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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Eric Cairns was acquired by the Penguins from the Florida Panthers. The 31-year-old is a 6-foot-6, 241-pound defenseman. He was born in Ontario.

Q:  Where did you grow up?

A:  I grew up in Burlington, Ontario.

Q:  Did you come from a big family?

A:  Just my sister and me. Outside of that, my mother comes from a family of eight. So there are a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles.

Q: What’s your sister’s name?

A:  Meghan

Q:  How old is she?

A: She’s 29, almost 30, going on 12.

Q:  When did you first start skating?

A:  I think I was 3 years old when my dad first took me skating.

Q:  Were you always a defenseman?

A:  Yeah, I’ve always played defense.

Q:  When did you first start playing?

A:  I was 5 years old. Actually I was a forward, I think.  I went to play rep hockey; that’s when they put me on defense.

Q:  Were you always bigger than the other players?

A:  Yeah, usually.  Then in grade nine I went from 5’10” to 6’4” in one year.  I was huge.  My mother and father spent a lot of money on clothes.

Q:  Was that weird for you, adjusting to the change in height?

A:  It was ridiculous. My legs hurt so bad all the time.  It was awkward.  They stretched me right out.

Q:  Who was your biggest influence in hockey?

A:  Bill Laforge.

Q:  He was the coach in Hamilton at the time?

A:  Yeah.  He was a good family friend.  He coached me in summer hockey for a couple of years.

Q:  He was a tough guy too, wasn’t he?

A:  He loved tough hockey.

Q:  Demanding, too?

A:  Yeah.  He just passed away, last summer.

Q:  Did you watch a lot of NHL hockey growing up?

A: Always. Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers. Every time they played, it was a big night.

Q:  Is there any one guy who you would rank as the toughest of them all?

A:  Right now, Georges Laraque.  He’s a nice guy.

Q:  How much did you work on your skating last year during the lockout?

A:  I worked a ton.  It was the first time I ever hired a personal trainer.  I work on my skating all the time cause it’s always my Achilles’ Heel, but last year I worked as much as I’ve ever worked, even more, trying to get my stride  and I felt like I did a good job and I just haven’t had the opportunity to get into too many games and show anybody that it’s improved a little bit.  I work on it every year.

Q:  What’s your favorite city to play in on the road?

A:  I like playing in Toronto because all my family and friends come to the game.

Q:  What do you do in your spare time?

A:  Lie on the couch, watch TV.  In the summer I play a lot of golf.

Q:  You seem to be well-liked by the guys on the teams you played for.  Do you keep in touch with former teammates?

A:  Yeah, I talk to a lot of them still.  Guys from different teams, guys that I’ve played with.  I have some pretty good friendships with the guys.

Q:  Do you think that guys who do what you do for a living tend to develop more of a bond with the players, just because your job is to protect them and have their back so they appreciate it even more than other  teammates?

A:  Maybe.  That may have something to do with it.  It’s just like we were talking before, they’re pretty easy-going guys and maybe people like to be around that.

Q:  Do you feel a special closeness with the players that you play with because of that?

A:  I developed some pretty general friendships with some guys that I play with.  Even guys that I haven’t played with, that I just met.  They’re nice guys.  I like when people make me laugh.  Certain guys make me laugh a lot so I try to keep in touch with them a little bit, ’cause I need that every once in a while.  I don’t like to get too serious.

Q:  Have you done any training for fighting like boxing or martial arts?

A:  Yeah.  I’ve been boxing every year for the past 10 years.  Kickboxing too. It’s a great way to keep in shape.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it before, but it’s tough.

Q:  What is your most memorable hockey moment?

A:  I think my first game in the NHL against the Florida Panthers when I was playing with the Rangers.

Q:  Do you think the Penguins have a bright future?

A:  Definitely.  Look at the talent around here.  It’s pretty good.  Young, too, so if they can keep the guys together and a good team atmosphere here. I think that Sid is going to be the best player in the league.  I think that they’re going to be really well off, hopefully in the near future.

Q:  Have you enjoyed your time in Pittsburgh?

A:  Yeah.  The fans here are great.  That’s what I love about it.  They still come out and support us no matter what we do. They’re real good sports fans.  Any type of sport.  It’s awesome.

Q:  Do you remember your first fight in the NHL?

A:  Oh yeah.  My first fight was in an exhibition in the NHL against Mike Peluso in New Jersey.

Q:  How did that go?

A:  Good, I did good.  I was nervous because I had never been at that level, but it turned out good.

Q:  Peluso was a nice guy?

A:  He’s a very nice guy. I played with him after that.  We were with the Rangers for a little bit, and then he went to Calgary. He had long hair and everything.  He looked crazy.

Q:  Something I’ve noticed about tough guys in the league, they’re all really nice guys.  Did you ever notice that?  Like they’re totally different from what people might think they’re like.  Why do you think that is?

A:  I think because you go on the ice and you have a job to do, maybe, and it’s rougher and it’s high stress.  Maybe we don’t want to come off like that off the ice.  Maybe we put it in neutral, our personalities.  I think most of the time you have to be pretty easy going to do what we do, and you need some relief when you get off the ice.  We try to be loose guys cause when we get on the ice, the switch has to go on. We have to get a little violent.

Q:  Is it hard to be in that mental frame of mind when you’re not playing a lot?

A:  Yes.  I don’t like it.  I’d rather be playing.  I want to get myself involved in the game.  When you sit on the bench, it gets pretty boring. Your feet hurt.  You tie your skates up so tight.  You’re ready to play, and then you don’t play.  It’s a mental battle sometimes.

Q:  Who are some of the notorious tough guys you’ve scrapped with in your NHL career?

A:  Bob Probert.  That was huge because he was my idol growing up.  Tie Domi, at times.  Georges Laraque, at times. 

Q:  The toughest guys in hockey….

A:  Pretty much.  Stu Grimson – a lot of guys. That’s why my face looks like this.

Q:  Recently you got into a fight with Zdeno Chara. You guys were teammates with the Islanders.  Are you guys still friends?

A:  Yeah.  I still talk to him when I see him.  When you get on the ice, you both play the same type of way you know, so you have to put friendships aside.

Q:  He connected with a couple of those shots there.  When you see it on TV, it’s unbelievable the way you took those shots. You didn’t even flinch.

A:  Yeah, they hurt though.  That was pretty heavy.  That was as much as I’ve ever been hit, I think.  I got stitches.  He hit me on the top of the head.  My head looked like a football.

Q:  The referee was holding you, right?

A:  Yeah, for a little bit.  When my jersey came over my head, I was trying to weather the storm.  I didn’t know where I was for a second, and then all of a sudden I came through.

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