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Sheldon Souray: A retrospective

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers

When the free agent season opened on July 1, the number one defenceman available on the market was Sheldon Souray. Coming off a career season where he scored 26 goals and 64 points, Souray propelled the Montreal Canadiens to the number one power play in the league on the strength of 19 power play goals – tying an NHL record.

Born in Elk Point, Alberta and raised in Fishing Lake, Souray made the decision to sign in Edmonton on July 12 and after 14 seasons playing away from home he finally had the opportunity to skate for the team he grew up idolizing.

We had a wide-ranging interview with him looking back at his career leading up to the signing with Edmonton.

Q: In your first year of junior you played for the Tri-City Americans. What was it like playing so far away from home, in a different country?

A: It was a bit of an adjustment. You leave your parents, leave your school, leave your friends and you’re going to play hockey. Major Junior is the first step in really becoming a professional. It was a little bit tough. There were days where I was a little homesick, missing my friends, missing my family and missing the comfort of home. But you get over that pretty quick, you make new friends and get adjusted to the city. I wasn’t overly anxious to leave home but once you get into a new city it was pretty easy.

Q: How was the transition to the pro game, moving on to the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League?

A: There’s a transition. I think going from juniors to pros is a big adjustment. You’re on your own, again you’re in a new city, new people, you’re starting to make money and it’s starting to become your living. It’s not something you’re just doing for fun – it’s still a sport but it’s becoming a lot more competitive and serious.

Q: Speaking of adjustments, how did you handle going from a primarily offensive forward in the WHL to a more defensive role in Albany?

A: I had to adjust to different situations as it was needed. I’ve always needed to prove myself as a physical guy, as a defensive guy. Once I was given that room I was able to do some other things, to try to improve my game in other areas.

In the NHL it takes a little bit longer to carve out your identity. I’ve had to adjust to the situations I’ve been placed in. Most recently in the last couple of years, I’ve adjusted to the new game and new rules. If you’re not able to do that you’re going to find yourself on the outside looking in. For me, it’s been a matter of having to do what I had to do to stay in the league.

Sheldon Souray missed 25 games following a shoulder injury suffered on Oct. 13 versus Vancouver.

Q : Your one year in the minors with Albany you made it to the third round of the playoffs. Any memories from that playoff run?

A: It was great. The year I got drafted I went to the minors after our junior season had ended and we won the Calder Cup and the Devils won the Stanley Cup that year. I was able to see those things firsthand.

The year I played in the minors we went to the third round, which was pretty exciting. We had a pretty young team – I guess it was like the Oilers a couple years ago when they went to the Finals – nobody expected much of us. It teaches you how being a part of a team can be so much fun.

 You go through highs and lows together but once you get to the playoffs and get close to winning a championship – or the thought of winning a championship – you realize these guys are your brothers and you really care about them. You want to do well for them and they want to do well for you. That’s the great thing about the playoffs, it brings teams together. You can ask any one of these guys here who were in the Cup run in ’06 – it was pretty awesome for them.

Q: After that year in the minors, you got the call to the NHL and didn’t look back.

A: I think I went down and played one game (in the minors) after (I was called up to the NHL) because I hurt my hand – broke my wrist actually.

You’ve got to have a few breaks along the way, you’ve got to be prepared to work hard and wait for that opportunity and do whatever it takes in the meantime to make sure that when that opportunity does come you’re ready for it. I think that was the case with me. When I got the call to go up and play in the NHL I was excited about it. I wanted to try and make an impression. There were a couple injuries to other players on the team and I started to feel more comfortable. It’s just a matter of waiting for your opportunity and making the most of it when it comes.

Q: What were your thoughts when you were traded to the Montreal Canadiens from New Jersey?

A: I think I was expecting it. We were in first place and had lost out in the first round each of the past two years – lost to the eighth seed both times. Coming down the stretch in my third year when we got traded we were in first place again. The management, Lou, wanted to make sure the same thing wasn’t going to happen again. They had enough assets in the organization to be able to trade a young guy and I was that guy. It turns out they won the Cup that year for it. You can’t ever blame Lou for doing what he thought was the right thing – and obviously was the right thing.

He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to go to Montreal, and really learn what it was like to become a professional. My career took off from there and I was able to play a bigger role than I would have played in New Jersey behind some of those players – Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Kenny Daneyko. I had the opportunity and it worked out for everyone. At the time it was tough because they won the Cup but everything happens for a reason and if you look at things that way it makes sense.

Edmonton Oilers' Sheldon Souray, left, skates away after delivering a hit to Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler during the third period of NHL hockey action in Vancouver, Canada, Saturday, October 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Richard Lam,The Canadian Press)

Q: Can you talk about the injury you had in Montreal? Did you expect to miss a whole season?

A: No, after I found out I had actually broke my hand I played two more games with it before they said I had to have surgery. I was pretty crushed. They said it was going to be six weeks, then six weeks turned into eight weeks, then eight weeks turned into 12 weeks and I came back and played in the playoffs. I had another surgery at the end of the season but it wasn’t getting better.

I came into training camp the next season and had surgery again. It was supposed to be eight weeks, then eight weeks turned into two months and two months was four months, four months was six months and that was the season. Then they told me I might not play again. Mentally it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through but again everything happens for a reason and I stayed positive through it all. All I’ve ever done is play hockey so I thought if that was going to be taken away from me I wanted to make sure I gave myself every opportunity to get better. Even if it wasn’t going to be 100 percent I still wanted to go out and try to make it work. Thankfully, the last surgery I had worked – I had five altogether. I’m able to be here today, part of the Oilers a few years later which is a lot better than they thought I would be doing right now.

Q: It’s a really incredible comeback story how you not only returned from that injury but re-ignited your career. After missing a full season, you had career highs in goals, assists, and points and made the NHL All-Star game for the first time.

A: It was a big change. I remember sitting out that season and there were a few holes on our team. We struggled to try to get into the playoffs. I remember sitting in the press box a lot of nights and hearing that we needed this guy to be on the power play, we need a little bit more of this, we need that.  I remember thinking to myself, ‘I could do all that. I’m capable of it.’  I don’t know if anyone else thought I could, maybe I was just being a snot-nosed little kid thinking I could do everything. I really felt like I could fill a large part of that role.

So when I came back, I had an opportunity again. Some injuries happened and our power play wasn’t going very well so I got an opportunity – that’s what you need is an opportunity. We started getting some results on the power play. A lot of those results had absolutely nothing to do with me but I was part of a five-man unit. Three years later, here we are. It’s worked out very well. Once you have a little bit of success you want to keep trying to improve on that. You don’t want to sit back and think that you’ve accomplished something.You always want to try and get better.

Q: Did playing in the All-Star Game mean a lot to you, and particularly getting the hardest shot in the Skills Competition after your injury?

A: I’d always kind of dreamed of playing in an All-Star Game but I never dreamed of it, you know? It was pretty thrilling, something nobody can take away from me for sure. It’s great on a personal level but a lot of that again has to do with the team and how the team was playing. I would trade any of that with a better run in the playoffs, though. That’s why now I’d like to concentrate on other parts of my game, give a little bit more to the team in other areas to get a chance to win a championship.

Q: What was it like playing in Sweden during the lockout? Was that a really different experience?

A: That was crazy. It was a lot of fun, man. That came out of nowhere. I’d come off a season where I’d had some injuries, missing a year and a half. I didn’t feel the lockout was going to last as long as it did so I wanted to go over there and stay sharp because I missed so much time.

The longer the lockout was going, the more I was having fun and getting used to things and I ended up staying for the season. I got to learn a lot about a different brand of hockey and a different brand of people. I wasn’t the only guy – Mike Comrie was over there, Mike Johnson, Zdeno Chara. It was a great league and had some great guys. The way we were treated was exceptional so there was no reason to leave.

It was something I’m really happy I did. I wouldn’t recommend losing a season of the NHL for it but it was a pretty awesome experience.

Sheldon Souray participated in the NHL All-Star Game last year for the Montreal Canadiens.

Q: Take me back to last season. You scored an NHL record 19 power play goals and your name is being mentioned now with Hall of Famers like Denis Potvin.

A: Pretty unbelievable. You’ve just got to think about the small picture, and that’s what I was doing. A lot of the results weren’t because of me; it was because of my teammates. The success we were having was because of all of us not just one guy. Other players were doing way more work than me so I can’t take all the credit.

I know what I’m out there to do, and it’s not to make beautiful plays. Things just started happening, our power play started clicking and 82 games later it showed up at the end. The scoring record is not something I ever thought of. It’s a nice accolade but it’s not really what’s important. Having a little bit more to give in other areas and giving our team a better chance to win in the long run – I would take that for sure over 19 power play goals.

Q: Given the defensive role you played earlier in your career do you get frustrated when people say that you lack a defensive game now?

A: Two years ago I had a little bit of a tougher time adjusting to the game than some people did – Pronger was the same way and he’s the best defenceman in the game. It made me feel a little bit better inside when he was saying that.

Last year for whatever reason it just seemed like the minuses started coming and we were on the ice for a lot of goals against but I don’t think in any way that I’m lesser defensively than I was a few years ago. I think I’m a lot better player than that. Like I said, I’ll take fewer points for sure, less goals to be a better player all around and be counted on in all situations. That’s my goal this year, is to make sure that whatever situation may come in the game that the coaches know I’m ready to play in those situations.

Q: After 14 years you’re finally back home playing in Edmonton.

A: Man, I’ve really been lucky. I’ve really been blessed to play first of all in the NHL and second of all with some awesome players and first-class organizations. For the road to lead back here is pretty unbelievable. This is stuff I’ve always dreamed about.

To be here and to be part of the Oilers for the next few years is something that I take as a big honour. I’ve seen how the city rallies around the team when things are going well and even when things are bad.

Hopefully at the end of the year we’re really good. If we can win the last game of the season that we play, we’re going to be happy. If I could win a championship here with the Oilers, I don’t know what else would be better.

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