FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin will be on the same Metropolitan Division team this weekend at the All-Star Game. That also means one of the goalies will be a designated shooter during the Skills Competition on Friday.
“I hope [I’m the] shooter,” Sorokin, the Islanders’ netminder, said Thursday, smiling. “Him, bad shooter.”
“No!” Shesterkin said, informed of the scouting report. “Unfortunately, he’s so bad. If we get a soccer net, maybe he can score.”
But Shesterkin, who has made no secret of his desire to score in empty-net situations, keeps missing.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s terrible,” Sorokin said.
The Rangers’ goalie, though, sometimes works on that aspect of his game. Unlike Sorokin.
“I think everybody knows [who’s gonna shoot], except him,” Shesterkin said. “Can somebody explain to him?”
There was no resolution on the matter Thursday, so the playful trash talk will continue on to Friday.
This weekend, though, is far from the first time Shesterkin and Sorokin have worn the same sweater. They’ve played together on various Russian national teams and have known each other since they were 16. Sorokin is the godfather of Shesterkin’s child.
This is a special kind of friendship, folded into the Battle of New York and on display at All-Star Weekend.
“It’s really good,” Sorokin said. [We] played together in junior team when we were 16. Now we play in NHL. … Now we play in All-Star. So it’s really a cool thing for us.”
Dwell for a moment on the improbability of these two players both being in South Florida this weekend, starring for the Rangers and Islanders some 4,666 miles from Moscow, where Shesterkin grew up, and 5,824 miles from Sorokin’s hometown of Mezhdurechensk. It is the sort of near impossibility that makes sports so great.
Shesterkin already has a Vezina Trophy in his cabinet, having helped key the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals last season, and has put together another season worthy of the All-Star Game this year. (Bizarrely, he was not selected for last year’s game).
Sorokin, whose .923 save percentage ranks second in the league, might soon add a Vezina to match Shesterkin’s. After the Islanders added Bo Horvat in a trade Monday night, he can dream of a playoff run, too. And without a doubt, he is the biggest reason the Islanders have even a fighter’s chance at the postseason.
The two spent the days leading up to All-Star festivities vacationing together in Miami. Of course they did.
The impact they have on their respective teams is just about identical.
“When I saw [Shesterkin] at the hotel, they were together today,” Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. “It’s pretty remarkable. Two of the best goaltenders in the league and they’re good friends. Obviously it’s a lot of fun to have Shesty in net. He saves our behinds a lot.”
“[Sorokin’s] been our guy probably who gives us the most chances to win every night when he’s in there,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said. “His numbers kinda speak for themselves.”
The two text every week, Sorokin said, and the conversation doesn’t usually center around hockey. At Christmas, Shesterkin had Sorokin and Isles defenseman Alexander Romanov over to celebrate the holiday. And as both goalies have adjusted to life in another country, having a close friend so close by has helped matters.
“We try to help each other out,” Shesterkin said. “Not only in the hockey rink, outside, too. So if something happens we can call each other.”
There haven’t been many direct matchups between the two, but when they have gone up against each other, the results have been memorable. Sorokin got the win at Madison Square Garden last March thanks to an absurd save on Artemi Panarin and Shesterkin got one back this December as the Rangers mounted a three-goal third period to beat the Islanders.
Since that December matchup was the last of just three between the Rangers and Islanders this season, there would need to be a playoff matchup between them for Shesterkin and Sorokin to match up again before the fall. That is unlikely with the Islanders fighting to get into the tournament and the Rangers currently the third-place team in the Metropolitan Division. But we can dream.
“I’m so happy to see them here,” said Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, a fellow Russian. “Something about New York, I guess.”