Tom Preissing is the newest defenseman on the Kings’ blueline, but it probably won’t be long before the Rosemount, Minnesota native knows all the nuances of Coach Marc Crawford’s system.
About three-and-a-half weeks time might be all it takes. Preissing learned all about immersing himself in a subject and absorbing information as an undergraduate at Colorado College. The small (undergraduate enrollment 2,000) liberal arts school’s curriculum revolves around a unique block plan where students take one subject at a time, master it, and then move on.
“With the block plan,” Preissing explains, “you take one class at a time, and you take it for three-and-a-half weeks.” Colorado College’s unusual academic structure enables a student to be totally dedicated to each course.
“Everyone is in class from Monday through Friday,” Preissing says, “from nine to noon every day. And then the fourth week you go Monday through Wednesday, and you get the rest of the week off. After that, a new block starts the following Monday.”
Preissing earned a degree in economics from “CC” in four years and learned how easy it is to grasp a given concept when that particular concept has the entirety of your focus.
“I absolutely loved it,” Preissing says of the curriculum. “And, I know that almost everyone that goes there loves that kind of education. It makes a lot of sense. Instead of juggling a bunch of classes, you are immersed in one subject for three-and-a-half weeks.”
The system also inspires and encourages students to learn outside the classroom.
“The thing that’s really nice about it is that you’re only taking one class at a time, so you have the possibility of going out of town, taking trips and actually living in the class. If you’re taking an environmental class, for example, you’re able to go up into the mountains and camp for two nights.”
These days, Preissing’s sole focus is fitting in with the Kings.
The 28-year-old Preissing signed a four-year contract with the Kings July 2; just weeks after helping the Ottawa Senators reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Before that, Preissing spent two seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
“Part of the reason I signed here,” Preissing says, “was because the guys in San Jose have such great respect for Dean Lombardi.”
The Kings G.M. spent 13 years in the Sharks’ front office.
Although Lombardi had already left Silicon Valley when Preissing arrived, he left impeccable references in the Sharks organization.
“Dean was gone by the time I got to San Jose,” Preissing says, “but the guys that have been around him have great respect for him. It was definitely a factor and an influence in my decision to sign with the Kings.”
Another factor was Preissing’s familiarity with the Kings and California. During his two years in the Pacific Division, Preissing liked what in saw in Los Angeles, taking particular note of the Kings’ remarkable fan support and the organization’s desire to build a winner.
“From playing in San Jose and knowing some guys who have played in LA, I know it’s a really good organization,” Preissing says. “They’re taking the right steps. I really like the personnel they have in place. It’s a good and exciting place to be.”
This from a guy with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Last season, Preissing posted an impressive +40 rating, good enough to tie for first among NHL defensemen, while tying for third overall. He also had seven goals and 38 points to lead Ottawa defensemen.
Mark Twain wasn’t talking about the NHL’s plus/minus rating when he famously said there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. But he certainly could have been.
No NHL statistic is trickier to interpret or easier to manipulate than the plus/minus rating, which awards a player with a point for every goal scored while he is on the ice in even strength situations, while subtracting a point each time a goal is scored against that player’s team while he is on the ice in even strength situations.
Preissing himself admits the statistic can be one big, damn lie. Simply put, if you have a favorable plus/minus, it could be because you are the beneficiary of good teammates.
Likewise, bad teammates can drag a good player down with them.
“I’m somewhere in the middle on (the value of) it,” Preissing says, while admitting that playing for the powerhouse Senators last season didn’t exactly hurt his numbers.
“I think part of the reason the stat was so inflated for me was because we scored a lot of goals last year. And, last year, I played against the other team’s second, third, and fourth lines. In Ottawa, I think our second, third, and fourth lines were better than most other team’s (second, third, and fourth lines).”
If part of Preissing’s success last season came from being surrounded by good people, at least part of it stems from those study habits he picked up back in Colorado Springs. Senators Coach Bryan Murray says Preissing’s greatest talent is his ability to think the game.
“He’s just a real smart player,” Murray says. Preissing is flattered by such talk, but says much of his hockey sense is a simple byproduct of learning from the mistakes he has made along the way.
“I think a lot of it is just that I have a good ability to absorb things,” Preissing says. “I think I’ve been pretty good at that throughout my career. If a guy beats me on one move, I think I’m pretty good at picking up a subtlety like that and not letting him do it again. I think I try and play percentages. I realize that a certain pass will be better than making a different pass.”
Preissing first began absorbing the subtleties of playing defense as a junior player in Green Bay. He had been a forward while playing high school hockey in Minnesota but his junior coach, Mark Osiecki, moved him to the blueline. Osiecki had played in the NHL for Calgary, Ottawa, Minnesota and Winnipeg and had a sense that Preissing would fare better as a rearguard.
Deep down, Preissing knew it, too.
“I think I knew I should be a defenseman,” he says, “but it was a big transition. Every year, I’m still learning a lot. There are a lot more subtleties and intricacies to playing defense than there are to playing forward.”
After Green Bay came the four years at Colorado College, followed by a quick ascent to the NHL. Preissing graduated from CC in the spring of 2003 after scoring 23 goals and 52 points in 42 games during his senior season. The next fall, he was playing for the Sharks.
Preissing treated his first NHL training camp as if it were one of those block classes back in college. He immersed himself in hockey and learned on the fly.
“I was definitely surprised it happened so quickly,” he says. “I thought realistically that I’d be spending my time in the minor leagues and I’d have to work my way up. I think I was really prepared when I went to camp.”
Preissing likes to believe that success came early because he knows how to learn.
“One thing that I think the coaching staff liked about me is that I was making constant improvement,” he says. “There were times when it was overwhelming for me my rookie year, but the coaching staff showed a lot of confidence in me and I definitely learned a lot.”
He played in 69 games for the Sharks in 2003-04 (2 goals, 19 points) and has been learning ever since. Last year, he graduated to the Stanley Cup Finals, where Ottawa lost to Anaheim in five games.
“It was so exciting,” he says. “I think as a team, we felt so good about our team and so good about ourselves that I think we felt that we were pretty invincible. I haven’t played on a team that gets together so well as a team. It was a pretty neat experience.”
After playing in the Stanley Cup Finals and going through free agency, it was a short summer for Preissing. With school back in session, Preissing is ready to help the Kings make their way to the head of the NHL class.
Written by Doug Ward. Originally printed in Royal Reign.