Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Kurtis Foster could see he had a little more steam on his slap shot than most of the other kids around the rink. It just wasn’t something he thought about very much.
Once Foster reached junior hockey, he started to hear about it every day.
“Since then, every coach has been on me to shoot the puck as much as I can,” said Foster, who has played defense and forward for the Lightning this season. “When you’ve got a coach telling you to be selfish, it’s not a bad thing.”
Foster’s shot was clocked at 101.5 miles per hour at the American Hockey League All-Star Game in 2003. Foster said he hasn’t been on the gun since, but with better stick technology it is likely faster. It certainly looks that way.
Three-time NHL hardest shot winner Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate’s record with a 105.4 mph bullet last season at the all-star game. After watching Foster blast a shot past Henrik Lundqvist for a power-play goal in a 5-1 victory over the Rangers Nov. 27 , you wonder what the radar gun would have read.
“An absolute rocket,” Lightning forward Steve Stamkos said. “I don’t think Lundqvist saw it.”
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said it was one of the hardest he’s ever seen.
“I’d be a little nervous to try and block that shot, because he can break ankles,” Tocchet said. “That’s why we have to use him as a focal point on the power play and get him to shoot from the middle.”
Foster has three goals – two on the power play -- and three assists with a plus-6 rating in his previous 13 games after being in and out of the lineup early on. He has 24 shots on goal in his last 11 games after getting nine his first eight games.
Tocchet said it appeared Foster deferred to Lightning veterans early on, passing up opportunities. Now he is letting more shots go. Yes, Tocchet said he wants him to be “more selfish.” He took six shots against Colorado last Monday, with three getting blocked or missing the net.
For his past eight games, Foster has played at forward with Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux along with getting time on the power play. Foster can only remember one game before this season he played at forward with Minnesota.
“I had a good practice and [then Wild coach] Jacques [Lemaire] wanted to try me at forward during a game,” Foster said.
Tocchet said Foster has shown his versatility and has made some strong plays at forward in the defensive zone.
“It’s not my preferred choice,” Foster said, smiling. “But I’m having fun with it. Zenon and Steph are great guys to play with. They just go hard, get in there and cause havoc and I can just stay high and shoot the puck.
“Whatever I’ve got to do to be on the ice. I just want to be out there and try to contribute as much as I can.”
Foster, 28, has made plenty of stops in his career, logging over 200 games each in the NHL and the AHL, since being drafted out of Carp, Ont. by the Calgary Flames in the second round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 223-pound Foster was traded to Atlanta in 2001, then to Anaheim in 2004. He had 17 goals for Cincinnati, Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, in 2004-05. Foster signed as a free agent with Minnesota in 2005 and had a personal NHL-best 10 goals with the Wild in 2005-06. He had 20 assists in 2006-07 and he was working on another strong season in March of 2008 when he was slammed into the boards on an icing touch-up by San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell, breaking his left leg.
Foster came back to play 10 games last season with Minnesota and signed a one-year deal with the Lightning in July.
Foster was scratched nine of the first 16 games, some due to an injury he sustained in the opener against Atlanta. It was difficult for him to get into a rhythm, but he just kept looking forward.
“I’ve gotten used to that my whole career,” Foster said. “[Lemaire] was tough that way. You never knew when you were in or out.
“[The Lightning coaches] communicated with me a lot and have been honest with me, telling me what they wanted. That’s all you can ask. I just have to make sure when I get my chances I work as hard as I can to take advantage.”