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Posted On Friday, 09.09.2011 / 3:09 PM

By Brian Hunter - Staff Writer / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Change of scenery suiting Johnson well

One of only a handful of American-born players to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft, defenseman Erik Johnson grew up in Minnesota, spent time in Michigan skating for the U.S. National Team Development Program, returned to his home state for a season of college hockey and began his NHL career playing two full seasons and part of a third with the St. Louis Blues, who took him with the top pick in 2006.

For the past seven months Johnson has been getting to know a different part of the country, as the Blues sent him to the Colorado Avalanche in February as part of a trade involving multiple players and draft picks. So far, it's a move that has suited the 23-year-old well.

"It's a great place to live," Johnson said during his stop through the League's offices in midtown Manhattan on Friday as part of this year's Player Media Tour. "It's got to be one of the top five destinations in the country to live and people love living there. Guys love playing there."

In addition to the picturesque surroundings, Johnson noted how many former Avalanche greats still make their homes in the area. He also spoke about the pride those in the organization exhibit and wanting to be part of restoring the franchise's great tradition, which includes a pair of Stanley Cup championships.

"Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and those guys all made the Avalanche what it is today," he said. "It's a great, first-class organization and we have to carry that on and get them back to where they used to be, in the playoffs and winning Stanley Cups like they did in '96 and '01.

"It's a town that, when we're winning, the fans are going to come back in droves. Obviously when I got there last year they were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak and we didn't win many games after that. It's going to be fun when we're winning and the fans are packing the Pepsi Center again."
Posted On Friday, 09.09.2011 / 1:33 PM

By Shawn P. Roarke - Senior Managing Editor / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Ovi hits the Big Apple

Someday soon fans are going to be able to buy Nike shoes endorsed by Alex Ovechkin -- but he spent part of his time in Manhattan for the NHL Player Media Tour making a pair of his own.

Ovechkin might have met some famous people and attended a swanky party or two, but he was clearly most excited about his trip to the Niketown store on Thursday.

"It was so sick, so sick," Ovechkin said. "I was so excited to be there. I made my shoes. It is sick. I just order, like you can build your shoe. They are just going to be mine."

He "built" a pair of shoes through the custom NikeID program. They are black and red and say "AO GR8" on the backs.

"Like my license plate," said Ovechkin, referencing the plate on his Mercedes SL 65 Black series.

Ovechkin spent part of Wednesday night at a party at the Versace Boutique. He spent some time there mingling with other players and various celebrities, and a picture of him posing with Kevin Connolly of "Entourage" fame and a well-known hockey (and in particular New York Islanders) fan.

"I know him but I don't watch 'Entourage.' It was nice to meet famous people, new guys," Ovechkin said. "I spent like 30 minutes there. It was nice to see all the players and the guys. It was nice."

What Ovechkin wears to events like the Versace party always seems to make for interesting fodder in the blogosphere. While other players were in more traditional apparel for that setting, Ovechkin showed up in a Nike T-shirt and jeans.

He was also sporting a nice watch, which the blog Capital Games at reported to be a Hublot watch that costs $238,000. Ovechkin said he's gotten use to people writing about and caring about what he wears.

"It is me. I don't care," Ovechkin said. "I have my watch, I have my jeans, my cell phone. I have underwear. I think it is good. I like to have good stuff on me. It is not a secret."

After Ovechkin was done meeting with members of the media in midtown Manhattan, he planned on an excursion to Queens to take in a match at the U.S. Open before heading back to Washington.

Several other NHL players who were here for the two days went to Flushing to watch some tennis Thursday night, and you can count Ovechkin among the many NHL players who are tennis fans.

"Yeah, of course," Ovechkin said. "Tennis is very popular [in Russia]. Of course [I like Roger] Federer but I think we're going to see [Rafael] Nadal. I'm pretty excited to see his play, and maybe I'm going to have a chance to meet him after."

Posted On Friday, 09.09.2011 / 12:35 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Phaneuf eager to get started

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of only two teams that haven't made the playoffs since the 2004-05 work stoppage. After a late-season run brought them close last spring, captain Dion Phaneuf is eager to get started and end the drought.

"That's why we play the game. You don't just play the game to be done in April. Everyone plays to win, to give yourself a chance to win, and you don't have a chance to win if you're not in the playoffs," he told during the annual Player Media Tour. "That's where we want to get, and that's where we have to get. We were close last year; we weren't eliminated until there were two games left in the season. We had a good run. We played hard, but we couldn't make up the ground we lost at the start of the season."

With a revamped roster that includes former Calgary teammate Matthew Lombardi, Phaneuf says the Leafs need to get off to a good start -- but adds that they can't let up."

"Getting off to a good start is important," he said. "But you can't just get off to a good start and then fall off. You've got to keep it going -- you have to be consistent. You can't have these extreme highs and extreme lows -- win three and lose four. You've got to be consistent. That's what we've got to do this year to make the playoffs."

One good thing for Phaneuf is that he's completely recovered from the midseason leg injury that cost him 16 games and slowed him even after he returned.

"It was awful," he said of the first major injury of his NHL career. "It was something that I'd never experienced. I've been hurt at the end of years and had the summer to rehab and get ready for the next year. But having a major injury is something that was not a lot of fun to go through. It was a very serious injury, one that took a lot more out of me than I expected. I probably tried to come back too early. It was a major injury that took a lot of time to heal."

Posted On Friday, 09.09.2011 / 12:14 PM

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Campbell ready for new challenges with Panthers

Brian Campbell knows the task of helping turn the Florida Panthers into a contender is a challenging one. However, it's one he gracefully accepted back in June when he waived his no-trade clause to once again work with former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon.

"It wasn't a case that I really wanted to leave Chicago," Campbell told Friday morning during the 2011 Player Media Tour. "I enjoyed my time there and I liked everybody. I liked my lifestyle living in Chicago, and I still am. It was tough, but knowing and talking to Dale Tallon, I knew I could trust him from his days being in Chicago. He's a man of his word. Looking at all the scenarios, I felt it was the best thing for me personally, and that's what I had to look at. I was happy to make the move to South Florida."

Campbell, who helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010, is joining an organization that hasn't made the playoffs for an NHL-record 10 consecutive seasons. But Tallon was awfully busy this summer signing talent that he hopes will end that dubious stretch. Campbell will be joined by newcomers such as Tomas Kopecky, Ed Jovanovski, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall and Sean Bergenheim when the puck drops on Oct. 8 against the New York Islanders.

"I do know some of the guys and I've played with some of them before, so it makes it a lot more comfortable walking into the dressing room," Campbell said. "All the guys that Dale brought in are character guys that have fun coming to the rink. They all want to compete every night. That's going to give us a chance to win.

"I feel like we're going to have success a lot quicker than people think. For us, as long as we think that in the locker room and know that it's playoffs or everything else is a failure and not acceptable, it's a good place to start. I think that's the mindset that we all need to have going into the season."

Posted On Friday, 09.09.2011 / 10:37 AM

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Thomas' whirlwind summer coming to a close

A shortened whirlwind of a summer has all but come to a close for Tim Thomas.

The Boston Bruins goaltender is finished celebrating a season that saw him win a Vezina Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup. With training camp just a week away, Thomas is one of dozens of players participating in the Player Media Tour. On Friday morning, the 37-year-old sat down with and was asked to reflect on what has to be an unforgettable summer.

"There were a couple of times where I was able to appreciate it for a short period," Thomas said. "One was just watching the DVD. It reminded me of everything that happened. I think that's what made it kind of hard to appreciate to a certain extent. So many great things happened for us to win the Cup that even if I had the time, it's hard to wrap your mind around everything that had to go right -- the overtime goals, the save by Ryder, coming back in Montreal in the third period with Chris Kelly and Ryder scoring that overtime goal -- the list just goes on and on and on. It's part of what makes it great, but it's also part of what makes it hard to totally soak in and say, 'Wow.' "

Thomas appeared in 57 regular-season games in 2010-11 and went 35-11-9 with a 2.00 goals-against average and an NHL-record .938 save percentage. He followed up with one of more remarkable postseasons in recent memory as he posted a 1.98 GAA, .940 save percentage and four shutouts in 25 games. One might recall that Thomas was Boston's backup goalie during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and shortly thereafter underwent major hip surgery.

"It was not even knowing for sure whether you'd be able to get to anywhere near the level that I was the first time I won the Vezina (in 2009)," Thomas said. "I don't think it was retirement-serious at any point, but I didn't know if I was looking at spending the rest of my career as a highly-paid backup that was taking all the heat in the media and from the fans constantly."

Posted On Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 9:16 PM

By David Kalan - Staff Writer / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Wrapping up Day 1 of the NHL Player Media Tour

After one day at the NHL's annual Player Media Tour, 34 different players from 28 different teams have made rounds with the media both at the League's offices in midtown Manhattan and at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

While much of the day involved sitting down for interviews with assembled media, as well as, several players experienced both the practical and the off beat. Islanders fans for one, may be happy that Michael Grabner and John Tavares are in the fold for their franchise, but they may have to experience some concern that the duo could be interested in a career change. Grabner and Tavares took a break from the ice to try working retail for a day, walking the floor at the NHL Powered by Reebok Store in New York.

Elsewhere, Atlantic Division rivals from both New York and New Jersey participated in the event as Henrik Lundqvist helped his new teammate Brad Richards adapt to the frenzied crowds at an autograph session. Devils winger Zach Parise meanwhile, sat down to discuss his impending contract negotiations with the New Jersey front office, while also calming fears that it was a stunt double, not Parise with his reconstructed knee, sliding across a car hood in a recent commercial he filmed.

Another young star, Logan Couture, sat down to talk with and talked about how fun it is to casually sit down and chat with other players from around the League.

In Newark, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were some of the players who sat down for interviews with NBC, while several others filmed promos for NHL Network.

On Friday, the media tour will wrap up with the players who spent Thursday in Newark switching places with those in New York City. As those players continue to run through the media gauntlet tomorrow, so will Be sure to come back Friday for even more comprehensive coverage as well as up to the minute updates from our Player Media Tour blog.
Posted On Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 5:13 PM

By Brian Hunter - Staff Writer / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Cup and Olympic gold different but special to Perry

Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry stepped up into the NHL's elite last season with a scintillating 50-goal, 98-point performance that lifted his team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and sent Perry to Las Vegas for the 2011 NHL Awards, where he took home the Hart Trophy.

Although it was the best season of his career from an individual standpoint, Perry had already experienced the highest of highs from a team standpoint on both the League and international levels: Anaheim won the Cup in 2007, his sophomore season, and he was a member of the Canadian Olympic team that won gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

During his stop through the League's offices in midtown Manhattan on Thursday as part of this year's Player Media Tour, the 26-year-old attempted to compare and contrast the emotions that go into playing for and winning a Stanley Cup versus a gold medal.

"It's similar, but the Olympics are a two-week tournament, where the Stanley Cup is you go through 82 games -- seven, eight months with the same guys -- and then you go through the playoffs," Perry said. "With the Stanley Cup, you're going through a lot more blood, sweat and tears and different things. In the Olympics you have to gel so quickly and become a team in a short period of time. I don't know if you can say one's better than the other or one sits higher than the other. I think they're pretty special, both of them."

Perry was a key contributor to both efforts, putting up six goals and 15 points in the Ducks' 2007 postseason run and scoring four times as a member of Team Canada, including the goal that gave the host nation a 2-0 lead in an eventual 3-2 overtime win over the United States in the gold-medal game.

"Especially playing in your home country, winning in front of your home country fans is pretty special," he said. "But on the other side, we won the Cup in front of our fans in Southern California, so that was kind of exciting as well."

Posted On Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 5:01 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Hall refrains from offering advice for newest No. 1 pick

NEWARK, N.J. -- Edmonton Oilers second-year forward Taylor Hall was excited to be a part of NHL Media Day at the Prudential Center on Thursday.

He was put through his on-ice responsibilities for the television cameras and provided promotional commentary for NBC and several other media outlets. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound left wing, who connected for 22 goals and 42 points in his rookie season, said he feels a lot more confident heading into the 2011-12 campaign.

"This is not a League where you can kind of ease yourself into it," Hall said. "It's very tough, and players are faster, stronger and bigger. But after a while, you start to lean on your teammates because they are a lot better than some of the teammates you've played with before (in junior). It was a learning curve -- but after a while I got used to it and felt very comfortable."

So what did he learn in his inaugural season?

"You learn how to prepare for games," he said. "The biggest thing I got used to was the speed of the game. It was hard at first, but after a while you get used to it and learn how other defenses play and systems. Once you get used to that, it was a lot easier."

While Hall is excited that the organization drafted center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, he wasn't about to offer advice to the future star and possible linemate.

"I don't know if I have a whole lot of advice for a player after my first year in the NHL, but he does seem like a poised young man and does seem like someone ready to jump into that situation," he said. "I'm pretty positive that if he shows he's ready to play at the NHL level during training camp and in exhibition games that he's going to stick. I'm hoping he could do that for our team, but overall it's really exciting that he'll one day be a part of our group."

Posted On Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 4:41 PM

By Deborah Francisco - Staff Writer / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Couture just excited to be in New York

As one of the new guys on this year's NHL Player Media Tour, 22-year-old Logan Couture is just along for the ride.

In the below video, he discusses his undying love for the Toronto Blue Jays, confesses his lack of style, and divulges which fellow NHL player he is most excited to meet on the Player Media Tour.

This is actually the young center's second visit to the Big Apple; the Sharks spent a day in New York last season after playing a game across the river in New Jersey.
Posted On Thursday, 09.08.2011 / 4:20 PM

By John Kreiser - Columnist / - 2011 Player Media Tour

Grabner a fan of Long Island

It's no secret that the Nassau Coliseum, one of the NHL's oldest facilities, is not exactly a selling point when the New York Islanders are trying to recruit free agents and keep their young talent. But forward Michael Grabner says Long Island has a lot going for it.

"It is," Grabner said when asked if the Island was nicer than he had expected. "A lot of guys probably see the Coliseum, but once you get to know Long Island, it's pretty good. There's a lot of beaches. You're 40 minutes from New York if you want to go there. I love living out there, and I think people would enjoy it if they lived there for a while. There's a lot to do -- there's not just the area around the Coliseum."

Grabner, who led all rookies last season with 34 goals, will have plenty of opportunity to enjoy Long Island -- he signed a five-year contract with the Isles this summer.

Asked if a lot of players get their sole impression of Long Island from the 40-year-old Coliseum and the hotel across the parking lot where most visiting teams stay, he said, "That's exactly what a lot of people think. But you go 15 to 20 minutes and you've got some beautiful areas -- lot of beaches, lot of parks. It's great to live out there."

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You can be hyped all you want, but his game will speak for itself. He's obviously going to be a great player so we've got to make sure we keep an eye on him. Whether it's his first game or his 1,000th game, our job is to take care of business, shut him down.

— Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo on facing ballyhooed Oilers rookie Connor McDavid, who is making NHL debut in St. Louis
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