During last year’s miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Dallas Star’s Russian netminder Anton Khudobin quickly emerged as a fan favorite thanks to his dazzling saves on the ice and equally charming performances post-game. Khudobin’s playoff heroics are part of the reason why the Stars felt comfortable relying more on Khudobin this coming season. In the past, he has platooned with Ben Bishop, who is out this season due to a knee injury. But according to a story in The Athletic (sub. req.), Khudobin — or “Dobby,” as he is affectionally known by fans — nearly didn’t make it back from Russia for the start of the 2020-2021 NHL season, which kicks-off tonight.
First, there was a hand injury that led to a difficult post-season rehab. Then, the goalie contracted COVID-19, and his symptoms were anything but mild. Finally, as the virus surged in Dallas, immigration delays and Russia’s plans to cancel flights to the United States nearly left Dobby stranded.
Here are some highlights from the wild tale:
As the New Year approached, Khudobin’s visa still had not been approved, and Russia was poised to shut down flights to the U.S. after Dec. 31. Flights would not resume until January 10 — three days before the season was supposed to start.
“If I wouldn’t get my passport on the 30th or 31st or whatever, I wouldn’t be getting here (in Dallas) until right now,” Khudobin told The Athletic. “So I was panicking.”
The visa finally came through on Dec. 31 at 5 p.m., and Khudobin caught the next — and possibly the last — flight out of Russia. After he landed in the U.S., Dobby had to quarantine for a mandatory seven days and return four negative COVID-19 tests before he could rejoin the Stars. That meant Khudobin missed the team’s first three practices. Then, last Friday, the Stars announced a new outbreak. Six players and two staff members tested positive, and the Stars closed their facilities. Since then, an additional 13 Stars players have contracted the virus, the most of any NHL team.
While most of the athletes who contract COVID-19 have mild symptoms, Khudobin was not so lucky. He said many hockey players in Russia caught the virus in the off-season and were relatively fine, but his bout was a struggle:
“It’s not easy. I’ll tell you right now, it’s not easy,” Khudobin said. “First of all, it’s hard to breathe. I didn’t have it really bad; like, they didn’t have to put me on an oxygen tank. I was breathing normal. But if you’re going upstairs to the second or third floor, you’re going to catch your breath. You’re going to be, like, (panting). It’s hard. When I started skating, it wasn’t easy for a week. But other than that, nothing really crazy.”
Khudobin said that getting through his battle with COVID-19 was more of a waiting game, as it’s been for so many people. But the effects of it extended beyond the three weeks he had it.
“I lost my taste and my (smell),” Khudobin said. “I lost it for, like, a month and a half. Whenever you’re eating, you just don’t feel what you’re eating. Like, if you’re eating mashed potatoes, you don’t even know if it’s mashed potatoes. You eating whatever, you don’t know what you’re eating, to be honest. I mean, you know what you’re eating but you can’t taste it. At the practices, it was hard.”
While the puck drops on the NHL season tonight, the Dallas Stars won’t take the ice until at least January 19.