camp schedule and the fact that there will be no pre-season games, Sorokin is on a crash course to get ready for his first NHL season.

“I think just the quickness and the randomness of the NHL, that’s the biggest adjustment,” said Trotz.  “He saw it in the bubble on a day in and day out basis so I think he understands it.  Now he’s got to get the experience at that and hopefully we can emulate a lot of that during this short time.”

Sorokin has been spending plenty of time working with Islanders Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn and Goaltending Coach Piero Greco to help him get acclimated for what lies ahead.  They’ve been working with him on establishing a good skillset and going over some tendencies from the KHL that need to be taken out to make him NHL ready.

A perfect example was during the first practice of training camp on Monday.  Sorokin faced a shot from the top of the right face-off circle that he didn’t corral and the puck rang off the post.  Korn skated over to Sorokin immediately to talk to him and they went through appeared to be a short fundamental conversation with Korn going over positioning and technique.  Sorokin handled the next similar shot with no problem.

“He’s a terrific person,” said Trotz when asked about Sorokin.  “Unbelievable work ethic and now he’s just got to get it down on the ice and be under fire a little bit in different circumstances but I think he’s up for the challenge.”

“He’s a talented young man…quality individual,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello who was finally able to get Sorokin’s signature on an NHL contract. “It’s one thing to be playing on a big rink and the adjustable things that he has to go through.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  Ilya will be certainly in the mix.”

Once of the most important aspects in being a goaltender, at any level, is being able to communicate on the ice with your teammates, especially the defensemen.  Without pre-season games, observations of how Sorokin is communicating with his teammates will have to come in practices and scrimmages in training camp before we see him on the ice in a real NHL game.

Ilya Sorokin Is Communicating Well With His New Teammates And Coaches With The Islanders: 

And so far, things are working out just fine in the communication department.

“He has no problem communicating in English,” said Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech.  “He’s been great.  We’re lucky to have him here.  I don’t think the communication will be any issue.  He speaks English pretty well and he plays the puck well as well.”

“He’s put a lot of time and effort into learning a new language and coming over here and getting to know us in the summer so I think it’s only going to benefit him,” said Islanders forward Josh Bailey.  “It’s just been fun to get to know him and now that his English has gotten better, it’s certainly easier to communicate with him and get to know him as a person.”

The Islanders and their fans have certainly waited a long time to see Sorokin come to Long Island.  Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Islanders fans won’t be able to attend games, at least for now, so watching on television will have to satisfy the appetite to see the “White Whale” in action.

So, sit back and relax, with a really good sandwich in hand, and enjoy the player whose arrival to the Islanders has been six years in the making.  Whale watching on Long Island is no longer something that just happens near a body of water.  It’s now about to happen on the ice at Nassau Coliseum when Ilya Sorokin is between the pipes for the Islanders.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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