Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Matt Irwin2

He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.

Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.

*********

Let’s start at the beginning. In 04-05, you got to play three games of Junior A hockey just up the road from your hometown of Brentwood Bay, BC, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. You didn’t record any points, but did skate alongside future NHLer Jason Garisson. In 05-06, you played alongside future NHLer Colin Greening in Nanaimo for 56 games and had 9 points. In 06-07 you exploded for 49 points, was the team’s top scoring d-man, the Clippers won the BCHL, and you were named the BCHL’s best defenceman. 07-08 was more of the same, as you’re again the team’s top scoring d man, and win league’s best defenceman. So explain your rather dynamic development in junior hockey — what did you take away from the guys you played with that went on to play at higher levels of the game, and how did it help influence your junior career to produce what it did? 

Irwin: “Those three games were as an affiliate player. I played Junior B with Saanich in Victoria, and got an opportunity to play in three games [with Nanaimo] and see what it was all about. It was a big step for me. From there, I got the opportunity to sign and play [the following season] with them for the whole year where I got to play on a consistent basis. Not a lot of power play time, more five-on-five minutes. The following year when everything picked up, Bill [Bestwick] gave me a great opportunity to play on the power play. The first five games of that year I had five or six goals. It was all happening really fast, I wasn’t expecting it. I was working on my shot, Bill had me working on it all the time. That’s where the offensive side of it started to come together.”

After you completed your junior career, you moved on to play NCAA hockey with UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2010. Instead of playing four seasons you only played two, joining the AHL’s Worchester Sharks at the end of the 09-10 season, and did not return to the NCAA. Why did you choose not to stay for all four years after taking the BCHL scholarship route rather than major junior? Talk about making the choice to abandon a fully funded education. Read the rest of this entry »

Bernie Nicholls

When you think about the LA Kings and what players have meant the most to the team since their inception in 1967, most long term fans would not omit Bernie Nicholls from their list of all-time greats. Though he spent time with six different NHL clubs over 19 seasons, the nine seasons Nicholls played with the LA Kings were most his impactful, and what he is best remembered for. His 150 point season in 1988-89, team records of most points in a game and most goals in a season, and fifth place position in all-time team points left an impression on the franchise and its supporters that holds up to this day.

Nicholls was also an instrumental part of the coaching regime that replaced Terry Murray in LA in 2011, and set the Kings on course to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

I caught up with Bernie via telephone just prior to the Superbowl to talk about all things Kings, coaching, his career, what’s wrong with the slumping LA team and how he’d fix them, where he keeps his Stanley Cup ring, and why he declines his New Jersey Devils’ alumni game invitation every year.

*********

First of all, how’d your Superbowl predictions turn out?

I got killed. I had Denver. Every one of my bets was with Denver. It was not a good day for me.

It’s tough to find a properly defined role to say what your job description with the LA Kings is right now. “Consultant” or “unofficial assistant coach” is what I’ve read in various reports. Whatever it is, it was enough to get you a day with the Stanley Cup when LA won two years ago. Can you clarify what you do with the team?

It was an assistant coaching job. They said I was a consultant to the coach, Darryl Sutter. But I did everything that the assistant coaches did, pretty much. I did more with the players than the coaches. I think I was a lot closer to the players. It was still like an assistant coaching role. I worked the power play, worked with the kids. When they were slumping or getting down, I think it’s always easier for players to talk to a former player than the head coach. I had a really good rapport with the players. It was along the lines of an assistant coaching role. Read the rest of this entry »

Tyson_and_Katie_Strachan_crop-2

Tyson Strachan is, among other things, a good dude. Our paths crossed in junior when we played for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, and he’s since gone on to do great things. His hockey career took him to Ohio State University, then on to a number of places from Las Vegas to St. Louis, from San Antonio to Florida and beyond. He’s now a member of the Washington Capitals organization, has 130 NHL games under his belt, and another couple hundred more in the American League.

At 6’2″ 215 he plays a physical role that may cause some oblivious fans to believe he’s rough around the edges, but like so many of the NHL’s big men, the soft-spoken Saskatchewan native is a caring, thoughtful dude.

Strachan and his girlfriend Katie are the co-founders of the charity “Strachan Strays,” that seeks to create awareness of dog homelessness, overpopulation and overbreeding. They work with no-kill shelters to find homes for as many dogs as they can wherever Tyson’s career has taken them.

It wasn’t that long ago when I tweeted that my wife and I were dog shopping for a particular breed (I believe it was Wheaton Terrier?) when Tyson responded and suggested rescuing, and I became aware of what he’s been up to. I thought I’d ask him a handful of questions about his career and his charity, which you can read about after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bodie 2

- Interview by Dave Cunning, who you should follow on Twitter

*****

Toronto Maple Leafs fans may not have seen a whole lot of Troy Bodie this season, but he’s no stranger to the NHL, and probably more familiar with Randy Carlyle as a coach than most of the Leafs’ current roster.

The 2003 Edmonton Oilers draft pick is a four year NHL veteran who has suited up for 121 games between the Anaheim Ducks (where he played 57 games in three seasons under Carlyle), Carolina Hurricanes, and now the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over those four seasons, he has amassed seven goals, seven assists, fourteen points, and 156 PIM. He’s been a pro for twice as long though, logging 368 games in the minors with eight different teams since 2006-07. He also played four seasons with my hometown Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, where he won the Memorial Cup with the team in 2004.

Though Leafs fans may remember him best from episodes two and three of the HBO 24/7 Red Wings/Maple Leafs: Road to the Winter Classic series (Bodie put up 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 fights and 15 PIM in that time), he’s now primarily playing with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. So far, the 6’4” winger has appeared in 16 games, scored 4 goals, 4 assists, and registered 9 PIM. His reassignment to the AHL cost him an appearance in the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, but he still got to play in an outdoor game, as the Marlies bested the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-3 outside at Comerica Park on December 30, 2013.

I caught up with Bodie recently during a Marlies’ road swing to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where the team was marooned and at the mercy of the polar vortex that had delayed the team’s trip home to Toronto.

*********

Playing in 14 Leafs games this season also means that you’ve missed more than 30 of their games. What factors go into Randy Carlyle giving you the call and putting you in the Leafs lineup or not from night to night? 

Bodie: “I believe that one was strictly numbers. Colton Orr, who plays primarily the fourth line right wing, was down with an injury. That’s the kind of role I play. It was nice to get the call and get up there, but it was strictly just to fill a role. He got healthy, and then I went back down.”

Most opinions from players who have played or are playing for Randy seem to concur that he can be a tough coach. This is now the fourth season you’ve played under him, how is he to play for? 

Bodie: “Randy and I actually get along fine. He’s a tough coach. He expects a lot out of his players. At the same time, I think he’s fair. If you work hard for him and play the systems, he likes you. But if you go astray and do your own thing he can be pretty rough on you.”

During the 24/7 series, there was a scene at a Leafs practice where Randy pulls Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger aside and says, “…you’re not playing tonight, you’re not giving us what we need…if you’re going to play with our hockey club, your level of play has to go up.” Did you get a talk like that from Randy when you were reassigned, or how did your exit interview go?

Bodie: “Randy doesn’t do a whole lot of that on his own. He doesn’t talk to guys really, he kind of stays to his own. The one that actually told me was assistant GM Claude Loiselle. It’s usually just, ‘hey you know we liked your game… it’s a numbers game… go down to the minors and do your thing.’ That’s usually about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

jonathan cheechoo

-by Dave Cunning

Jonathan Cheechoo hasn’t exactly been making headlines over the last few years, but that isn’t because he hasn’t been around. After his award winning 56 goal season in 2005-06 with the San Jose Sharks, Cheechoo’s point production steadily headed south, along with his health – to the point where he was bought out of his last NHL contract, and relegated to the minors. After spending the last four seasons with four different AHL clubs, Cheechoo has resurfaced with Medveščak Zagreb of Croatia in the KHL — the league that many consider to be the NHL’s top rival. At the moment, he looks like the Jonathan Cheechoo of old on the scoresheet — leading his team in points, and even wearing the captain’s “C” on his jersey.

Cheechoo graciously spoke with me recently about his KHL experience, the league’s reputation, his battle with injuries, playing with Joe Thornton, his thoughts on returning to the NHL, and a whole lot more.

*********

First off, Barry Brust was nice enough to put this interview together, how has Barry been as a goalie for you guys so far? He broke Johnny Bower’s 55 year old AHL shutout streak last season with the Abbotsford Heat, and has nine wins and three shutouts for you guys as of now this season.  

Cheechoo: “He’s been great. He’s stepped in and made some big saves, and kept us on our longest winning streak of the season. He’s definitely a bit of an unorthodox goalie as far as the way goalies go today, but he gets the job done. He’s pretty solid. He competes hard. That’s one thing you don’t see in some goalies – some goalies are technically sound but you don’t really see a compete level in them. They’ll say ‘I was in the right spot, and if you beat me, you beat me’, whereas he’s passionate about making saves. You don’t see that a lot.”

Why did you choose Medveščak Zagreb in Croatia over others, say HV71 in Sweden who you played for in 04-05 during the NHL lockout, or any of the other teams and countries you could have had your pick of with your background?

Read the rest of this entry »

David Perron meets with the Edmonton media two weeks after his trade from the St. Louis Blues to the Oilers. (Photo by EdmontonOilers.com)

David Perron meets with the Edmonton media two weeks after his trade to the Oilers.  (Photo by EdmontonOilers.com)

Hotel life isn’t out of the ordinary for David Perron. After six seasons in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, bunking with a teammate in different cities during a road trip is simply part of the job and hardly even a hassle.

But this isn’t the usual hotel stay for Perron. He’s not sharing space with a teammate as they prepare to play a game the following night. Instead, his roommates are his girlfriend, two dogs and a cat. There’s no game the next day or the day after that. All that awaits Perron in Edmonton, two weeks before the Oilers start training camp on Sept. 11, is a day with an informal practice with new his teammates and another extended search for a place to live in his new city.

Perron and his family would share that hotel room for 10 days before they finally found a suitable home in Edmonton with owners willing to rent to a couple with three pets.

“Oh what a mess that was,” Perron said. “I was with two dogs, one cat and my girlfriend in a hotel room for a week and a half. It’s tough to get the dogs some exercise. They don’t know where they are, so every time someone walks in the hallway, they’re barking.

“After a couple days there, they kind of settled down and got used to it. But the first couple days, were, well, different.”

The NHL lifestyle has its perks to be sure, but there are pockets of stress around every corner when you’ve been traded. It was especially true for Perron, whose first NHL trade sent him to an unfamiliar city to join unfamiliar teammates, none of whom he could lean on for help during the summer.

It also left him with the unenviable task of having to move twice in about two months. Read the rest of this entry »

laperriere_ian640_640

- by Jennifer Conway (@NHLHistoryGirl)

A sincere thank you from Backhand Shelf to Jennifer and Ian for sharing their conversation.

***

We live in an instantaneous world. Within seconds of an event, it is tweeted, retweeted, blogged about, and judged. As poet Charles Baudelaire said, “The world only goes ’round by misunderstanding.”

A misunderstanding on several levels happened when Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere was quoted in the Philadelphia Daily News. The Daily News had written an article about Nick Cousins, a Flyers prospect, who had been arrested and charged in an Ontario court with sexual assault. The charges are still pending.

“At the pro level, teams expect you to be an adult and act like one,” Laperriere said. “He’s got a good heart . . . Let’s be honest, stuff like that has been happening forever. You can’t get away with anything now. He can’t put himself in those situations.

“He’s been in trouble with this stuff, but hopefully that’s all going to go away. Part of my job is telling him that he needs to learn from that. You need to be careful what you’re doing. All of our prospects need to learn from his situation.”

“Happening forever?” “Can’t get away with anything?” It appeared Laperriere was dismissing the victim, downplaying the charges, and acknowledging rape happens, but hey, what can we do?

Of course, this is where the misunderstanding starts. Laperriere doesn’t claim he was misquoted, only that his remarks are misconstrued because he failed to be entirely clear on what he was trying to say.

I vented on Twitter about his remarks and the article as a whole. But somehow, something felt off to me. You see, I’d met Ian Laperriere before, tweeted with him before and this just didn’t seem to be in line with his character.

After a brief discussion with Bill Metzer (who covers the Flyers for several organizations), I wrote Mr. Laperriere an email. Here’s what I offered: Read the rest of this entry »