With the offseason underway for the majority of pro hockey players, many of the Blackhawks' prospects have already begun preparation for the 2011-12 season with hopes of reaching the NHL, and defenseman Ryan Stanton is no exception.
Stanton is spending his offseason in his hometown of St. Albert, Alberta, just outside of Edmonton, and is training with fellow NHL prospects Kevin Connauton (Vancouver) and Sena Acolatse (San Jose) under the watch of Simon Bennett, who also serves as fitness consultant for the Edmonton Oilers.
Coming off his first full professional season, Stanton was named Rockford’s “Most Improved Skater" after compiling 17 points (3G, 14A) with a +9 plus/minus rating in 73 AHL games with the IceHogs.
Stanton recently took a break from his summer training regimen to chat with icehogs.com:
How difficult was it for you to have the 2010-11 season come to an end, even though the IceHogs were the hottest team in the AHL heading into April?
It’s tough to end the season on such a high note and know that we came up short for the playoffs. We had a lot of momentum at a time when everyone wants it.
We were peaking at the right moment, and it would have been awesome to have gotten in there. I think we could have turned some heads. It was definitely a tough situation to heat up like that and then have the season end.
Now that you are a full-time professional hockey player, are the NHL playoffs different or more difficult for you to watch?
A little bit. You’re still a fan of the game, and I’ve been trying to watch as many games as possible. You still find yourself rooting for certain teams, watching the style and the different players that you like on those teams.
But it’s been a little different watching guys that you might have played against this year. It was definitely cool being in Chicago as a 'black ace', being at the games. It’s been a little different now being a professional hockey player, but it’s still been pretty cool, and I’m still a huge fan of the game.
How would you assess your first full season of professional hockey?
It was definitely a learning experience. I think I learned a lot about myself, on and off the ice. It’s a huge adjustment living on your own and cooking on your own and not having anyone there to take care of you.
On the ice, it’s different going from playing against 16-year-olds to playing against guys who are 35 and are stronger and faster than you. I felt I learned a lot, and I got better as the season went on and definitely gained more confidence.
What was the biggest challenge for you as a first-year pro?
Off the ice, the biggest challenge is getting the right meals in you and getting into the right sleeping patterns, figuring out what’s best for you and how you are going to be playing at your best.
On the ice, adjusting to the game, being a consistent player night-in and night-out. I had a different role from what I had in junior. I could chip in a little more offensively in junior; the game was slowed down more, and you had a little more time with the puck. Playing pro this year, you don’t have as much time with the puck; guys were faster and stronger, so you had to move the puck quicker, make smarter decisions. Just all around, you have to be a little bit better at everything coming from junior.
Being undrafted, I’d say that you are flying under the radar a bit as prospects go in the Blackhawks organization. Entering the 2010-11 season, did you feel that you had to prove yourself a little more?
Yeah, definitely. They signed me as a 20-year-old free agent. They probably didn’t know too much about me. They obviously showed some interest by signing me, so I wanted to show everyone that they made a good choice. I just went out there and played my game but didn't try to do too much.
I like to say I'm a pretty simple player. Keep it simple, know my role, and play the game hard, and hopefully I turn some heads.
What would you say is the biggest thing you need to work on heading into the 2011-12 season?
I’d like to improve my skating, lateral movements and just becoming more dynamic. Dynamic skating-wise, being able to move a little quicker out there defensively in the corners, lateral movements. Little stuff like that you don’t notice too much. Fans watching won’t notice too much, but it helps out a lot.
I'd also just like to become stronger and more conditioned overall. Guys are so much bigger and stronger in the professional leagues. I have to prepare myself so I can play an 80-game schedule.
Was it difficult to get back into training mode this summer, or were you anxious to get it going again?
The first week or two of training, you’re so sore that you can barely sit down or walk up the stairs. It’s like that every year as your muscles are getting used to working that hard again. It’s going to benefit you, and after a while you feel good, you start to get back into that groove of working out, and you notice changes. You can feel yourself getting stronger. It’s definitely hard to get back into. You have to do it though; it’s part of the job.
What is your least favorite aspect of offseason conditioning and training?
That it changes day to day. The hard bike is a battle. It’s tough to do because there are some long bike rides sometimes. You’re on the bike for 45 minutes, exhausted, your butt hurts from sitting on the seat for so long... that catches up to you. It sucks at times, but you know doing it you’re getting better. At least I’m not out there digging holes. I try not to complain too much.
Now that you are in the offseason, what is something that you get to do that you might not get to do during the hockey season?
Spending time with family and friends. I live quite a ways away up here in Canada from Rockford, so it’s nice doing that. Getting out and doing some activities like golfing, throwing the ball around with friends, soft sports, just relaxing. I try to golf a couple of times a week; it's frustrating at times but fun to get out there and play.
It’s definitely something that you want to take into next season: how good it feels to win and how much fun it is to go to the rink when you’re winning. - Ryan Stanton
You were one of 15 players on the IceHogs last season who was 21 or younger. Talk about playing with such a young group of guys and getting the opportunity to grow as a collective unit last season.
That was something that was pretty cool. You hear stories from other guys who have gone pro and didn't have too many guys to hang out with because most of their teammates were veterans.
Last year, yeah, there were tons of younger guys, so it was awesome. I got to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends. It’s cool that we’re all in this together and that we all have the same goal. We can work on it together, and hopefully we get better and better each year and eventually, someday, be a part of the big club.
How much of what the team accomplished in March and April can carry over to October after a long offseason?
We were a young team, and we started off a little slow, but by the end we got that winning mentality. I’m sure there will be a lot of guys back on that team next year. It’s definitely something that you want to take into next season: how good it feels to win and how much fun it is to go to the rink when you’re winning. It’s a big confidence thing, and hopefully we can carry that into next year.
I know that the goal is to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, but how difficult is it to be patient as you make your way through the AHL and to keep your current status in perspective?
You just have to take it day by day and work your hardest to eventually make it to the NHL one day. I think that you just have to be patient... you can’t get too down on yourself, or you can’t be blaming other people for being there when you should be.
Obviously, you have to work hard and keep grinding away every day, and hopefully you make people notice. I think everyone wants to show that they can do that.