Keith Ballard, who’s been one of the Panthers’ top scorers this season and a stalwart on the blue line, took time out recently to answer your questions at FloridaPanthers.com.
From Carole and Don Powell of Baudette, Minnesota:We know you were excited to play for Tom Lucia at Minnesota and Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix, but what is it like playing for a rookie NHL coach?
Ballard: “I think it’s been really good with Peter here. The energy he brings and the coaches bring… they really want us to play an up-tempo game and for the majority of this season we’ve played an up-tempo game and we’ve been a hard-working team. That’s something we need to establish around the league so teams know we’re going to work real hard every night. If we do that we have a real good chance to win.”
From Brandon Galarneau: You’re one of the team’s leaders in points. What made you want to play defense rather than offense?
Ballard: “When I switched - I switched when I was probably 15 or 16 years old from playing forward - it was something as I got used to it, I really loved. You can kind of see more of the plays develop and I think, for me, going from being a forward - having those offensive instincts - really helps in moving the puck, joining the play and jumping in.”
From Esther Gim: Who are your best friends in the NHL?
Ballard: “Couple guys I went to school with, Paul Martin and Thomas Vanek who I work out with in the summer. Some guys I played in Phoenix with, Shane Doan and Mikael Tellqvist and Derek Morris. That’s one of the nice things of playing on different teams. You make a lot of good friends.”
From Emily in Vancouver: Any pregame rituals or superstitions?
Ballard: “No, I don’t think they’re superstitions, but I kind of do everything the same. It’s more of just habit and having more of a routine you have during the game. I kind of do the same thing when I get to the rink. I get my sticks ready, kind of do the same warm-up routine. But I don’t think it’s anything too superstitious. But you have to be able to switch it up. There’s 82 games during the regular season and it’s a long time. If you’re so set on thinking that the reason you played well is because you taped your stick this way or tied your skates that way, that’s too much. The game is hard enough. You have to simplify things.”
From Ryan Mahoney in West Palm Beach: What’s your favorite band to see?
Ballard: “I like a lot of music, I like country music. I went to a concert, probably five, six years ago, Montgomery Gentry and Kenny Chesney. I really had fun there. It was a good time. I like a lot of music and anytime you get to see a band live it’s usually pretty good.”
From Stephane Kadoch: What’s your favorite city to play?
Ballard: “I like Minnesota because I get to see my family. My parents come, my sister and her husband and kids come. I see some relatives. From that aspect, that’s the best for me.”
From Stacey: How do you prepare for the season?
Ballard: “I suppose it’s pretty similar to everyone around the league. You take a few weeks off at the end of the year to rest your body and recover, but then after a couple weeks you get right back into training. You train all summer. Weightlifting, running, biking…all that kind of stuff. As the summer goes on you start getting on the ice.”
From Liz Macias in Phoenix: How do you like Florida, are you keeping your home in Phoenix, and your greatly missed?
Ballard: “Well, thank you. I love Florida. I’m really happy. It’s a good team. I think it’s a good organization and we’re taking steps in the right direction. We’re trying to build a winning team here and I think we have a lot of pieces. I think we just need to put it together on a consistent basis. And (laughing)…if somebody wants to buy my house that would be great.”
From Tomek Kowal in England: What’s the difference playing in the Eastern Conference compared to the Western Conference?
Ballard: “The biggest difference for me is seeing different players every night. In the west, playing in the Pacific, you get used to seeing Thornton and Getzlaf and Modano and those guys every night. Now in our division we have Ovechkin, Kovalchuk. It’s seeing those different guys, getting to know their tendencies, and their strengths and weaknesses.”
From Debbie Murphy in Phoenix: What was it like playing against your old team earlier this year and seeing so many fans wearing your jersey?
Ballard: “It was nice going back to Phoenix and seeing a lot of familiar faces. I had a good three years there and really enjoyed my time. The disappointing part was that we didn’t win. We needed to win there. That was disappointing. But it was nice to see some friends and catch up with people.”
From John Treanor in Loxahatchee, Fl: What are the benefits of playing college hockey rather than junior other than the education?
Ballard: “In college you play 40 some games a year and only twice a week. In juniors I think they play a 70 or 80 game schedule. They play all the time. I think hockey wise, it’s a lot different. But you look at the number of guys now who played college hockey and are in the NHL and I think it’s really growing and speaks a lot for the college game. I think there was a stereotype before that if you wanted to be in the NHL you had to play junior, and I don’t think that’s true anymore. The NHL game is fast paced and an up-tempo game with a lot of emphasis on skill and I think there’s more similarities to the college game than there was in the past.