Throughout the 2013 off-season TexasStarsHockey.com will be checking in with the players to see how their summer is going. We will be posting a weekly audio interview with Texas Stars broadcaster Owen Newkirk joined by a Stars’ player or coach, asking about everything from off-season conditioning to vacation time to the Stars’ Fifth Anniversary season coming up in 2013-14 and more. Episode 3 of Summer with the Stars features Edmonton, Alberta native Kevin Connauton. Below are some highlights of our conversation with the Stars defenseman, along with a link to the full audio interview.
Listen: CLICK HERE.
You just signed a new three-year contract with the Dallas Stars on June 13th. Congratulations on your new deal. It was the first time you have had to go through the re-signing process as a pro, was this just a huge weight off your shoulders?
Oh yeah, definitely a huge weight! Going into the summer I didn’t know what to expect. Like you said, it was a first for me, a new experience. When the season ended, I didn’t really think about it too much, just thought I would kind of relax and let everything fall into place. Fortunately it happened quite a bit sooner than I expected. I was under the assumption that it would be more towards July that those kinds of things would be going on. Luckily I was able to get things done pretty early here and get that thing all signed up an official well before I planned.
Your new contract becomes a one-way deal for the second and third years. Without having played a single NHL game, what did you think about getting this type of agreement?
The way I see it, for me it’s a huge confidence builder. I think that’s them [Dallas] showing that they have belief in what I can do, that their confident in what I am going to be able bring to the table these next couple of years. Obviously, never having played a game in the NHL makes me pretty grateful for the contract I did receive. I understand that all they had to do, technically, within the rules is give me that one-year qualifying offer and the fact that they reached out and gave me more than that was extremely fortunate. Something I was very happy about and very thankful for. I’m going to use it as a real big positive. It’s up to me to prove to them [Dallas] that they made the right decision. They can only do so much as far as giving you opportunities. All I really asked for is just a chance to show what I can do, get an opportunity to prove myself in that league [NHL] and prove that I can play there. The rest is kind of up to me and at the end of the day you can live with yourself if you gave it everything you had and you got an opportunity to show that. So that’s something I’m really looking forward to getting.
As I’m sure you know, Dallas announced the signing of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar just three days before they made your new contract official. Are you excited to play with and learn from such an accomplished NHL defenseman who clearly has some similarities to your style of play?
Yeah, he’s an unbelievable defenseman. I definitely grew up watching him and kind of idolizing him. It will be pretty special to walk in the locker room being able to be around him and hopefully be able to pick his brain a bit and learn from him. That’s always a good thing when you have guys like that in the locker room, as a young guy at least. As a guy who hopefully will be playing in his first year [in the NHL], being able to use him as a resource, I think that’s something you definitely need to take advantage of.
Before being traded to Dallas, you played against the Texas Stars four times last season with Chicago. What was your impression of Texas from an opposition perspective?
They were obviously at the top of the league and always a hard team to play against. I remember we always loved going on the Texas road trip. That was one thing when we saw Texas on the schedule; that was a treat heading down there. But they were just a really really disciplined team that played hard. It seemed like no matter what roster they were putting on the ice, they always brought the same game. It’s definitely a hard system to play against when you feel like it’s always the same.
You played with Antoine Roussel with the Chicago Wolves during the 2011-12 season and Francis Wathier actually fought Roussel during a game against Texas that year. After last season, Wathier said that Roussel is now one of his really good friends in hockey. Plus, you and Roussel could be reunited as members of the Dallas Stars. It’s just amazing how small the hockey world can be sometimes isn’t it?
Oh yeah, it’s crazy how small it is. I think that at this level, you just about know at least one guy on every team around the league. Either you played with him or grew up in the same city as him. I remember that fight between Rous and Wats. I know that if I played against Rous ever, I’d hate him. (Laughs) It’s a small world, it’s funny how he [Roussel] came down here [Texas] and hopefully we’re teammates next year. It’s something that when you’re playing against guys, whether they are your friends or not, you’re playing hard and off the ice everyone, for the most part, really gets along.
You have always been an “offensive” defenseman. It’s very common for young, developing blue liners with that skill set to be tagged as being great offensively and a bit of a liability in the defensive zone. Does that bother you that it’s followed you around because I have a feeling you take a lot of pride in playing and learning both aspects of the game, not just trying to score points?
Yeah, if I’m being honest, it really bothers me. I feel like my first couple years I got labeled as a defensive liability. The nice thing was, though, was that the only people who were saying that were the ones who didn’t really have any say in my career and I was hearing good things from the management and the coaches that at the end of the day did hold the decision on where I end up. I think that if you’re labeled as an offensive defenseman people automatically assume that you’re poor defensively, that’s just kind of the way it is and that’s the way every offensive d-man in hockey gets labeled. I’ve been working like crazy since college to improve the defensive side of my game, it’s something I really pride myself on and I know that I’ve improved. You wouldn’t play in certain situations if you were as bad defensively as some people make you out to be. So I just have to focus on where coaches are playing me and what they are saying. Obviously there is still tons of room for improvement, but it’s definitely been a progressive movement for me. It’s one that continues getting better and one that I’m always going to be working on.
-- Texas Stars --