At the young age of 26, San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is already in his eighth year as a professional hockey player. Drafted by the Sharks at No. 35 in the 2005 NHL Draft, Vlasic has made a name for himself not just in the NHL, but on the international stage as well. This month, Vlasic will be competing in his first Olympics, representing Canada in Sochi. He’s learned from a few of the best to play the game, has an interesting road trip story with his dogs and has a hidden talent off the ice, so we learned recently in a candid conversation for NHL.com's “Tapped In.”
Kathryn Tappen: You definitely have the best nickname in the League.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic: [laughs] You can’t hide with a last name nickname of Pickles! Ron Wilson gave it to me my first game officially in Fresno in a preseason game. He went through the lineup and then said “Pickles” and no one knew who that was. But then we all put two and two together and figured it out. It’s funny, the first 18 years of my life nobody called me that and then finally at 19 somebody figured it out.
KT: Tell me about that year. You made the NHL as a teenager, when you really weren’t supposed to make the team that year. Your coaches say the defining moment of that camp came in a preseason game in Ontario, Calif., against Anaheim. Anaheim had some of their big boys playing and they got on an extended 5-on-3 that you were out there on the penalty kill for the entire time.
MV: I can’t exactly remember that play or if I did something to impress the coaches. But I guess I did! Being 19 at that camp, I really wanted to make it. I knew I had a long shot of making the team but I worked really hard. I felt I belonged on the team but I had to earn my spot.
MV: When I first came into the League, I was paired with Scott Hannan, an older guy at that time when I was playing. He had been in the League for a while. He was a great leader and a solid player. Then Craig Rivet came in, and he was great to play with too. After Rivet, I played with Rob Blake for two years and I think that was one of the biggest things for me, having my game grow as a result of playing with him. He’s so solid back there. My offensive numbers were really high when I played with Blake, and vice versa. When we played with each other it was great. A young guy that can skate, with an older guy who knew where to be on the ice, I really think that helped my development.
KT: Rob Blake is a legend, more than likely to soon go in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But his final big offensive season (2008-09) was when he played with you as a D partner. What made the chemistry between you two translate to results on the ice?
MV: It was a combination of a young guy with an older, experienced guy. I had lots of energy, he had a great shot. He knew how to move the puck, how to position himself and make the young guy skate from corner to corner, and have him jump up in the rush. We just had a good chemistry going and it worked. As a young guy, I brought the energy and the quickness, and he brought the experience and the shot. It went well together.
KT: Do you still get to talk to him and pick his brain as a former teammate and someone who can provide advice?
MV: Oh I do, absolutely. I text and call him from time to time. I definitely can reach out to him for anything about hockey. He is always more than happy to help me out.
KT: He just won’t be providing you with any insight into the Los Angeles Kings.
MV: [laughs] No, he won’t now, that’s for sure! Maybe before when he was working for the NHL, but definitely not now since he’s the assistant general manager for LA.
KT: You’re now almost 600 games into your NHL career and finally playing with a guy your own age, Justin Braun, 26. How does your role change from your early seasons with a defense partner who has less experience than you?
MV: We’re the same player. We both skate, we both move the puck up. We both play well defensively and can join up and create something offensively as well. I think that we are both fast and that’s what helps us out. We aren’t the biggest guys, but we play hard. When we play fast, that’s when we create open ice for each other. We take care of our defensive zone. I know where he’s going to be at all times because we almost think alike.
KT: You were named to the Canadian Olympic hockey team on Jan. 7. Describe that day for me.
MV: I was excited to find out what was going to happen that day. [Hockey Canada general manager] Ken Holland called me an hour before the announcement to congratulate me on making the team and that Team Canada was very excited to have me. [Sharks GM] Doug Wilson called me 15 minutes later to congratulate me. That’s when I knew. But I was FaceTiming with my wife [Martine] at the same time and she said, “Let’s just be sure and watch Steve Yzerman actually say your name” I told her Ken Holland called me, but we also waited for the announcement. It was one of the greatest days of my life: playing in my first NHL game and also being asked to that team is a tremendous honor and one of the biggest achievements I’ll have in my career.
KT: The dream will become a reality this weekend when you fly to Sochi. What are you most looking forward to about traveling to Russia for the Olympics?
MV: Just practicing and playing with the 24 other best players in the world who are playing for Team Canada. There are so many great players on that team. To be around them, practice with them, be a part of that team. I am looking forward to playing with those guys. I could name any player on that team and I’m so lucky to play with those guys. I’m sure I’ll have a great partner, whoever it is. I’m looking forward to just being on the ice with those guys.
KT: Who are you most looking forward to playing against?
MV: Nemo [Antti Niemi] and [Joe] Pavelski for sure!
KT: Growing up in West Island, Montreal, Quebec, were you a Habs fan?
MV: I watched the Habs, but I was a Red Wings fan growing up. I loved hockey and watched it with my dad. The Red Wings were such a great team when I was growing up I loved what they had going. That was the team I really liked.
KT: So it must have been pretty special to you that Ken Holland called you to congratulate you on Team Canada?
MV: Oh yeah, it was! I answered my phone and he said “Hi, it’s Ken Holland.” I was honored that he called me, and it was such a great moment.
KT: What was the town like where you grew up?
MV: It was hockey. I had a lot of friends playing hockey. We played in my backyard. It was a nice quiet neighborhood, almost like near San Jose. It’s very quiet and everyone knows each other. In West Island, everyone plays hockey. I played all day, all night with my three brothers and friends. That’s basically all I did was go to school and play hockey.
KT: So when did your hidden talent of playing ping pong develop?
MV: [laughs] We don’t have a ping pong table at the rink, but at home I play with my wife. She’s very good but I need more of a challenge! Sometimes I have to play with a spatula because I’m too good with the regular racket! She’s very competitive too.
KT: You and your wife are known to drive home in the offseason so that the two dogs you own don’t have to fly.
SOG: 90 | +/-: 15
KT: And is it true you can name every exit in the state of Nevada?
MV: It’s been two years since I have done it, but I know a couple, yeah.
KT: OK, shoot!
MV: There’s Battle Mountain, Winnemucca, Lovelock, Washoe. I know there’s Wendover, and Salt Lake in Nevada. Elko. Cheyenne and Laramie in Wyoming. I think I still know some of them!
KT: That’s probably more than most people who actually live in the state know!
MV: [laughs] Probably, yeah.
KT: I don’t think we can top that answer, so I’ll let you go. Good luck in Sochi!
MV: Thank you, thanks so much.