What are your thoughts on the new uniforms, first of all?
“They’re great. I guess a couple guys got a sneak preview before; I didn’t have any idea. I guess I just knew the colors. But when I saw them on the Internet, right away you can tell if you like something, and you got that ‘wow’ right away. When I looked at it, I really like the whites a lot. I like both but the whites really stand out to me. It’s definitely a nice change for the fans and even the players are excited about it.”How has your summer been going? Have you been doing anything different in preparation for the season or just basically the same as in years past?
“With the training in the summer, there’s not much you can do different. I was on a pretty good program with another player that I work out with. We go six days a week and we’re training for two and a half to three hours [a day]. Training wise, there really wasn’t anything I could have changed this year. It’s pretty much the same program and things are going good. Besides that, I have a net set up in my backyard and I’m taking shots. Maybe that’s the only difference is I have a net in the backyard and I’m shooting.
“Mentally I have a different mindset this summer, it’s just a different mindset from last year.”How do you look at yourself five years out from being drafted? There are some you think you might have been rushed that first year and that maybe you should have spent that whole season at Kitchener. You won a Memorial Cup there, and the World Junior experience was obviously great for you, too. Do you ever look back and wonder where you might be had things gone differently?
“I never wonder how things would have been. You never know what the right plan would have been. No one knows. If I played the whole year in Kitchener, things could have been 10 times worse or 10 times better. You never really know the right answer. Those 17 games [in the NHL], I didn’t feel like I was rushed at all. It was a good taste. It gave me extra confidence going back to World Juniors and going back to Kitchener. I think that really helped my development in juniors.
“When you look back, I was 18 then. I’ve been here for five years, but I still think that as a 23-year-old I’m pretty young. I am still considered young, and I think that gets overlooked sometimes. It’s funny, I heard on the radio that a ‘veteran defenseman re-signed.’ It’s funny that you’re considered a veteran. But the way I look at it, I came in pretty young and I really don’t consider myself [a veteran]. I still think there’s a lot of room for development.”It’s funny that you say that, because if you look at it, there’s [Tom] Poti, there’s [Brian] Pothier, there’s [Shoane Morrisonn] and there’s you strictly in terms of NHL games played. Maybe there are 20 defensemen on the team’s depth chart in terms of NHL games played, and you’re fourth. Now, I don’t want to get you in any trouble here, but to me, just watching you, you seem like you are more comfortable with a veteran defenseman as a partner. I think you played some of your best hockey with guys like Calle [Johansson] and [Brendan Witt], even though you were just a kid then. And you seem more comfortable on the right side, too. Would you agree with that?
“Yeah, I totally agree with both. It’s tougher on that left side, playing it. I played with [Sergei] Gonchar a couple times and he liked played his off side. But that’s Sergei Gonchar. That’s someone with a lot more experience who can get away with a lot more mistakes. Playing on the right side I am a lot more comfortable. You’re always on your forehand and you can handle the puck easier.
“Playing with a veteran defenseman, I think any guy [would want to]. I look around the league and look at a guy like Paul Ranger in Tampa Bay playing with Dan Boyle. I think it has made his life a lot easier. You could go on and on with players who play with veteran defensemen. It wouldn’t just be for my development, but for every player’s development. If they have that veteran presence, it’s definitely going to help.
“I think my best play was with Witter. He was a guy that was stay-at-home, he knew the game, and he had been around here for years. I guess we just clicked together.”Do you feel like the system the Caps play sometimes stifles offensive creativity? You seemed to have more “get up and go” to your game when you first came into the league, and Mike Green sometimes seems to have more reins on him up here than he does when I see him in Hershey.
“As for myself, [Caps head coach Glen Hanlon] has really been pushing offense. I don’t know what he’s saying to Greenie. Not leading the attack and not staying in the zone and being caught out of position, but if you can join the rush, then join it. And if you can add that extra player [to the rush], he has always been on me for that: be part of the attack. I don’t think it’s a defensive system where you’re not going to get any chances. With the both of us, he wants us to be solid defensively. That’s our main job when it comes down to it: be solid defensively, but also add to the rush without being caught out of position.”What are the areas of your game right now that you’d like to improve the most between now and say next year at this time?
“When it comes down to it, I guess it is consistency and the mental part of the game. Play the same way, like I did in junior. It was consistent. And that’s what I built my game around and took pride in. Game in and game out, it was the same game: you’re going to play aggressive and you’re going to move the puck. You have a game plan going in.
“When you get to this level, there are still things you can improve on. But you’re going to be pretty much at the peak of your game with your skating and your passing. It’s going to be up there. You can improve upon it a little bit. But I think it’s mental outlook and it’s confidence in players that holds them back. That’s the deciding factor between players. What confidence do they have, how focused are they mentally, how bad do they want it, as opposed to someone who is tentative and gets rattled easily. That’s what I’ve been focusing on this summer.”That ankle injury in 2005-06 seemed to come at a really bad time because you had it going pretty well. Then when you came back there was a period where you seemed to be readjusting, then you got it going again at the end of the season. Is that anything that is lingering at all or is bothering you at all, or is it 100% now?
“No, it’s 100%. It actually has more range in it than I have in my good one. There are days when you wake up and it’s sore, but that’s for the first five minutes. But anyone who’s ever broken anything [knows that]. When it comes down to it, it is stronger and it has more mobility.
“It was at a pretty crucial time. It was in January, and that’s the time of year when teams are taking their games to the next level. I got hurt there and when I came back teams were already in playoff mode. I wasn’t rushed back, but when I came back I wasn’t 100% cardio-wise and the mind being quick enough to react. Things were going good the last five or six games, but then the season ended.”Continued on next page... Part 2 >