For Episode 15 of our 2013 Summer with the Stars off-season feature, we are back in the Lone Star State. Texas Stars broadcaster Owen Newkirk interviewed captain Maxime Fortunus, who is already in Dallas in preparation for the beginning of the Stars’ NHL training camp, which is September 12th. Below are just some of the highlights of our conversation with the Stars veteran defenseman, along with a link to the full audio interview.
Listen: CLICK HERE.
You are entering your 11th season of professional hockey. You are one game away from your 700th pro game and the fewest games you’ve played in one season was 58. You clearly have figured out what is necessary in the summer time to get ready for a season.
Yeah, working out is always a big part of the game right now. As you get older you kind of get to figure out that there are a lot of things that you have to take care of with your body if you want to have a long career. Fortunately I’ve played with guys over the course of my career who have had long careers and I’ve kind of took what they’ve done. For me, making sure I get in shape really well for training camp and making sure I take care of the body during the season is really important, so I think that’s what’s helped me.
You were a free agent for a little over two weeks in July, then signed a new two-year AHL contract with Texas on July 16th. What was that process like and why did you choose to sign an AHL deal for the next two years?
It was a hard summer, hockey-wise, trying to make decisions. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the beginning of summer. I think I had options, I guess I could have gone with other options, but your mindset when you get to the point where you’re playing your career and you have a family and other things surrounding your hockey life, it kind of makes your decision much harder than if you are by yourself. A tough decision and tough summer, because there were so many options; sometimes guys go to Europe, guys try to change teams. My goal is still to play in the NHL and for me, I think it was the best gateway to the NHL and to get some more visibility was in Austin. At the same time, if I’m going to play in the American Hockey League, there’s no better place in the league to play than Austin. I’m established here, I’ve been here for four years, so it was a pretty good decision, I think.
You’re getting ready for your fifth NHL training camp with Dallas. You must be more comfortable and relaxed than in previous years?
For sure the mindset is different from my first or second year when I came to Stars camp, I guess. But at the same time, this year I’m on an AHL contract and my goal is the get here [Dallas] and open up some eyes and try to get an NHL contract with them. There’s still that stress factor that’s always there and you’re trying to impress and you’re trying to compete with other guys that are here and trying to do the same thing. I never let myself get too comfortable, I don’t really like that. I like the little stress factor that comes with the game and I think it helps me grow in my game at the same time.
Just looking at all the guys going to Dallas’ training camp, it sure looks as though the defense is really deep this year throughout the organization and seems like a strong group that could potentially be on the Texas Stars roster.
Yeah, for sure! I think our roster should be pretty good. It’s a matter of getting the guys together and making sure we’re all on the same page. Our coaches have been really, really good. Especially last year, I think they did a really good job making sure that we were ready every game and that we were going hard in practices. I’ve had a couple talks with the coach [Willie Desjardins] already in Austin the last couple of weeks and nothing is going to change for us. We have a mentality of winning, wanting to win every game, and we’re going to do what it takes to make it happen. It’s going to be about getting everyone together on the same page and making sure that we work hard every day.
One of your most impressive stats is that your teams have made the Calder Cup Playoffs in eight of the ten seasons of your pro career. Do you think that knowing what it takes to make the playoffs is an important quality for a player to have?
Yeah. That’s what you work for all year, is to make the playoffs. And even there, making the playoffs is the easy part. Once you get there that’s when it gets really hard, game after game. I think it’s important, but at the same time you always get new guys that come in that might make the playoffs for the first or second times in their careers and it’s good to see those guys grow in there. Some guys might emerge right from there and become good playoff players.
You made it to the 2009 Calder Cup Finals with the Manitoba Moose and then again in 2010 with the Texas Stars, losing both times to the Hershey Bears in six games. Which loss was more difficult for you personally?
Uh, I don’t know! They are both really different. The first time we went to the Finals, when I was in Manitoba, I had been in Manitoba for four years. I had played with players there for so long and we became best friends. Some of my best friends in hockey are guys that I played with on that Manitoba team. We worked four years to get to that point, it was a long process and we made it there and we came really close. It was a really hard feeling for us and for our families that had all been together for that amount of time. After that, the next year, once you see that you’re getting there, because I think at first there’s not a lot of people in the world that really believed that we could make it there. Once we did, we wanted it so bad. Especially getting up 2-0 in the playoffs against Hershey, I think we had it in our minds that it was really possible that we could do it. Finishing it that way was really hard the second time!
You made your NHL debut with Dallas against Detroit on December 12, 2009 and played in eight NHL games that year. That has to be right up there for you as special in your pro career.
Yeah, for sure. My first one was something unbelievable. You work so hard for so many years, your family has been there for you, my mom and dad and my brother have been with me for all my life to help me make it there. Once you actually make it there, playing against Detroit, which was one of my favorite teams when I was younger, was an amazing feeling with all the players they had there. The eight games I played with Dallas, I got a chance to play in Montreal, which is my hometown. So I got to play in front of about 50 of my friends and family that all came to see me, so that was up there for me. It was a couple days after the earthquake in Haiti and my family, being from Haiti, they had a big ceremony for me and Georges Laraque, who are from Haitian descendants. It was a pretty good feeling to have that too.
On a lighter note, you have been accused, although rarely proven, to be the biggest prankster on the Texas Stars. Your teammates have said you’re behind almost, if not, everything that goes on in the locker room, but that you’re very hard to pin down to such a practical joke.
[Laughs] I have not done anything in the last four years!
Since you are an expert in denial, what are some of the best pranks that you have observed over your career?
I’ve seen somebody throw Ray Sawada’s equipment all over the ice about ten minutes before practice and he could not find his hockey gear. We’re still looking for the person who did that, because we don’t know. So that was, I guess, a pretty good one. What else… I’ve seen Mike Kean’s truck, when I was in Manitoba, I’ve seen his truck get totally redesigned by flour and foam peanuts and stuff. That was a pretty good one, that was on his birthday. But we’re still looking for those mystery culprits.
Mike Hedden accused you of being behind the incident last November in Grand Rapids at their practice facility where he unknowingly skated an entire 50-minute practice with a piece of inflated bubble gum on his helmet, while the entire team kept calling him “bubbles.”
Yeah. No, I’m allergic to bubble gum [laughs] so it couldn’t have been me.
On a slightly more serious note, what kind of role do pranks hold in the locker room in trying to keep the team light-hearted?
I think it’s important. It’s our job, but at the same time we like to have fun. I think it goes for anybody who works for any line of work in the world, you have to go work and have fun at what you’re doing. If you’re not doing it and having fun at the same time, then it’s not even worth doing sometimes. Making sure everyone’s having fun every day for getting ready for practices and games it just makes the mood much lighter and I think it helps everybody in the long run.
-- Texas Stars --