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Justin Mercier Q&A

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
After spending the past four years at Miami (Ohio) University, a timeframe which included a run to the NCAA championship game in 2009, Avalanche prospect Justin Mercier is beginning his professional career in 2009-10.

The two-way forward sat down with at the start of rookie camp to discuss his time as a RedHawk, what he expects out of the coming season and sharing a room with an old friend (and occasional foe).

You’ve been playing in the same place for the past four years. It was obviously a great place to play, but are you excited for a new start?
Yeah, definitely. Playing at Miami was an unbelievable experience for me. I had the best four years of my life up to this point. As far as hockey was concerned, I think I went there with the goal in mind of playing professional hockey, so when my four years was up I was ready to see what the future holds.

Do you have any nerves about the new challenges ahead?
There are some nerves, but there’s an equal amount of excitement that comes with it because this is what you’ve worked for your whole life. So you’re nervous about where you’re going to end up, but at the same time you’re excited too.

Talk about that great run to NCAA finals last year.
Last year we had a lot of adversity. It was a very up and down year for us. We lost in the CCHA playoffs to Northern Michigan, but we ended up coming together at the end. We came together and said, “This is our last shot. We have three more weeks of hockey left, and it will be what we make of it.”

We were blessed with the opportunity to even play in the NCAA Tournament, so when we got that opportunity, we were going to Minnesota on a mission. We had stellar goaltending from our freshman, Cody Reichard, our power-play was running on all cylinders and it just clicked. When things are coming together like that and you feel like you’re playing to your full potential, good things can happen.

Losing is always disappointing, but how do you even begin to describe the heartbreak of that loss in the NCAA championship game?
Looking back now, and even though it’s still so fresh, I’m so proud of what our guys accomplished. Like I said, with the adversity we faced last year, being able to play for the national championship was amazing. I heard it was the first national championship that any sport at Miami had ever played for. So to be a part of that was really something special. And then to come so close, when no one really thought we even had a chance, it was a pretty special feeling.

One of your opponents in that game, Brandon Yip, is standing a few feet away from you right now. There’s no ill will in the room right now, is there?
(Laughs) Yips and I are actually roommates this week. We were good friends before the game, and we’ll stay good friends after.

You’re touted as a two-way forward. At what point did playing defense become a big focus?
I come from a fairly small town, Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s not a Detroit or a Chicago. Once I kind of branched out from Erie and got to see the rest of the hockey world, that’s when I started to realize that you can’t be a one-dimensional player. You have to be good at a lot of different things because you never know what your role might be. I had a few coaches along the way that kind of helped show me that when I was in Michigan. It helped me get to where I am now.

A lot of players have to change the way they play the game when they turn pro. Do you see your role changing at the next level?
 I feel like anywhere I’ll be, the role will be a little different. No two teams are the same, even from Colorado to Lake Erie. Different teams have different needs, so I’ll just try to do whatever they want to the best of my ability.
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