“I was dead set on going back. Everyone at St. Cloud has been so good to me; the coaching staff, the players, the city itself, the staff, the faculty, everybody was unreal. I thought I was going to go back and I thought of myself as a four-year player. I never really gave a whole lot of thought to leaving early. But when the right opportunity presented itself, I spoke with George [McPhee] and I spoke with [director of legal affairs/hockey operations] Mr. [Don] Fishman and I spoke with a few other guys.
“I thought the opportunity was right. In this game an opportunity is all you get really, you get one shot sometimes and that’s it. So I thought this was a good time and as a player I was ready to go. I thought I’d make a few changes. [You have to] move forward a little bit in your life if you want to progress. I think it was the right decision for me at the time, but it was two weeks of waking up early and going to bed late thinking about it. I’m comfortable with where I am now and everyone has been very welcoming so it’s been good so far.”Talk a little bit about your season. Your team had a really strong year, got to the tournament and you personally had a really strong year, too. Was it easier to leave under those circumstances or harder?
“It was almost a tougher pill to swallow. My freshman year we weren’t really competitive, not as much as we wanted to be. Sophomore year we really came around and then last year we were almost on top of the league. Coming that close, winning so many games and making so much progress with that group of guys and then sort of jumping ship, it hurt a lot. But like I said, it was the right time. I know the team is going to be good next year because they have a lot of good leadership in that room. I don’t have any [regrets] about leaving there empty-handed. The fact of the matter is it was time for me to go. I came to my decision, made it and I can’t look back now. No matter how you slice it, I have to look forward.”Have you had a chance to talk to [goaltending prospect] Dan Dunn? I know he is going to be an incoming freshman there. Have you talked to him at all about the St. Cloud experience?
“Yeah, a little bit. I heard he was coming [to St. Cloud], but I didn’t know if he would be in camp or not. As soon as I walked in I was looking for his nameplate. He is going to be there in late August and I will still be around then. I will take him around town and show him the ropes a little bit. For the most part he is really looking forward to it. It’s a great school and a great place to play. He is really going to enjoy it, especially if he keeps playing like this.”After you signed, you spent a little bit of time in Hershey and started to get a feel for the pro game. Give me an idea of what it was like playing with the Black Aces and seeing some playoff hockey at that level.
“It was a lot of fun just being there and being around the guys. The guys were just so good to me. I walked in and didn’t know what the mood was going to be like with all these new guys coming in. But it’s a reality in the American League and everybody sees it every year. I’m not the first guy to come in at the end of the season, obviously.
“The guys really showed a lot of class and a lot of open arms welcoming me right in there. I had so much fun with the guys from practice in the morning to having meals at some of the older guys’ houses. I went to one of the guys’ son’s first birthday party. It was a real good family sort of feeling there and it’s something I look forward to becoming part of in time. It certainly helped me along the way. I come here and I know 10-15 guys from that experience. I really couldn’t be more thankful that I had that experience when I came to this camp.”Last year’s rookie camp was your first rookie camp experience. It was in Hershey, and it was a little different. You’ve got to feel a little more comfortable this year, having been through the experience before. I would think this would be a nice steppingstone and a good way to prepare for camp in September, knowing that you’re turning pro this year.
“In a way, it definitely feels like that. But also on the other side of the coin, there’s no safety net for me here. I’m not going back to school for another year to prove myself again. So every time I am on the ice I am a little more on edge making sure I make the smart plays, do the right things, finish checks and make sure everyone upstairs knows that I am here to compete and I am here to play. From now on every time I step on the ice no matter where I am, somebody is watching. It’s definitely a good steppingstone, but at the same time, it makes me want to prove myself every time I am on the ice. Like I said, there is no way back now.”All you guys share the same goal, you want to play in the NHL. What do you need to work on to make that dream a reality?
“It’s a cliché, but speed is something everyone needs to work on. The guys are so much faster and so much stronger but it’s a reality. I was a fairly large player in college but I was one of the smallest players in Hershey. It’s one of those things where the size and the speed will take a couple of days to adjust to.
“It’s a confidence thing. If you have confidence in yourself you can play at just about every level. I feel that by the time training camp comes around I will be in a position where I will have prepared to the point where I couldn’t do anything more. I am prepared to do this. It is the next step in my career and my life. It’s just a place mentally where I have to be to compete and I think I can make it there in the next five, six weeks.”I know you and Andrew Joudrey go back a ways. You and he and Maxime Lacroix looked like you had a pretty good chemistry working on the ice today. You had a lot going on in the offensive zone and were creating quite a bit. Are you guys fairly comfortable together?
“I remember Max from last year. I played with him a bit last year so I knew what kind of player he was. But I have known Andrew since we were both about waist high. He is the kind of player that I like to play with. [He keeps it] simple, we work the corners well, we’re hard workers, we make simple plays, give-and-gos along the boards and things like that.
“There’s a comfort level that comes with a guy. I can come to bench and he’s going to tell me things and I can tell him things. There is no barrier where we feel uncomfortable speaking with each other. It’s comfortable having a guy like that around, but we also push each other. We push each other forward. It’s really good having a guy like that around that I have know for so long and will hopefully be around for quite a while to go.”