Aaron Palushaj (puh-LOO-shigh) was claimed off waivers from Montreal on Feb. 5, and he made his Avalanche debut nearly a week later on Feb. 11 in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Livonia, Mich., native came to Colorado with five points (1g/4a) in 41 career games with the Canadiens, but he nearly doubled his career total in his first week in an Avalanche sweater as he had four points (2g/2a) in his first four games (Feb. 11-18). Palushaj isn’t a stranger to the Mile High City or the Pepsi Center, as he played in the arena as a member of the Michigan Wolverines during the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four. He recently sat down with ColoradoAvalanche.com.
Q: What was the hardest part of adjusting from the AHL to the NHL?
A: The speed of the game, the quickness of the passes, and the guys playing in the NHL are bigger, stronger and faster. Once you get a couple games done at the NHL level, you get used to it, but it’s still a little hard to adjust at first. The speed of the game is the biggest thing.
Q: What was the experience like being picked up by the Avalanche off waivers?
A: I was in practice in Hamilton (Montreal AHL) and I got pulled off the ice. My coach told me Colorado claimed me off waivers, and it was awesome. To be honest, I had no clue whether Colorado or any other team would be interested. You’re just hoping one team would give you a shot. It was an exciting time to get a fresh start and a new opportunity.
Q: What are you favorite pre-game meals?
A: I like to do rice or rice pasta, with either chicken or salmon. I then add either broccoli or asparagus.
Q: Do you have any superstitions?
A: Not really. I try to prepare myself the night before the game as much as possible without needing to rely on superstitions.
Q: What is the most interesting nickname you have had?
A: Erik Johnson started to call me kamikaze because I'm quick on the ice and kind of all over the place. I don’t know if it would stick as a nickname, but it would be a pretty funny one.
Q: Can you describe your first goal with the Avs?
A: My first goal here was in a game up in Minnesota (Feb. 14). I got a great pass from Jonesy (David Jones) and I put it in an open net. I think it was my second game here so it was nice to score pretty quickly. It was relieving to score the goal – that’s the name of the game. I want to help my teammates out as much as possible.
Watch Palushaj's First Avalanche Goal
Q: How has your experience been so far playing with different linemates?
A: You just want to play whatever role you’re put in to the best of your ability. Whether you’re on the second line, or third line or fourth line, playing power plays or not playing power plays, you just try to create energy out there. You try to create scoring chances and when you do, you try to bury them and help the team out in that aspect. And you have to play solid defense so you’re not hurting the team on that end of the game. There is a difference between the lines, and the hardest part is quickly finding that chemistry or the habits with your linemates.
Q: Do you remember your first pair of skates?
A: I was eight, maybe eight and a half. They were hockey skates, but I took skate lessons with figure skaters. I started skating around that time, which is a little older compared to when some other guys start skating.
Q: In what ways did college hockey at the University of Michigan help prepare your for your career today?
A: I played under a great coach, Red Berenson, and I had some great training that taught me the fundamentals of playing good hockey. I learned a lot when I was there and I can’t even put into words how much they helped me. It was a just great experience.
Q: How did you handle the altitude change in Colorado coming from Michigan for the Frozen Four and now with the Avalanche?
A: When I was at Michigan and we played at the Frozen Four in Denver, we came two days early to adjust and it still definitely affected us. You could feel it. Shifts were shorter; it was tough to get used to. Funny thing is I bought a high-altitude training mask about a month and a half before the Avalanche picked me up because I was hurt and I was paranoid that I would get out of shape. So I got this mask and you could set the elevation to 9,000 feet. I could only do a couple laps before ripping it off. I don’t know if it helped much, but it’s a funny story.