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Player's Perspective: J.T. Brown

by J.T. Brown / Tampa Bay Lightning

With Tampa Bay Lightning training camp in full swing, we wanted a first-hand perspective from a player what it’s like to go through the daily grind of getting ready for the regular season, which begins October 8 at Amalie Arena vs. Philadelphia. Bolts forward J.T. Brown graciously offered to provide his thoughts for a daily training camp journal. The following are J.T.’s journal entries from the first couple weeks preseason.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 (day before the season opener at Amalie Arena)

I’m definitely excited for tomorrow’s season opener. We have a good group of guys here. We’ve been training together since we got started in the preseason, and I think everybody’s just ready to go. Obviously, this is the first one that counts. This is the first win or loss we’ll have on the record. It’s something we’re excited for and looking forward to.

It’s going to be another, hopefully, long grind for us again this season, but we’ve just got to take it game by game. You can’t look too far ahead. If you start looking now, there are 82 games until the playoffs start. You’ve got to focus on this game, the first five games and just continue from there. At the same time, having just gone through it last year has put us in a position where we know what it’s going to be like to go through a long season so we have a little bit of a mental edge versus going into last year, we hadn’t had a long season. We kind of know what we’re expecting.

Me, personally, I’m ready to go. After the preseason, I felt good. It was a good start and a good launching pad for the start of the regular season.

I think our group has the same message as we had last year, the same goals, the same concept. We can’t win the playoffs in Game No. 1, but we can start ourselves off on the right foot. We need to just take it game by game. Our first goal is to just to make the playoffs. It’s not going to be easy, but we have a good group of guys in here and the commitment to each other and the systems to get it done.

With not too many additions, we have pretty much the same team coming in, and the new guys that did come in seem to fit right in. (Lightning head coach Jon) Cooper does a good job of bringing guys in because everybody here gets along, everybody has that chemistry. The transition for the new guys coming in was seamless.

This will be the last blog entry for me this season. It was fun writing. I had a good time with it. Getting responses to the articles on twitter, it was fun for me to look and see that people were reading it. I hope people had as much fun reading as I had writing.

Saturday, October 3, 2015 (preseason finale at Florida)

Editor’s note: The Lightning moved training camp to Estero on Friday and will remain there until Monday afternoon. The team had the day off Friday.

All of these preseason games have been a dress rehearsal for the regular season, and this is the last one tonight. This is kind of our last chance to fix anything before Opening Night, our last little effort before the games matter, before each game means a lot more. We definitely have to come into this game prepared just like it is a regular season game.

We want to win. We’re going there with the intention that we’re going to win. We’re putting in our best effort tonight to make sure that we have the result that we want and we get the output that I think we need for game one. It’s going to feel good again to start the regular season. We have our group here, and it hasn’t changed much. We’ve all been excited to get back here and get ready to start the season.

It was a good feeling to see the puck go in the net for me on Thursday against Dallas. I wouldn’t say specifically I worked on my shot in the offseason, but it’s something I’m always trying to work on. The biggest thing was just making sure I hit the net with the shot. I had a little bit of time. Their D backed in, so I had a little more time than I usually would have to get a shot off.

Overall, I just want to play the game I played last year. I don’t want to change too much. Obviously, I’d like to see the puck go in like it has been, but I think, for the most part, I need to stick with the same things and just tweak a few areas.

We traveled by bus to Estero Thursday after the Dallas game. It’s always good to come down here and get away from Tampa for a bit. We came here last year as well, so it’s familiar territory for us. We stay at a golf resort, so it’s nice to get out there with the guys. I don’t do too much golfing in Tampa because I don’t have the time, but to be able to just relax yesterday and hit the course, even though the score wasn’t as good as I’d like, it was still fun. I keep telling myself that first golf round was just a practice for Sunday. Hopefully, Sunday, I’ll pick it up. We have another day off on Sunday, so I plan on going back out with the same group.

Hopefully, I’ll end up on top this time.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 1 (preseason game No. 6 vs. Dallas)

Editor’s note: J.T. married his wife Lexi on February 6, 2015. Today, he shares their dating story.

My wife and I met on social media. No, it wasn’t Tinder. We met on Twitter. She followed me. I followed her back. From there, we just talked for a while, probably three or four months before we met in person. That was kind of the hardest part. That was right when Catfish was pretty big. I wasn’t too sure she was real. You always have a little bit of doubt. When I actually got to meet her and saw she was who she said she was and that it was the person I had been talking to, I felt relieved. Our date was great. We met for the first time in Syracuse. It just worked out that she was going to school in Syracuse, and I was playing hockey there. Everything lined up for us to meet. I guess things just fall into place.

We spent about a year and a half dating before getting married. We weren’t dating for too long, but when you know, you know.

It was a pretty quick turnaround from our engagement to the wedding. We went to Key West last season over the All-Star break. I proposed to her there. It went well obviously. She did say yes. It might have been a little different trip if she had said no. But, it was a great trip. We got a little rest and relaxation. We came back from Key West and started kind of planning from there. The wedding was a couple weeks later. I had my dad, stepmom, mom, brother, sister and niece, and she had her parents, step parents and sister come down as well. It was kind of just both of our immediate families at the ceremony, and we got married at the courthouse in Tampa. We had a nice dinner back at our place with both sides of the family coming together and being able to meet for the first time. Since she’s from Canada and my parents are from Minnesota, that day was kind of the first time everybody was able to get together.

I don’t necessarily find marriage too different from before. We were already dating. We were already living together. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing is you get married and then you move in together, and it’s a whole different world. We’d already gone through that. I don’t find it too different besides getting used to wearing a ring. Other than that, everything’s good. I can’t wear the ring when I play. You never know if you have to fight. You can’t have anything on your knuckles.

I knew before I proposed to her that she would say yes, so we already kind of started planning the wedding already. We still want to have a bigger wedding for the rest of our family and friends. We’ve been in the process of planning that for this summer.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We had practice this afternoon after getting in from Johnstown late last night, and after our session, I went into the training room to get acupuncture on my back. It’s training camp, so we’re getting used to playing full games again. It’s more injury prevention. Things start to get a little tight, so you want to loosen it back up.

The first time I did acupuncture, I kind of felt a little woozy. With all of my tattoos, you’d assume I like needles, but I don’t. When I can’t see the needle, like when I’m lying on my stomach, then I do a lot better. It’s just like shots. I don’t like getting shots either. There’s part of me that doesn’t like the thought of acupuncture, but when I don’t see it, I just kind of let it go. It’s just a quick little prick with the needle, but after that, it’s fine. Our massage therapist (Christian Rivas) does a good job of going in and hitting different nerves. It allows for more blood flow. It relieves pressure. I’ve probably had it done 50 to 75 times in my career. I don’t have it done every week or after every game. It just kind of depends on how I feel. If you injure something, you might do three or four days in a row, but then you might not do it for like a week or so.

I just listen to the trainers. Whatever they tell me I need to do, I do. They’re the experts in the field. When you’re doing things to recover, whatever your injury may be, different things like icing is the first thing you would think of when it comes to recovery, but alternate methods with chiropractic stuff and acupuncture are also helpful. We have these leg compression boots that are used in the healing process. Sometimes, I go back and forth between the cold tub and hot tub. They’re all good methods to heal.

I have a stem machine, so I use that quite often at home for recovery. I sleep with it on. I pretty much bring it everywhere I go. It sends electric pulses through these pads that stick your body. You can adjust the strength of the pulses. Sometimes I can barely feel it, or I can turn it up to where it hurts. A lot of guys like to get full massages, but I don’t get them that often. Deep tissue massages feel good, but you need time to kind of recover after that. You have to hydrate a lot. I usually save those for the summer, but every now and then, at least once or twice a week, (Rivas) will massage a part of the body that’s tight. We’re getting stuff done to us all the time to stay in top shape.

The biggest thing I do to recover after a game is to eat within that window of time to get in your protein and try to get a good night’s rest. It all really depends on what’s going on with your body. If you’re injured, you might have more things to do. You might have to ice for longer. You might have to go in and get a stem in different areas.

Later in the season, you get aches and pains. At the beginning of the season, I usually feel good. I think a lot of it is treating your body right, getting the right amount of rest right after a game. That’s the best way to recover. I try to get 10 hours of sleep. That’s a little bit more than what’s needed, but I’ve found that’s when I’m at my best. I can settle for eight if I need to, but if I sleep less than that, I’m a little crabby. I like sleeping.

Tuesday, September 29 (preseason game No. 5 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins in Johnstown, Penn.)

Editor’s note: The Lightning are playing the Penguins at Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena as part of the NHL’s Kraft Hockeyville event. The Lightning flew into Johnstown Monday afternoon and will return to Tampa Tuesday night following the preseason game. The following are J.T.’s thoughts from the festivities, which included a red carpet arrival at the rink with fans lined up on both sides of the street to catch a glimpse of the players and a morning skate open to the public.

It’s been great being able to experience this unique event. We haven’t been able to see too much of Johnstown. We got into the hotel yesterday around 5 p.m. and today we’ve been preoccupied with the game, so we haven’t really had a chance to explore. Last night, we went out to the country club to have a team dinner. This morning, we took a bus for morning skate and hundreds of fans were on the street waiting for us to arrive. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we came up here, but it’s exceeded my expectations. There were a lot of people outside, even though it was raining, and all the fans were nice. They were getting autographs, taking pictures. It was fun.

It was pretty much a full house watching us go through our pregame skate. We’ve never had that many people watch us practice like that. It definitely gives you a little bit extra for the game tonight. When so many people come out for pregame skate, you want to make sure you’re giving them a good time. When we came out of the tunnel, I was surprised to see so many people cheering for us. This is Pittsburgh Penguins territory. Almost everybody in the stands had a Pittsburgh jersey or shirt on. But they were also happy to see us, which is definitely something special. They’re taking time out of their day, sitting in the rain, waiting for us just to walk through and practice. At the end of the day, it’s the fans that make the game great.

We were all out there having fun. I think it helped loosen us up to have all those people there. You want to give the fans a show. When we got back into the locker, the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slapshot were in the locker room. I watched the movie growing up, so it was pretty cool to see them for a little bit. They were taking pictures with some of our guys and dressed up like their characters from the movie.

Now, it’s back to the hotel room to get ready for the game. I might nap. I might play a game or two of Xbox and then take a nap. I’ll probably just go with the flow and see how I’m feeling. If I go back and I’m tired, I’ll take a nap. If not, I have other things to occupy my time.

Monday, September 28

I have four tattoos. That’s not how many times I’ve been in the tattoo parlor, sitting in the chair. That would be too many times to count. But I have what I consider four tattoos. The first one I got was a cross on the back of my arm. I got that a year after leaving college, so it’s been a while. I knew I always wanted a tattoo, I just never really took that first step. One day I was with some buddies and decided that was the day. It’s a cross that says “strength overcomes.” One, it’s religious, and, two, it’s a constant reminder to myself that you can always overcome everything.

On my left arm, I have almost a complete sleeve. It’s in the process of becoming all one, but it’s not completely finished. It’s a tiger and a dragon. They’re Japanese symbols for yin and yang. I just thought that would be cool. I still have some space to finish it out. All of my tattoos have a little bit of a meaning to it. The phoenix on my side, I got that when I turned pro, sort of a fresh start, just leaving college and getting ready to become a professional. I thought that would be fitting. I didn’t necessarily like the placement. I won’t go back to the ribs anymore. I’m glad that one’s over with. That was easily the most painful one. The elbow was tender as well, but it’s a lot smaller area. When you’re on your ribs, it’s the entire time. I did three two-hour sessions for that one. There were some times that, in my mind, I decided I wasn’t going to go back and finish it. I won’t be going to the other side.

Across my chest, I have one that says “family first.” I got that in Syracuse my first year. It’s pretty self-explanatory. My family means a lot to me. I would do anything for them. Anytime I look in the mirror and see my tattoos, they’re reminders of little things, that even though I’m far away, I can still keep my family first and keep my family on my mind.

I don’t have any plans for anything new. Not right now anyway. I plan on finishing the Japanese tiger and dragon. I still have a little bit of work to do on that. Then I’m deciding if I want to move on to my leg or my back. I’m kind of running out of space on my upper body to get them. I go in spurts. As soon as I get that itch or that feeling, I’ll go and get a few of them and then I’ll take a break from them for a while. I don’t want to get too many too soon. I started with one and within the next two years, I had probably gone back 10 more times.

I’ve gone to a few different places to get them done. It is nice when you can go to the same place and you get that familiarity and trust your artist. I got the majority of mine done in Syracuse. I had a good relationship with the tattoo artist. I could go into the tattoo parlor and just tell them my idea and he would come up with something. I didn’t necessarily need to know what he was doing. I just trusted that his work was going to be good. You don’t do that the first time you go to somebody. You have to build that relationship with them. But after getting four or five tattoos from him, he knew the way I liked things, and I knew how he was as an artist. The hardest part is actually finding that one person to go to for your first time. You’ve got to look at their artwork. You have to go talk to them to get a feel for what they’re like.

Every time I get a new one, it just starts with an idea. The artist knows more about what’s going to translate into a good tattoo than I do. For instance, the dragon I thought would come farther onto my bicep instead of just being on the outside of it. But the artist said it wouldn’t translate the way it looks on paper. It’s just little things like that. They know the shading. They know everything else. You’ve got to trust them. It’s on you forever. If you don’t trust them, it’s probably not a wise idea to get it done.

Saturday, September 26 (Preseason Game No. 4 at Dallas)

Editor’s note: J.T. is not in the lineup for tonight’s preseason game at Dallas. The Lightning leave Monday for Johnstown, Penn., and the 2015 Kraft Hockeyville preseason game Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Thursday, following a home preseason game vs. Dallas, the Bolts move training camp to Estero for four days.

Training camp is going well. Getting around the guys and getting familiar again with our systems and playing games again, you can’t really complain. My body feels good. That’s what the offseason training is for. We’re slowly but surely starting to ramp it up, getting ready for game one and for the rest of the season. It’s a process. In the summer, you’re not used to going 100 percent. Your summer games aren’t as competitive or aren’t as hard, so I think that’s kind of a little bit of the adjustment here. Game speed in the summer isn’t the same as when you go out and play an exhibition. You’re getting used to that over the few exhibition games, and, from there, you’ll be ready for the season.

Today, we played a scrimmage, first team to score wins. The team that lost had to do a skate at the end of practice, so we were primed to finish it pretty quick. Hedman hit me on a breakaway with a nice stretch pass, and I was able to convert and win it for my team. That was the best part because it ended practice for our squad, and the other team had to do a skate. We set up behind the net. I saw Matty [Matt Carle] with the puck. He sent it over to Hedman, and I just took off. Hedman has great vision. He hit me with the pass on a breakaway. I shot low glove, and it went in.

I didn’t play last night and won’t play tonight, but I don’t mind sitting. It’s good to get a mix of playing and watching in the preseason. You don’t want to sit out every game, but at the same time, you can sit back and watch the game from up top and get a different perspective than what you would see on ice. You can see what other guys are doing right and wrong in different situations. It’s a lot easier from the overhead look. You can see plays developing a lot sooner than you can on the ice where it’s so fast. I feel like when you’re up in the box watching the game, it slows it down for you.

I’m looking forward to going to Johnstown. I think it’s great for the league. I think it’s great for the city and their rink to be able to get two top-notch teams to come in and play each other for a preseason game. It’s another road trip, another time to bond with teammates. Hopefully, we’ll get the win and we’ll get the result that we want. But, I think one of the big things we can take out of road trips and getting everybody out there together, whether you play or not, is just bringing everybody together, bringing the team as a unit.

We’re looking forward to playing in a packed arena in front of a charged-up crowd. I think everybody’s competitive, so having a crowd like that, knowing the meaning of the game and having the game in Johnstown versus Pittsburgh, I think that’s enough right there. We’re going to battle. You’ve got two teams where players are fighting for jobs. Everybody wants to win. I think having a nice crowd like that is going to help us out, and it’s going to push everybody a little harder.

Same thing with going to Estero. Our trip there is a lot of bonding. It’s getting our core group and keeping us together, keeping the mantra of our locker room the same. It’s always fun to go down to Estero. We still have the same practices, the same workouts. It’s not just a relaxing trip. It’s good to get away for a little bit, go out and hit the golf course with the guys, have a little bit of down time afterwards and just kind of get away and relax. I’m an average golfer. It’s fun. It’s something to do. I don’t think I play enough to get my score down, but it’s something where I can go out for four hours and, again, it takes the stress away from playing hockey. I probably shoot in the high 80s depending on the course. In Florida, I have a little bit harder time than I do in Minnesota. I feel like the courses are a little bit harder down here because there’s usually more water and a different type of grass. I don’t play enough down here to keep my score lower, but in the summer, I like to get out a couple times a week.

Friday, September 25

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my hair, which I decided to dye blonde, so I thought I’d explain it here. It was kind of a collaborative decision with my wife and I. After the end of last season, we were getting ready to go on a trip to the Florida Keys and thought it would be a fun thing to do for the summer. I didn’t really think I would keep it over the whole summer, but it ended up staying.

My hair was a lot shorter when I first dyed it blonde, so now at least some normal color has grown back through. I was just thinking it’s summer, let’s change it up, kind of go with the blonde. A lot of other people are doing it now. (New York Giants wide receiver) Odell Beckham has a little bit more extreme version of what’s going on for me right now, but it was just something I tried and I figured I’d keep it.

I didn’t try to do it myself. I just went to the salon and asked them to make my hair blonde. I might have been the only guy in there at the time, but it was fun. We had a nice conversation, and it came out OK. It was kind of shocking at first. It was more blonde than I thought it was going to be. But it’s grown on me.

My wife likes it. Obviously, at this point, if the wife doesn’t like it then it’s gone. Happy wife, happy life. It’s just something that I kind of just did, and I’m running with it right now.

I’ve been getting called Odell Beckham by the guys in the locker room for a little bit now. A few of the equipment guys have called me Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man. I haven’t seen the movie, but they’ve given me that reference. It’s just hair at the end of the day, so I don’t think it’s too big of a deal.

I had a full Mohawk with designs shaved in on the side in college. That was pretty crazy because my hair was really long at that point. I’ve been blonde before. When we won our national championship at University of Minnesota-Duluth, everybody dyed their whole hair blonde. This isn’t the first time I’ve had blonde hair. Last year I did the flat top. Some guys on the team were encouraging me to do a flat top last year, so maybe I’ll wait and see and get a little more input from the guys and see what they say for my next hairdo.

Thursday, September 24 (off day following 5-2 loss at Nashville)

Last night, we obviously didn’t get the result we wanted, but I still think it showed a lot of promise how we played. We got down early, but the team didn’t give up. It could have turned into a landslide. The guys we had in the locker room just kept fighting and working towards slowly but surely trying to knock down Nashville’s lead.

The preseason isn’t necessarily about wins and losses. A lot of it is just getting guys acclimated to the systems. Getting into a down position and coming back and not giving up shows a lot of character of the guys that were in the locker room last night and is something we can carry over into the regular season. I think you have to look at the preseason in the grand scheme of things. We want to win these games. These games are preparation for the regular season, but at the same time, we’ve got to look at the little things that we’re getting out of it, not necessarily just the wins and losses.

It was fun to be back out on the ice in a competitive situation again. In the summer, there’s not too much contact. It’s more just getting your legs ready. When you get to camp, you’re trying not to take too many hits. For me, it felt good to be able to go out and check somebody that’s not a teammate. The tempers kind of got up a little bit between both teams last night, but you’ve got guys fighting for jobs. That’s going to happen. At the same time, it was a good game. It was a hard-fought game. Both teams were playing physical, and at the end of the day, you can’t really complain too much about that.

Last night, I decided not to wear a helmet during warmups. That’s not normal for me. I only did it once last year, but I just decided to try out a new thing. It’s a new year. I have a new hairstyle, so I might as well get more use out of it. If I keep scoring without wearing a bucket, I think I’ll keep doing it. I’m a little superstitious. I wouldn’t say there are too many superstitions that I have, but if things keep going well I’m going to keep going with it.

My goal was kind of one of those lucky plays where sometimes it goes in for you and sometimes it doesn’t. (Jeff) Tambellini found me and tried to throw a puck right out to the front. I think it got tipped up in the air, and I was just trying to establish position in front of the net. The puck went up in the air, Rinne went to grab it and I kind of got lucky. I was battling for position with their defenseman in front of the net, and I kind of gave him a little check to separate myself and give me a little more room before Tambellini tried to get the puck inside. It got tipped up in the air, and, again, sometimes they go in for you. Rinne had partial control of it in the glove, and it somehow got through. That’s not a goal that happens too often. Usually the goalie’s going to catch it and hold on. But, it’s just establishing your spot in front of the net. That’s your area, and every once in a while a puck’s going to go off you and get in.

We got in a little late last night from Nashville, and it makes for an early day today. The biggest thing for me on an off day is to not do too much, kick the feet up and I’m sure at some point I’ll be on the Xbox for a little bit. It’s kind of just getting away and taking your day off and making sure you’re using it as a day off.

Wednesday, September 23 (Preseason Game No. 2 at Nashville)

Editor’s note: J.T. will make his preseason debut vs. Predators

By now, most people who follow the team know that I’m a pretty big video gamer. On a lot of the road trips, I’ll bring my Xbox and play on the plane while we’re flying to our next away game. Last year, I had a different setup. For this season, I bought an Xbox that is in the form of a laptop, so it has the TV connected to it. All I have to do is plug it in on the plane, and I can play from my seat. If I have an outlet, I can play anywhere because it’s all one unit, Xbox and TV together. Thankfully our planes have outlets. On a flight like today to Nashville that’s not as long, I might not have enough time to play. But when we’re going all the way out to Vancouver or someplace far, it’s kind of nice to have something to do and not just watch movies.

Part of the reason why I play so much is it’s a way for me to relax and have fun and just kind of get away from hockey for little bit. When I’m playing video games, I’m not necessarily thinking about what’s going on in hockey. You’re focused on what’s going on in the video game, so you get to kind of get lost that way.

I have a room in my house set up for gaming too. One of our bedrooms is just two TVs, Xboxs, reclining chairs and some LED lighting. It’s a room for me to kind of just go play and get away. The best part about it is I don’t keep the wife up. It’s on the other side of the house, so my yelling and screaming when someone scores on me or when I die in Call of Duty doesn’t disturb her. I mostly play people online, but it’s nice when I have friends and family come down. My brother plays a lot and other friends too. When they come over, I let them play on the other Xbox so I don’t have to mess up my account.

I just got the new FIFA Soccer, but I haven’t played it yet. My team I usually play with is Juventus. There’s no real reason why. I beat Barbs [former Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio] with Juventus last year, and he’s pretty good at FIFA. So, I just stuck with that team since then. I know the main, big teams, but Barbs would go into the Italian leagues and play with teams I’ve never heard of.

Right now, my favorite game is Madden. My all-time favorite game is the Call of Duty franchise. As soon as a new game comes out, you’re hot on it for the next two or three weeks and then another game will come out and you start playing that one. You kind of just rotate back and forth. You’ll eventually get back to every game again, but when a new game comes out, it’s obviously the first hit and you want to just stay with that one for a while.

I’m waiting now for the new Call of Duty to come out. I’ve still got a little bit of time for that one though. Madden came out not to long ago, NHL 16, FIFA just came out the other day. I’ve got three games I can play to hold me over until another Call of Duty comes out.

I wouldn’t say I’m as good as those professional gamers that play in arenas in front of large crowds for big money. I would say I’m above average, but I’ve played against some guys that are in major league gaming and the different clans that they use for that. They’re pretty good. They humble you a little bit, but maybe if I put a lot more time into video gaming, I could get that good. I put a lot of time in right now, though, I’m not going to lie.

Depending on the game, I’m the best gamer on the team. I’ll take on anybody in Call of Duty or Madden. I’m not the best at NHL 16. I’ll give that to (Jonathan) Drouin. He’s the best at NHL on the team, but it’s still fun to play. Barbs was the guy to beat in FIFA. He was tough. I only beat him once. A few other guys play and are good. Johnny’s [Tyler Johnson] pretty good at FIFA. Drouin is good at FIFA too. There’s tough competition in any game you want to play, so you can always get a good game against somebody on the team.

Tuesday, September 22 (preseason game No. 1 vs. Nashville)

Editor’s note: J.T. is not in the lineup for tonight’s preseason opener against Nashville

I think preseason is a fun time. It’s the first time coming back and playing with the guys again since the last season ended. A new season will be starting up again, so it’s always nice to get some games under your belt.

It’s funny, but I don’t remember my first preseason game. For me it was kind of a weird situation because I played five games right out of college, and then the next year there was no camp because of the lockout. When the lockout ended, I had broken my collarbone with Syracuse, and I ended up playing a full year with the Crunch. My first real training camp wasn’t until last year.

When you’re playing in a preseason game, you try not to do too much. You want to try to stay within the system. If you start trying to showcase one thing too much more than the other, you might stand out in the wrong way. It’s all about just buying in and trying to get with the systems and learn how other players play.

I always try to tell the younger guys to just have fun in these games. I know it’s kind of cliché and easy to say, but you can’t let your nerves get the better of you. You’ve got to stay level-headed and calm and play how you know you can.

A lot of people think players are just going through the motions in preseason, but that’s not the case. You have to get work out of it. Otherwise, come game one, you’re not going to be ready. Of those few preseason games, you might not play all seven, so you have to be ready to work when your number is called. It’s definitely a good warmup for getting ready for the regular season and a good way to get started. The only way you’re going to get used to NHL game speed is playing in these exhibitions.

For me this preseason, I’m going to do a lot of the same things I did last year. Obviously, the focus will be to put the puck in the net more, but I’m sure everybody wants to do that. Again, I try not to think about things too much and just go play how I know I can.

Monday, September 21

I’m pretty passionate about my Minnesota Vikings and got a chance to watch them beat Detroit on Sunday. I was a bit worried after last week’s performance, but they bounced back. They played the way they had been playing in the preseason. It looked good. I missed the first half of the first quarter because I was at the arena for Fan Fest, but it was fun to go home, sit down, relax and watch the game. I have the Sunday ticket so I was able to stream the game from my computer.

I’m a Vikings fan because my dad played for them, and I grew up in Minnesota. [Editor’s note: J.T.’s father Ted was a first-round draft pick of Minnesota in 1979 and was a running back for eight seasons with the Vikings]. There are a lot of people in Minnesota who like Green Bay or Chicago, but I couldn’t really go against my dad. He retired before I was born, so I never really got to watch him play in person. I’ve seen tape. I get to watch him that way.

We got to go to all of the training camp workouts in Mankato when I was younger. My dad would be able to get us in. We would go to their meetings after practice and wait for them to get autographs. You look up to those guys when you’re a kid. Having a dad that used to play for the team, we got to get into some different areas where maybe the general public wouldn’t be able to. I thought it was cool to have a dad that played in the NFL, but back then, I didn’t realize what the magnitude was until I started to get older, started to have dreams of playing sports professionally myself. I got to see firsthand how much hard work and dedication it took for him to get to the top of his game, to be in the NFL. I don’t think it really sunk in that he was a professional football player and not just my dad until I was older.

Besides my dad, Robert Smith was one of my favorite players on the Vikings, Cris Carter too. Back when the Vikings had Cris Carter, Jake Reed and Randy Moss at wide receiver, that was a pretty dangerous combo. I got to grow up watching a lot of good players in the organization.

One play that still haunts me is the 1999 NFC Championship game when Gary Anderson missed a 30-something-yard field goal against Atlanta. He had been perfect up to that point in the season. I remember being completely devastated after that game. There have been highs and lows as a Minnesota fan, but that’s what being a true fan is. You go with your team through thick and thin.

I’m pretty optimistic about this season. We were 7-9 last season and close to making the playoffs. I think Teddy Bridgewater is going to be a good quarterback in the league. It’s his second season, and I think he’s starting to get more comfortable with the offense. We’re going to make the playoffs this season, mark my words.

Sunday, September 20 (Fan Fest)

It’s a fun experience to have the fans watch us practice and scrimmage.

Anytime they’re coming out to watch us, they’re taking time out of their day. For us, we’ve got to make sure we give them something special, make it worth their while to come out. Obviously, having that many people here today, it brings a little bit of the best out of you.

During the scrimmages, you try to work off a little bit of the rust, get the systems back into your head. Obviously, we’re not just going out there playing shinny hockey. We’re trying to actually have a little bit of structure, play the game like we normally would. You’re going to make your mistakes but that’s what these scrimmages are for. There’s obviously going to be rust. We haven’t played a full-paced game yet in a few months. That part of it, the speed of the game, it hits you in the first exhibition. It’s going to be a lot faster than what any of us are used to doing over the summer or just during our personal skates. I would say that’s going to be the biggest issue, but we’ve been playing the same systems for quite a while now. I don’t think that part of the game is going to take a while to come back.

I thought the 3-on-3 shootouts at the end of each scrimmage period were fun. I don’t really have a preference for the 3-on-3 over the shootout. With 3-on-3, there’s a lot of open ice. It creates a lot of room for skill guys to make plays. I think the point is to have less shootouts and have it be less of a skills competition so to speak. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes this season.

We have a great fan base here. To be able to see all these people come out, I don’t want to say it’s expected but that’s just something we’ve come to be used to around here, having good fan support and having a lot of fans come out to see these types of events. We got to have a little bit of one-on-one interaction with fans for 45 minutes whether it’s a picture and autograph or just shaking their hand and they say ‘thank you.’ We get just as much out of it as they do. They look up to us. For us, it’s something that’s simple, but to them it means a lot more to be able to have this one-on-one interaction and to be able to say ‘hi’, shake your hand. It’s a lot more than just watching you play hockey.

Saturday, September 19

Before I came to camp this year, I had to find a new place to live for me and my wife.

I lived in an apartment in Hyde Park last year. It was nice. I actually really enjoyed it. It was close to the rink, which made everything a lot easier. But, I picked up my two dogs, and it was necessary that I get a yard, something so they didn’t have to go down five floors every time they needed to go outside. That was kind of the toughest part of the process was finding someone that would allow at least a dog and the fact that I had two of them. I have two Alaskan Klee Kais. They’re miniature huskies. One’s seven months old and the other’s 12 or 13 months.

I was looking for a house, townhouse, duplex, anything with a yard. It wasn’t necessarily about the space. It’s just me and my wife. We were fine with the amount of square footage and space we had, but the dogs needed somewhere to go. The yard was the number one thing, proximity to the rink number two. We’re at Amalie Arena so often, I didn’t want to waste too much time getting back and forth. It’s always nice to be close so you can get in, get out. I was looking for a two or three bedroom place. We have family and friends that like to come down, so it’s always nice to give them a place to stay as well.

We probably looked at close to 10 places. I started looking a few weeks before we came down, but at the same time, you find something you like but can’t see it in person. I need to walk through a place to know if I’m going to like it. Then there are the ones you liked based off the pictures online, but then you go walk through it and it’s not what you thought. I think that was the hardest part. I kind of had to give up the first few weeks. The most difficult part over the summer was not being able to see places. Once we got down here and saw one we liked, we kept going back to it. We probably saw five or six more after we found one we liked, but we kept comparing them to that one. When it came down to it, we knew which one we wanted to go with.

We got a duplex. It was actually just built, so it’s perfect. No one’s ever stayed there. We only have one neighbor, and it’s a quiet street. There’s not a lot of landscaping that needs to be done. It’s close to the rink, probably three or four miles. The other great thing is it’s not too big. We wanted to upsize a little bit and have three bedrooms so we could have a spare room. I didn’t want to have to furnish a 3,000 square foot house. I think we added 400 or 500 square feet from what we had last year. A lot of the houses were too big. It would have been a lot of wasted space. My wife likes it. She’s close to the gym. She can run down Bayshore. That was here biggest thing.

We’re all moved in now. We tried to get most of that finished before camp started so that’s just one less thing to worry about. Slowly but surely, we keep adding new things. Yesterday I put in a kiddie pool and a sand box for the dogs to play in and dig in the backyard so they’re not digging the grass. The dogs love it. They keep coming in a little bit too dirty sometimes, but they’re happy. I can’t complain.

Friday, September 18 (First Day on Ice)

It felt good to get back on the ice with the guys.

This is the first day of our season.

You look and see that everybody’s coming in ready. They’re at the top of their game or they’re getting there. Obviously, we’re not 100 percent in game shape, like we will be for the season opener, but you can tell everybody’s put in their work over the summer and no one’s slacking. That’s always good to see.

We look good. I thought we had a good two practices today. I didn’t get to see too much of the other group, but from what I could see here, we had a good time. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

There’s not too much to showcase today. I think it’s more along the lines of showing that you put in the work in the offseason, that you’re ready to play, not necessarily trying to overdo one area of your game or not.

I feel pretty good physically after the first day. Obviously, it’s a little bit different testing than what you’re used to. You’re not really doing your maxes during summer training. That’s a little bit different, but we have a good time. Now, I’m going to get a good nap in after training and get ready for the next step.

It’s nice to see a lot of the same guys. At the same time, our organization does a great job of bringing in new guys with character that fit into what we’ve already built for our locker room setting. We’re all brothers. At some point, we just consider ourselves brothers. We’re a family. Even with the new guys, it’s about bringing them in and getting them to feel comfortable and being a part of what we have here, and what we have is something special. I think just the way that this group stays together and how close we are, not a lot of teams have.

Today we practiced at Brandon, which is different but good. Amalie is a great, top-notch facility, but when we come to Brandon, our fans get to come and watch us practice. They don’t normally get to see us practice when we’re at Amalie unless it’s Fan Fest. I think it’s nice that the fans get to come out and watch us for a few days. It helps us practice. Anytime they can come watch and come see the team that they cheer night in and night out, it’s great for everybody.

Thursday, September 17

It was a short summer.

My main focus once the Cup Final was over was to take some time off, relax and let my body heal. The long playoff season took a toll on my body. It was a grind. I didn’t do anything physical for a couple weeks after our last game.

I took a short vacation to the Keys and went back to Minnesota to hang out with friends, family and just kind of relax. I played a lot of video games, but, really, just sitting at home, not doing anything was my way of relaxing. I got back to Minnesota on July 1 and left August 31. It was short-lived, but the time I got to spend at home was great.

Working out was kind of the first thing I did once I got into preparing for the season. I didn’t start skating right away. We had skated for a long time, so that was the last thing to come around. But I started working out the first week after the July 4th weekend, started skating slowly, building, and by the end of the summer, I was skating three or four times a week.

Our workouts are a little bit different than normal people who go and jump on the weights or ride a bike. We do a special kind of training, but we usually work out for an hour, hour and 15 minutes followed by another hour, hour and 15 minutes on the ice. I get most of my cardio on the ice.

I’m ready for the season to start. You get to a point in the summer where you want that actual game speed, you want to get back into things, you want to see your friends. Now, coming back to Amalie Arena for the first time, it gets you back into game mode. We’re excited to start off with the preseason and, obviously, get ready for the regular season as well.

It doesn’t hit home that the season’s right around the corner until you come back and see the guys. I hadn’t seen them since after last season, had some quick time with them right after we ended up losing, then you’re back home, you’re with your friends and family. But, I think that first time you’re back here and you see familiar faces, you’re ready to go.”

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