You talked about the mental part of the game and using that to develop a better consistency. Is there a trick to that?
“No, not really.”Is it just a matter of being tougher mentally after you make a mistake?
“Yeah, that’s exactly it. When it comes down to it, you just have to [separate] things. If there was a mistake on the ice you can’t let it get to you. Coming into this training camp mentally, I’m definitely looking at it differently than I did the last two years. I’m not looking at it like anything is guaranteed. Maybe the last couple years I kind of did look at it that way. But this year with all the guys coming, I don’t think there are any guarantees. There are no locks on this defense.
“It’s good in a way where you have that mindset that anything can happen. It’s almost like my first year, and when I look back I think that first year was my best training camp. You looked at it and you just didn’t have anything on your mind or any expectations where things were going to bother you. You just went out there and played. You played hard and whatever happened, happened. That’s how I want to go into it. I’ve already thought about it. I want to go in like it was my first training camp and just play and let things sort themselves out.”I remember that well. I had guys from Kitchener radio calling me every other day. They were worried and wondering, ‘Are we getting this guy back or what’s the story?’ I think it’s interesting you mentioned that you set up a net in your back yard. Is that something you’re conscious of? Because it didn’t seem like you shot the puck enough last year.
“You can never have a good enough shot. The game has changed. If you’re not playing the power play, you’re not getting a lot of scoring chances, you’re not getting a lot of shots, and you’re not getting a lot of points. Playing 5-on-5, when you get that opportunity you want to make it count and have a good shot. You’re going to have less time, so you practice taking shots in awkward situations, pulling them off quicker. I’ve worked on all those things. Like I said, you can never work on it enough. It doesn’t matter how good your shot is.”I was talking to Nicklas Backstrom after he came over [to summer development camp] and was trying to make the adjustment to the smaller rink, and he said sometimes it seems like there is no point in shooting the puck because it is going to get blocked. It seems like the angles for defensemen have changed with that two-foot adjustment they made [to the offensive and neutral zones] a couple years ago. Has that made a big difference as far as shots from the point?
“It’s further back then people think. I’ve skated on rinks that haven’t changed and when you take a shot from the point with all the old measurements, the new [measurements] seem quite a ways back. There is more time for it to slow down and get blocked or get tipped. It just seems like every shot you take gets tipped or deflected. The quicker you can get it off and the more accurately you can get it off, you are going to be more successful.”The circumstances were somewhat out of your control, but think back to the end of February when they sat you out for that handful of games. That had to hurt you, I know you’re a proud guy and that had to hurt you sitting upstairs. Where was your head at then and where was it after you came back from that?
“It was definitely a tough time. For any player sitting out is an awful feeling. I couldn’t wait to get back in the lineup. I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know what to do because you’re [still] practicing. Your mindset is that you practice hard and you’re going to support the team and when you get the call you have to be ready to go back into the lineup. And when you get back into the lineup and you just never want to be back in that position. I had some thinking to do while I was out. I guess one of the lessons they were teaching me was that you never want to take anything for granted. You want to stay in this lineup and you want to earn this spot.”We talked about this a little bit earlier today, the fact that you’ve been in the organization for five years but you’re still – for all intents and purposes – just a kid. Most players don’t even hit their primes until they’re four or five years older than you are. Sometimes I think teams – and it happens with all kinds of players, but maybe especially with defensemen – give up on players too early. There is a long list of guys who were drafted high, given up on by their original teams and then went on to another team and played 700, 800, 900 games in the league and had a great career. Do you ever think sometimes that you’d be better served by a change of scenery or would you like to see it through here?
“Like I said earlier, you never know what would have been better for you. I could have gone to another team and I could have gone down or I could have gone up. You never know. I definitely want to stay here. I think it’s special playing for the same team. I played for four years in Kitchener right out of my draft year and things were great. I know the organization and I know everyone in it. I definitely would love to stay here and grow and develop. You just hope as a player that they have the faith in you and they stick with you and not get rid of you and think that you’re done. Saying that, you also have to show that you deserve to stick around. But I love the way the team is going and I would definitely love to stay and get into the playoffs this year.”You have been through some tough seasons with this team, but there have been some really good teams here over the years. You’ve suffered through some lean years, so you must feel pretty good to see the team adding some pieces over the summer.
“Yeah, [Michael] Nylander, I played with him in ’02-03. He was a guy that a lot of guys liked and I was surprised when he did get traded at that time. He was a leader and a good guy in the dressing room. I know I really liked him. On the ice, you saw what he did last year. He is a great playmaker. I’m glad to see him back.
“[Viktor] Kozlov is a skilled guy and a big body who, every time you play against him you can’t even move him. And [Tom] Poti is obviously one of the best power play defensemen, and that’s what this game is coming to, power plays and special teams. All three of those guys are great on special teams.”Hockey players live for the playoffs. The last time you were in the playoffs you won the Memorial Cup, and that was four years ago. It’ll be five by the next time you’re in the playoffs, at least.
“It’s tough to watch. To tell you the truth, I didn’t watch as much as I did the year before. Not that it was boring, it’s just hard to take at times because you see these guys winning and still playing and having fun. And we’re out of the playoffs and working out in the gym already. I didn’t watch as much as I did last year.”