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Romanov on How Sharks Discovered Him, Adjustment to North America

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda/Panayiota Good

It’s been five months since Georgi Romanov moved to San Jose. So far, one of his biggest challenges on American soil was learning how to tie a knot.

“Here in the AHL, we need to dress up for each game,” Romanov told San Jose Hockey Now in Russian, of wearing a suit and tie. “I like it, but the knot took me a while. I had to Google a step-by-step guide on tying knots… In Russia, we just wore team bombers or fur coats for the away games.”

The 23-year-old goaltender signed a two-year contract with the San Jose Sharks organization last summer, a relative mystery. He was never drafted and only played a single KHL game in his career. Romanov spent most of his career in Gornyak-UGMK in the VHL—a second-tier Russian league spanning from Moscow to Eastern Siberia and even the Arctic Circle.

So how in the world was this 6-foot-5 goalie discovered by the San Jose Sharks?

Turns out the current Sharks goaltending coach Thomas Speer was tracking Romanov’s progress for two years.

Back in 2021, the coaching staff of Avtomobilist (Gornyak-UGMK’s parent team from the KHL) put in a word about Romanov while talking to Speer, then with the Calgary Flames organization.

“Then I got on a call with Speer and another coach,” Romanov explained. “But Calgary was going through a [changes], and it took them too long to make a decision. At the same time, Avtomobilist offered me a new contract, and I didn’t want to risk it. I didn’t want to end up without a team at all.”

Last season, Speer joined the San Jose Sharks and recommended Romanov to the Sharks director of goaltending, Evgeni Nabokov.

After watching Romanov for a year—he appeared in 31 regular season and three playoff VHL games—Speer and Nabokov decided to reach out to Romanov again.

“I had a video call with Speer and Nabokov,” Romanov continued. “They said that they liked my style and that I might fit into North American hockey. They also asked standard questions for this kind of call: What I do in my free time, my parents and my relationship with them, my personal life.”

But while the call felt like a job interview, Nabokov and Speer didn’t mention an offer. All they said was, “Keep up the good work.”

Meanwhile, Romanov got married and went on a honeymoon in Dubai.

Suddenly, while doomscrolling on the beach, he came across an e-mail. It was a contract offer from the San Jose Sharks.

“One of the happiest days in my life,” Romanov recalled. “We had a little family celebration that night, but that was pretty much it. I started getting ready for the pre-season as soon as I was back home.”

Over the next few months, Romanov’s life felt like a rollercoaster.

He had a two-day flight from his native Yekaterinburg (also Danil Gushchin’s hometown) to San Francisco with a stop in Dubai.

He stayed at Sharks defenseman Nikolai Knyzhov’s place for a month before he signed a lease for his own apartment.

His mattress delivery never came and he had to call the company to figure this out… only to face a language barrier (he’s now able to construct sentences in English but his comprehension skills aren’t there yet).

“I understood absolutely nothing,” Romanov emphasized. “And I couldn’t explain anything either. Luckily, my agent and the guys from the team helped me. I ended up calling the mattress people for a few days in a row. The 20-30 minute wait time was no joke…”

It hasn’t been any easier for Romanov on the ice, either. While Gornyak-UGMK played in a North American-sized rink, Romanov indicated that VHL and AHL playing styles are so different, the adjustment to the AHL is still significant.

In September, he played his first game for the Sharks during preseason. The team lost 4-2 to Anaheim, and head coach David Quinn mentioned that, while he was very excited about Romanov as a prospect, “there was a lot of nerves.”

“Not gonna lie, I had a great deal of shaking!” Romanov said. “Lots of people in the arena, it all felt like a dream. There were not too many shots, so it was hard to stay busy and calm my nerves.”

“I only felt like I was in my element after the fourth goal, when it was, you know, a little bit too late,” he laughed. “But I really liked everything, it was a great experience.”

At the start of the AHL season, Romanov didn’t seem that confident with stick play.

“Stick play has never been my sweet spot,” Romanov explained. “Nabokov and I work on this everyday. I’m getting there. When will I be able to score? Hopefully soon.”

He then joked: “Gotta beat Nabokov in this department.”

But ultimately, Romanov rose to the challenge.

He helped the San Jose Barracuda earn points in five of the eight games he played and was, undoubtedly, the No. 1 star of the Nov. 5 contest against the Calgary Wranglers, stopping 34 of 35 shots and leading the Cuda to a 4-1 victory.

More importantly, Romanov is learning from Evgeni Nabokov whom he admired since he was a kid and refers to using his patronymic name, “Evgeni Victorovich”—just the way players speak with coaches back in Russia.

Nabokov, through the Barracuda organization explained why the Sharks organization signed Romanov, saying “it’s good to see the guy of his size who can move.” He also mentioned his explosiveness and hands.

According to Nabokov, Romanov shouldn’t only rely on his size: “We don’t want our goalies to just be blockers and just use their size. Romanov already has size, he has decent hands. He just needs to track the puck really well and make sure his feet are set.”

Nabokov noted that the main thing for Romanov’s growth is experience. He needs to play more games.

Romanov has appeared in eight out of the Barracuda’s 14 games so far. He’ll surely play a lot more.

And while his dream—playing in the NHL—may not be achieved this season, he’s on the right path.

He even dresses for success. And no, we aren’t just talking about tying knots.

He’s going to play in a new mask whose design is dedicated to the Sharks.

“I received my new mask back in August,” Romanov said. “But the mask itself didn’t quite fit me. I ordered a new one but still waiting in line. The new one will also have a slightly tweaked design—there won’t be orange, the color the Sharks no longer use. But I might still wear the first version of my mask in some games soon.”

In his free time, he and his wife Irina explore some of the restaurants in San Jose. Romanov’s wife was a food blogger back in Yekaterinburg, reviewing restaurants and even having a bot to help discover local places to eat.

“For me, nothing beats Irina’s cooking though,” Romanov said. “I love whatever my wife cooks. Very yummy borscht, ‘syrniky’ [Russian sweet cottage cheese pancakes], pasta on a game day.”

The Romanovs recently bought their first car in America, a Hyundai Sonata, for which they were given their first loan.

“It’ll help us build our credit history,” Romanov explained. “We need to think about the future. We want to be here for a long time.”

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