Sharing the burden of a high pressure environement can often bring you closer than you might expect to people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. Of course, sometimes, you’re lucky enough to meet someone who is actually a decent person in this same situation, and you become something of a Bert & Ernie.
In the case of Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, it was the (probably unfair and impetuous) expectations of Leafs’ fans all across the globe that Nik and Poni should turn into superstars that provided the fertile loveground this bromance to blossom. That is, we have to assume that’s why they became such friends, since fan pressure gets all the heat for negative things, so why not let it have this one win?
Back in 2008-09, the two players became leaders in the Toronto dressing room after the departure of Mats Sundin, jumping into the role of ‘media whipping boys’ when it came time for post-game interviews, sheltering other rookies on the team. The fact that they were able to translate from Russian to English was also particularly helpful for Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovsky, who, learning from their mentors, went on to form a pretty good bromance all their own.
Even as a Leafs fan, it’ll be nice to see Antropov and Poni reunited as linemates once again. Both were roundly criticized at various points of their tenure in Toronto, often because of the fact that they are both tall, and don’t run around the ice throwing hits everywhere. For Jets fans, this is, of course, good news. They are both talented enough players that skating into things isn’t the most important element of either of their respective games. Yes, they can both use their size to their advantage in the offensive zone, but they’re not stupid about it, either.
Ponikarovsky should be particularly keen to be reunited with Antropov, as dear Poni’s point totals and ice time have plummeted since they were split up. For the record, I’m not predicting a dramatic upturn in Poni’s numbers, but we can all hope for the best. His stats up at Behind the Net look promising. Solid Corsi and zone start numbers, combined with a relatively low team shooting percentage and even-strength goaltending mean he could well see an increase in production with a little more ice.
All the best in Winnipeg, boys.