Off the Ice with Calder Candidate Adam Henrique

A year ago at this time, Adam Henrique was playing for the New Jersey Devils’ AHL team (the Albany Devils) and posting a 50-point (25g-25a) effort over 73 games in his first season as a pro. He earned a call up for New Jersey’s final game of the season (April 10, 2011 vs. Boston), giving him a sample of what NHL hockey is all about. Fast forward to March 18 of this season; Henrique is now firmly entrenched as New Jersey’s number one pivot, centering two superstars – Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise — quite a change for a guy that was barely on the Devils’ opening night roster.

Some say he is even a candidate for rookie of the year (Calder Trophy), and his stats would back that up. He has registered 46 points (15g-31a) in 64 games, including four shorthanded goals and three game-winners. It seems sometimes that he came out of nowhere, but he was a star in Junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires, playing regularly with the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers. When Windsor won the Memorial Cup, it was Henrique and not Hall that won the Wayne Gretzky Trophy (playoff MVP) by tallying 25 points (20g-5a) in 19 games.

Hockey scouts see a nice upside for the recently turned 22-year-old from Brantford, Ontario: “He leads by example, has two-way intelligence and a high hockey IQ. Can play center or wing and plays his best in pressure situations. He must continue getting stronger in order to maximize his two-way acumen at the highest level.”

Recently I was able to slow down the speedy Henrique to ask him a few questions about his career and off-ice interests.

The Devils selected Henrique 82nd overall (3rd round) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and although he was happy just to be selected, he was excited that it was New Jersey that chose him. “(I knew I was going to be drafted), it was just a matter of when, and to what team,” recalled Henrique of that afternoon in Ottawa. “It’s a huge honor to be drafted into this league, and it was special to experience that; having my family there. To be picked by New Jersey, it was a great fit for me – three and a half years later — it couldn’t have worked out better for me.”

After making the big club out of training camp, because the team’s top center Travis Zajac was sidelined indefinitely while recovering from an Achilles injury, Henrique was sent down to Albany on October 14 after two uneventful games played and a healthy scratch for another. Eight days later he was recalled as the Devils were shuffling the lineup, still trying to offset the loss of their number one center, Zajac.

Three games after being recalled he registered his first NHL point, an assist on October 27 in Phoenix, and three games after that he scored his first goal; the first of four goals over three games. “We were in Philly, and it was a little frustrating for me up to that point,” he revealed. “I had hit a few posts, I was getting chances and it just seemed like one was never going to go in.”

“There was a turnover and it was a two-on-one with myself and Kovy. Being on a two-on-one with that guy, you just keep your stick on the ice and at any point he’s going to throw it over. So I just tried to get to the net, he put it right on my tape,” said Henrique before smiling and adding, “It was Merry Christmas from there,” even though it was only November 3.

Some of his closest friends in the league aren’t necessarily on his team just yet, but he was joking with current teammate Petr Sykora pretty good at the start of this interview about Henrique’s missed opportunities during the game against Colorado where his peer made some great passes that were flubbed by the 22-year-old.

“I think the other day I counted thirteen guys that I played with in Windsor that are in the NHL right now or played this season,” said Henrique. “I was talking with my good buddy (Eric) Wellwood of the Flyers, he just got called back up a little while ago. Obviously there’s Hall, Anaheim’s Cam Fowler and Florida’s Scott Timmins to name a few. Any time you see those guys or they get called up its pretty cool. I try to stay in touch with most of those guys over the year. It’s nice to see so many guys from that Windsor team make it.”

If Henrique’s career becomes anything like that of the player he idolized growing up, and the Devils can keep him on the team, they could be adding some more Stanley Cups to their collection of three. “Growing up I loved Steve Yzerman from Detroit,” said Henrique, “I always enjoyed watching him play and he had a tremendous career. I always liked the Wings growing up and he was the man; I had a chance to meet him and talk to him a few times and that was really neat to be able to do that.”

Away from the rink, he has taken it easy in anticipation of the grind that is known as the marathon 82-game NHL season. “I relax,” he said with a chuckle, “I enjoy the time away and relax a lot. Since turning pro last year, you realize that you have a lot of free time. It’s a long year though, you learn to take advantage of that rest and relaxation, enjoying your time to yourself as much as you enjoy your time at the rink.”

Some of his interests while he’s relaxing include soccer, baseball and rugby watching along with watching a lot of the TV show Modern Family, Prison Break and Lost, as well as listening to whatever Top 40 music is on the radio and “Zubie (teammate Dainius Zubrus) always has a good playlist on the locker room iPod. I loved country growing up,” he said, “but no rap for me.”

He hopes to stay in New Jersey for the foreseeable future, and the way he has played this year the fans and management probably would agree. “This whole year has been a blast, coming in and not really knowing what to expect or where I’d be. Obviously I’ve tried to gain the trust and respect of the coaching staff. I want to play here whether it’s with Zach and Kovy or if it’s on the fourth line.”

He paused, smiled and added, “Things worked out and hopefully it continues in the future.”

 

Thanks for reading, if there is a player you would like read an interview with submit your suggestions and also questions:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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Off the Ice with Bryce Salvador

The New Jersey Devils have always been built around defense and goaltending, and after the departures of defensemen Scott Stevens (retirement), Ken Daneyko (retirement), Scott Niedermayer (free agency) and Brian Rafalski (free agency) many wondered how the team could lose so many linchpins and still stay competitive. GM Lou Lamoriello has tried to rebuild the defense and drafted a key piece in Adam Larsson at this past June’s NHL Entry Draft, but one player who could anchor the new-age Devils defense is Bryce Salvador who was acquired from St. Louis on February 26, 2008.

Salvador, a ten-year NHL veteran, missed all of last season with post-concussion syndrome but has returned in 2011-12 to solidify New Jersey’s defense corps (along with oft-injured Anton Volchenkov). The 35-year-old has played in 645 games over his career, compiling 97 points (23g-74a) and now in his fourth season with the Devils, he seems to have found a niche under new coach Pete DeBoer as he is routinely among the ice-time leaders for the team.

Recently I sat down with Salvador to talk about his career, his interests away from the game and some of his memories:

Dan Rice: I’m assuming that you have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season after what you went through last season?

Bryce Salvador: Definitely, it’s a great feeling to be back after missing the whole season, I feel fortunate to be back and playing in the NHL.

DR: Does a year off from hockey extend your playing career another year?

BS: Hopefully a few more years (smiles). My body is definitely rested after a whole year of no hockey games.

DR: What do you remember about your draft day?

BS: That I was the first guy not to be there (laughs)! It was pretty exciting just to be drafted, getting that call from Tampa Bay; it was a great feeling.

DR: What do you remember about your first goal?

BS: It was one of those plays where the puck came to me at the blueline, I believe it was against Chicago; Pierre Turgeon passed it back to me, I walked in and fired a shot that went in top shelf.

DR: Do you still have that puck?

BS: Yup. I have it at home, framed and everything.

DR: Who is your best friend in the NHL?

BS: There’s a lot of guys over the years that I’ve made pretty good acquaintances with, right now David Clarkson and I are pretty close, but I wouldn’t say one player more than another.

DR: Who is the funniest guy on the Devils?

BS: For the most part the guys are pretty quiet; (big smile) Dainius Zubrus is just funny…funny-looking maybe. He’s a pretty lively guy in our room.

DR: Is there any player in the league that you don’t look forward to playing against?

BS: Oh geez, the other teams all usually have two solid lines. But obviously guys like (Alex) Ovechkin, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Martin) St. Louis, (Steven) Stamkos and (Rick) Nash — just to name a few. There are a lot of great players and each one poses a unique threat in their own way.

DR: What was it like playing in St. Louis?

BS: It was a great time; that organization took a chance on me, signing me as an unrestricted free agent out of juniors and gave me an opportunity. I was pretty fortunate to play the beginning of my career with Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis for a couple of years; it was a pretty nice start to my career.

DR: Do you have a favorite TV show?

BS: Modern Family.

DR: Favorite movie?

BS: Memento.

DR: What’s on your iPod these days?

BS: Whatever my wife puts on it (laughs)!
Thanks for reading, if there is a player you would like read an interview with submit your suggestions and also questions:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Off the Ice with…Martin Biron

Recently I was able to screen New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron long enough to ask him a few questions about the life of an NHL goalie, as well as his favorite movie, TV shows and what he brings with him on road trips. Biron is a 33-year-old from Lac St. Charles, Quebec, who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the first round (16th overall) in 1995. Over his 13 NHL seasons his record is 212-178-49 in 469 games, with 26 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save pct. He is considered one of the ‘good guys’ of the NHL, always a good interview and trust me — he has never met a microphone he didn’t like. His best season to date was probably in 2001-02 when he won 31 of the 72 games he appeared in for the Sabres and posted a stellar 2.22 GAA.

Biron finally made the Sabres roster as a regular during the 1999-2000 season, as the backup to future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and finished the year with a 19-18-2 record and five shutouts. In total he played parts of nine seasons in Buffalo, but never really had a hold on the number one goalie job. After finally taking over when Hasek left to play in Detroit, Biron broke his thumb and the Sabres called up Ryan Miller, who is still the starting netminder in Buffalo’s crease today (see: 2010 Vezina Trophy, 2010 Silver Medal for Team USA). During the 2006-07 season, Biron was dealt to Philadelphia and the following season he helped lead the Flyers to the East Finals before losing against Pittsburgh. He stayed in the Philly for a total of two and a half seasons and in 2009-10 he served as Dwayne Roloson’s backup with the New York Islanders, but he had only signed a one-year contract there. This past summer, he inked a two-year deal with the Rangers, to give All-Star Henrik Lundqvist (who has been overplayed) some more games off.

So far this season he has done exactly what the Rangers have asked of him — in seven games he is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a 2.33 GAA. So just who is Martin Biron off the ice? Read on:

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first win in the NHL?

Martin Biron: “Oh, I remember I got called up from Rochester (AHL) to play against Dallas at home, in Buffalo; I was having a pretty good year in Rochester, (my second year there). A bunch of my buddies from Pee-Wee hockey and Bantam hockey from Quebec City decided to drive up, so they were at the game. I remember Rob Ray made a joke, a funny comment before the game, between warm-ups and the start of the game, he said: ‘Don’t worry Marty, if it doesn’t go well, you’ll get over it; we all do.’ It was a subtle comment, but relaxed me before I had to play against the defending champion Dallas Stars. I played a solid game, we won 2-1; it was one of those days where I don’t remember what happened in the game. It was so crazy and I’ve played so many games between now and then, but I remember little things like that. At the end of the game — the excitement of having your first NHL win was incredible. Then we had a huge snowstorm, so the next day we got snowed in and didn’t have practice; so I got to sleep in and enjoy the first win a little bit more! A couple of days later we played Philadelphia and tied 1-1, so I had a really good week my first week in the NHL.”

DR: Do you have the puck from that first win?

MB: “I do. It’s at my parents’ place right now on a plaque in the basement. I’ve got a picture that my sister-in-law got me in a frame, and it’s engraved: first NHL win, Dallas 1, Buffalo 2 with the date. It’s kind of funny because I have my arms up and I’m on one leg celebrating the win (smiles).”

DR: What are your memories from the day you were drafted?

MB: “It was so exciting. It was in Edmonton in 1995, there was a lot of excitement in not knowing where you were going to be drafted. Was I going to go in the first round or not? I had talked to a lot of teams, but funny enough I hadn’t talked to Buffalo at all. Four picks before Buffalo was to pick made a trade — they traded (Alexander) Mogilny to Vancouver and in exchange they got (Mike) Peca and an extra first round pick. They picked Jay McKee with that pick and then about three picks later it was their time again and I was sitting there and saw the NHL people coming over to my section, cameras starting to get ready; I kind of had an idea that they may take me with that second, first round pick. I heard my name and when I went on stage I remember posing with the team’s personnel, just standing there and one of the guys said to me ‘You can wave to the crowd.’ I kind of just waved my hand and was shy, didn’t know what to do really. It was a very fun day — my whole family was there, it was a lot of excitement.”

DR: Do you have a best friend in the NHL?

MB: “Yeah, me being a goalie it’s kind of funny because a lot of guys are usually good friends with their D-partner or their linemate; for me as a goalie, you play with so many guys and you get to be good friends with your goaltending partner. Over the years I’ve gotten to be really good friends with JP Dumont, in Buffalo we were roommates together. I am really, really good friends with Danny Briere, we were roommates together in Buffalo after JP left for Nashville and then we played together in Philly for a couple of years. Some of the guys I have played with I stay close with in the summer like Jay McKee, Michael Peca — those are guys that in the summertime in Buffalo we do the family thing, going out together and always keep in touch; text or talk once in a while during the year. Those are probably the closest group of friends I have around the league right now.

DR: Do you have a favorite sport other than hockey?

MB: “I do, I’m a big golf fan; I like to play, but I don’t play as much as I used to. My little guy is six now and he wants to play, so it’s fun. We go to the range and go to the course a little bit. I love baseball; I’ve always been a big fan of the game. I loved it growing up; I still play slo-pitch during the summer. That’s so much fun during a nice summer day. I’d say those are my two top sports outside of hockey.”

DR: What’s your favorite movie?

MB: “Movies kind of change, they come and go. It depends on what kind of mood you catch me in. One of my favorite movies would be The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Every time that movie is on I get drawn to it, I like the excitement of it and the mental aspect of it; I think it’s a really well done movie. It’s one of those you pop into the DVD player once in a while just to watch it again.”

DR: What’s your favorite TV show?

MB: “I love The Office, my wife and I watch it all the time. Now she’s gotten me into Modern Family, that show is so funny; definitely one of my favorites. Another one that I like is Entourage, I got to meet the guy that plays E (Kevin Connolly) being in Long Island last year and he’s a huge Islanders’ fan. It’s kind of fun when you get to meet somebody and see them on the TV. Those are my favorite TV shows right now.”

DR: Typically, what do you bring on a road trip?

MB: “Typically I bring my iPad, my Kindle and I will bring a change of clothes depending on how long the trip is. My iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle are usually the things that I bring with me everywhere. I never liked to read much, and my wife got me a Kindle a few years back and now I’ve read so many books on that thing. I don’t know, I’m just a gadgety kind of guy, so I think that thing is kind of cool. I always have that with me and I always carry my Bible with me, we are a Christian family and with the kids; it’s always something I like to go back to. Those are the things that always stay in my bag and the rest of the things, they change around depending where we go and how long I am gone for.”

I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Martin Biron and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you’d like to see a player asked, let me know:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Hangin’ With Thomas Vanek…

Hangin’ With Thomas Vanek by Dan Rice

Recently I was able to obstruct Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek long enough to ask him about a few things off of the ice — like how big of a star he is back in Austria and his memories from his college days at the University of Minnesota. Vanek (6’2”, 205 lbs.) is a 26-year-old from Vienna, Austria, who was drafted fifth overall in the 2003 NHL Draft by Buffalo. He is arguably the most talented player to make it to the NHL from Austria, and he was able to refine his skills here in North America while playing college hockey for the Golden Gophers from 2002-2004. Vanek became the first European to ever play hockey for Minnesota and he didn’t disappoint by scoring 113 points (57g-56a) in his two collegiate seasons, while helping lead the Gophers to the 2003 NCAA title — he was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

During the NHL lockout of 2004-05, he continued to develop his game in the AHL with Buffalo’s affiliate in Rochester (68 points, 42 goals), and by the time the work stoppage was over, he was certainly NHL-ready. His rookie season he appeared in 81 games and accumulated 48 points (25g-23a) and by the following season he really became a player worth watching. Vanek netted 84 points in 82 games (43g-41a) and was a plus-47 during the 2006-07 season.

To date, his career his still blossoming, despite his slow start this season. In 404 NHL games he has amassed 320 points (176g-144a) and is Buffalo’s most lethal sniper on a nightly basis; he averages about 215 shots per season since he has been in the league and has led the Sabres in goals for four consecutive seasons. For more who Thomas Vanek is, read on:

Dan Rice: Describe what your experience was like at the University of Minnesota

Thomas Vanek: “It was great; I love college hockey. It matured me off the ice a lot, especially as a person because you don’t play as many games (as we do in the NHL). We had terrific facilities there and it is a great school. It was a great two years. I had some good memories there; we won the National Championship with Minnesota.”

DR: What do you remember about your draft day?

TV: “It was exciting; obviously I was hoping to be chosen in the first round. It didn’t really matter though; my dream was to play in the NHL. Once Buffalo selected me, that was it, I was in. I was happy to be a Sabre.”

DR: Do you remember your first NHL goal?

TV: “It took a while, 15 games into my rookie year, it was against Carolina.”

Vanek scored his first (and second) NHL goal(s) against Carolina on November 9, 2005 against Hurricanes goaltender Martin Gerber in a 5-3 Buffalo loss.

DR: How popular are you in your native Austria?

TV: “It’s grown. With my development and sticking here (in the NHL) year after year, I think it has opened some eyes back home. It’s nice, but for myself I don’t really care about it too much; for hockey back home, it’s great. I try to do as much as I can to help out any young guys that come over here. We are seeing more and more guys coming here and that’s great.”

DR: Who would you say is your best friend in the NHL?

TV: “Tough to say; I’m pretty good friends with most of the Minnesota guys around the league like Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, Jordan Leopold, Phil Kessel, Keith Ballard and Blake Wheeler. We’re all pretty close and we all work out together in the offseason. We all come back in the summer and hang out, work out, it’s fun.”

DR: Are you a big fan of soccer and do you play at all?

TV: “Yeah I am still a big fan of the sport. I don’t play too much anymore; I don’t really have time for that. Growing up I played a lot, but I still follow it very closely.”

DR: What do you usually bring with you on a road trip?

TV: “It usually depends on how long of a trip it is; typically just my computer, iPod and my phone.”

To learn more about Thomas Vanek you can check out his website: http://www.thomasvanek.at/index.php?id=2&L=1 or visit sabres.nhl.com. Hope you enjoyed his story and if there is a player you would like to see interviewed in the future please let me know.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.