Behind the Mask: Anton Khudobin
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CarolinaHurricanes.com sat down with the Canes’ goaltender, who is 6-2-0 on the season with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage, for a wide-ranging conversation that covered topics such as his career, his family and his time away from the rink. Oh, and, of course, Legos.
Khudobin first started playing hockey at the age of six. He wasn’t yet a goaltender, as he played defense.
“I guess I couldn’t understand the game. I was running around,” Khudobin said. “My coach was mad at me all the time, and I was blocking shots all the time, and one day he came to me and said, ‘Maybe you want to be a goalie.’”
A week later, he became a goalie.
“I guess it was the right choice,” Khudobin, now in his fifth NHL season, said with a smile. “If I would have been a defenseman, I don’t know if I’d still be playing hockey at this time. Probably I wouldn’t play.”
Being a Goaltender
It was an easy question with an easy answer. Does Khudobin enjoy and take pride in being a goaltender?
“Oh yeah,” he said, without skipping a beat. “Love it.”
Hockey players and goaltenders especially are known to be superstitious. Khudobin is not one of them. He has his routines, sure, but he doesn’t exactly subscribe to superstition, at least not any more.
“I mean, maybe I do some stuff that’s like a routine, but I don’t have too many things in my head,” he said. “Ten or 11 years ago when I tried to be a professional goaltender after junior league, I tried to maybe do the same stuff of what I did before. Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it didn’t. So I just let it be. I didn’t try to follow every day the same stuff.
“I played with a lot of goalies that do a lot of stuff that I don’t do, but at the same time, other goalies can probably say the same about me – that I do what they don’t,” he continued. “Different routines and different people.”
Are goalies the most interesting – or dare we say enigmatic – of all hockey players?
“Some of them, I guess. When I talk to my friends back home, defensemen or forwards, I’m always asking them when we hang out at home during the summer, I’m like, ‘Guys, do you really think I am a different person than everybody else?’ I’m just curious. And they said, ‘You know what, maybe you do your own stuff that we don’t, but you act just like a normal person.’
“It’s always been funny that when a goalie does something, they always say, oh, it’s because you’re a goaltender. But at the same time, defensemen or forwards can do the same thing and they wouldn’t think that way,” Khudobin said. “It doesn’t bother me. I am a goaltender, yeah. But I don’t pay attention to that.”
Khudobin said his parents try to come to visit him in North America each season. His mother is still in town, and his father, who was here for two weeks, left a few days ago.
One of the best parts of having his mom around? Her cooking, he said.
“My mother, she is the best cooker,” he said. “Whatever I can order, she will do for me. It’s easier like that, because I like to eat home (cooked) food. If you want to eat breakfast, you have to wake up earlier and cook it yourself. Right now, I just set up a time like, ‘Mom, I want to eat breakfast at this time.’ Wake up and it’s already ready.”
His favorite dish she cooks is Pelmeni dumplings.
“It’s a Russian thing, so it’s hard to explain,” he said.
Aside from the nourishment-based upside to having his mom in town, Khudobin said it’s nice just having someone around, especially family.
“I’m all by myself, so I can talk (to her),” he said.
Before Khudobin arrived in North America to play professional hockey, he couldn’t speak English. Years later, he’s quite the conversationalist.
“Let’s say we’re going for lunch with the guys – I wouldn’t able to talk, I wouldn’t be able to understand and I wouldn’t be able to tell stories. So I picked it up pretty quick. I wanted to learn,” Khudobin said. “At the same time, it’s always good to speak two languages, especially going on vacation in any country. It’s easier to have a language that everybody speaks.”
This season, for the first time in his North American professional hockey career, Khudobin has a Russian teammate. He and Semin are often seen chatting – softly together or rather loudly when they’re chirping on the ice – in their native tongue.
During a practice earlier in the season, Khudobin and Semin added flair to an otherwise mundane one-on-one drill. If Semin scored, Khudobin would have to roll over head-first on the ice. If Khudobin made the save, Semin would roll. All the while, they were good-naturedly screaming things in Russian.
During training camp, Khudobin said he was walking around an area lake with Semin, his mother, friend and girlfriend.
“I said to Alex, ‘Listen. I don’t feel like this is just training camp. I feel like I’m still in Russia,’ because we were all talking in Russian,” Khudobin recalled. “It’s nice to have a Russian guy on the team who you can hang out with. I hang out at his house and cook dinner. It’s always nice.”
Odds and Ends
Away from the rink, Khudobin enjoys playing ping pong.
“Ping pong is always good for goaltenders. You follow the ball with your eyes and (work on) motion by putting the paddle in the right place. When I was young, I played with my father a lot. He’s really good at that. He’s right now 54, and I still can’t beat him. He’s slower and I can be faster, but he’s really smart playing,” Khudobin said. “Every summer I come home and we play. I just think it’s a fun game because you don’t get too tired, but at the same time there is a little competition.”
And then there are the Legos.
If you haven’t heard the story, Khudobin said that, while he was out with an ankle injury this season, he bought a motorized Lego truck to assemble and pass the copious amount of free time he had.
“It looks pretty good,” Khudobin said of the approximately 1,300-piece truck. “There’s a remote control and a little motor. It’s not really fast. It’s really, really slow.”
It was a spur-of-the-moment, first-time purchase.
“That was the first time in my life,” he said. “One day, it just came up in my head. So I went to the store and bought the Legos.”
But it comes full-circle back to hockey in the end.
“It’s not just a toy. That’s why Legos help when kids are growing up. They put that together, and it’s all small pieces. All your hands and fingers, and you have to be focused all the time,” Khudobin said. “I have to stay 60 minutes-plus focused in the game.”