Despite engaging in some heated battles on the ice, opposing NHL players often forge enduring friendships away from the rink. We thought it might be interesting, then, to do some reconnaissance in the visitors' dressing room to get an occasional take on a Canadiens player from a friendly foe on another club. Today: Jets forward Blake Wheeler on his summer training partner, Max Pacioretty.
How did you and Max first meet? What was your first impression of him?
BLAKE WHEELER: We played against each other in college and we started playing against each other in the NHL when I was with Boston. The first time I got to play with him was in 2014, at the Sochi Olympics. There I saw that he's a pretty laid back and quiet guy. He's a little younger than me and he was one of the younger guys on that Olympic team, so he wasn't talking too much in the room back then. At the World Cup last year he was a little more involved and more talkative.
How awesome was it to finally be playing on the same team at the Olympics and the World Cup after being opponents for so long?
BW: It was definitely cool at the World Cup since I knew him a little better. I've been down in Florida in the summer the last three years and he started training there around the same time. We got to know each other really well. We play golf together, we train together, and we skate together. It's cool being around him and getting to know him a little better off the ice.
Who's the better golfer between the two of you?
BW: (laughs) I'd say I'm a little better at golf since I've been playing a little longer than him. You see the way he shoots a hockey puck; he kind of does the same thing with his golf swing. He grips that club a little too tight. We're working on it.
You guys are neighbors in Florida and both have young families, with two kids each. Do your kids get along as well?
BW: Our two kids are almost the exact same age. We live in a cool neighborhood. His place is a short golf cart ride away from mine. Once in a while we'll just send the kids over there with the golf cart and let them run around and hit each other with hockey sticks. (laughs) All of our kids love hockey and sports so they get along well.
How often do you train together?
BW: We started going on the ice together last summer. It's cool to train with other guys like him. I mentioned his shot before, but to see how explosive it is, it's pretty amazing.
You guys are two of the best snipers in the League. Who do you think has the best shot between you and Max?
BW: (laughs) Oh, him by far. I score the majority of my goals by just pushing the puck over the goal line. He can score from pretty much everywhere. We have a kid on our team named Patrik Laine who's got a shot that's comparable to Max's. Those are two of the best wrist shots in the world.
When you guys are chilling under the sun in Florida in the summer, how often do you discuss Montreal and Winnipeg winters?
BW: All the time. Both of us come from cold climates so it's not like it's anything new to us. I'm from Minneapolis and he's from Connecticut. We're used to it, but when our hockey days are eventually over, it will be easy to spend some time in Florida during the winter.
Do you keep in touch during the hockey season?
BW: We text each other back and forth. Like when he had his big four-goal night earlier this year. I watch how hard he works on things in the summer, so it's cool to see him get rewarded for it.
You were named captain of the Jets a few months ago. Has Max offered you any advice for your new role?
BW: When I learned that I'd been named captain, I didn't necessarily ask him for advice, but I picked his brain on what it was like. He has one of the tougher jobs in the NHL being captain of the Montreal Canadiens, probably the most storied franchise in the League and with an incredibly passionate fan base. That's a lot of pressure and it's a big role. It was cool to hear his perspective on how he handled things and what he does to keep things in check.
Max is known as a calm guy and he's all business when he's at the rink. Is he like that off the ice, too?
BW: He's super laid back. He has a great sense of humor and definitely doesn't take himself too seriously. When he's at the rink, he's really dedicated to what he does, but when he's around his family, you see a different side of him and what a great man he is.
Could you tell us something about Max that not a lot of people would know?
BW: Well I already told you the secret behind his golf swing. (laughs)