For Episode 6 of our 2013 Summer with the Stars off-season feature, we head to Canada’s largest city, the hockey hot bed of Toronto. Texas Stars broadcaster Owen Newkirk interviewed the franchise’s single-season and all-time leader in penalty minutes Luke Gazdic. Below are some highlights of our conversation with the Stars left wing, along with a link to the full audio interview.
Listen: CLICK HERE.
During your off-season training, you have been working with a figure skating coach. Why is that becoming more and more popular amongst pro hockey players?
I think it’s just because they’re so efficiently sound about how they go about learning the techniques and really maximizing everything they can in their stride. You’ll see how efficient they are when they’re skating and us hockey players are so uptight and so straight. Even from a young age, we don’t really take the fundamentals of skating into effect. I think it’s coming into its own now where so many guys are starting to do it because it’s all about lengthening your stride and in this game that’s changing you have to be able to skate and I think, that’s why it’s becoming so popular.
Towards the end of last season and into the playoffs you played on a line with Toby Petersen and Francis Wathier and that line was extremely effective at getting in on the fore-check and throwing your collective weight around, really causing havoc. Does working on your stride the last few years really help you become a dangerous fore-checked?
I’ve come to realize that that’s how I’m going to be if I’m going to be playing at any level. It was nice to have two veteran guys playing with me. Petey was very good at what he did. He would get pucks deep and he would put them into areas where he knew opposing defensemen were going to be turning their heads and they'd be seeing a big guy coming down on them every time. We were fortunate enough that we got to play together for a certain amount of time. Anyone that’s played hockey knows that the more comfortable you get with your linemates the more confidence you’ll be playing with. It’s tough to be playing with different guys every game and even in between games if you’re playing with different wingers or center icemen. It’s nice to have the same linemates for an extended period of time and we were really comfortable with each other and it was nice that we got to play for a while. We just tried to take advantage of that and really wreak havoc on opposing defense.
There were rumors floating around that you may not re-sign with Dallas for the 2013-14 season. Was there much talk between you and your agent about going somewhere else?
It was a strange process. At the end of the year I’d had my exit meeting with Jim Nill and Les Jackson. Les has been with me since I was 17, he was in the room when they drafted me and I think he was director of hockey ops at the time. So I’ve known him for a while, but Jim just for the couple months at the end of the year. They expressed interest in the way I played and that they were thinking of having me back the next year. As it got closer and closer to the qualifying deadline I was getting a little nervous and my agent was saying “they’re talking.” It worked out well in the end, they got a contract done… pretty close to the end, but it was nice they got it out of the way and they had a lot of nice things to say to my agent and myself about expectations and it was nice they got something done.
Do you have higher hopes to play your first NHL game this year with a new GM and head coach in Dallas?
I think so for sure! It’s always nice to have some fresh faces and a clean slate of people who haven’t seen your game before. Especially a guy like Lindy Ruff, who I can’t imagine has ever seen me play. It’s nice to come in and be able to show both faces and all the new faces in the organization what kind of game I’m going to bring to the table. It’s exciting that I get to show what I can do here coming into camp.
Last week we interviewed Matt Fraser and he said that players like you help win championships for a team. What goes through your mind when you hear that type of praise from a teammate?
It’s humbling. I try my best all the time to make everyone on the team feel comfortable. Whether they’re a first year 19-year old rookie or if you’re a 35-year old captain, I really try to treat everyone the same on and off the ice. I just try to make things fun for guys around the rink, I try to lighten things up. On game days, I’m not going in there making these huge motivational speeches where I’m standing in front yelling at guys. It’s just little things. I’m just trying to have a presence and get in guys’ ears and all over just a sense of comfort for players and trying not to make it too tense around here. Everything from at the rink to off the rink to what guys should be eating and what guys should be doing, how they should be carrying themselves in the community and when we’re traveling. I’m just trying to make myself available for my teammates.
And the Texas Stars coaches mentioned this several times during the year. They didn’t feel that you needed a letter on your shoulder to be a leader on this team.
Yeah it’s not a big thing for me. I understand that we have veteran guys that have played in the league for close to 10 years and those guys get the letters ahead of us any day. Anyone that can battle through that much stuff is definitely more capable of wearing a letter and it doesn’t make a difference to me. I’m going to act the same way regardless of whether I have one or not and it’s just a bonus to me if I do get to wear one. It’s a sign that it’s a reward for the hard work and effort I’ve put in, but it’s not something that I’m going to be acting differently if something’s on my jersey.
You and Wathier had a massive face-to-face collision during Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Oklahoma City. It was probably the biggest hit of the playoffs and maybe of the entire season. Do you remember anything about that hit?
I can, I can. I think I split my eye open… yeah, I got seven stitches in my eyelid, I think. I just remember pushing a guy up the wall in the offensive zone, forcing him to the boards. I remember looking up and he cut one way and Francis came in and just leveled me. But it happens, it’s bound to happen.
The sound of that collision was just sickening in its ferocity. It had to be one of the biggest hits you’ve taken in your career.
Yeah, for sure! I think more so because I didn’t see it coming, it was more of a blindside. It definitely was a little bell-ringer. I just remember having blood pouring down my face and I remember the Oklahoma City bench was just looking and kind of chirping and laughing at me and I was just smiling at them. I was just loving the whole thing because that’s all you can really do at that point. There’s no reason to get mad… I was mad, but there’s nothing you can do. It’s bound to happen in hockey. I had blood pouring down my face and he had a scar over his eye and I’m pretty sure we were both back the next shift.
When you look back at the playoff series against Oklahoma City, do you still have a deep sense of unfulfilled expectation?
Yeah, it’s hard to talk about. I’m still… its two months removed now and there’s just a bitter taste that we could have done more. You never like to have regrets and look back on things, but I don’t care, I can talk about it and I’m upset about it. I really thought we could have put up a better outcome. I think the effort was there, for sure. We really did battle, but things were not going our way. They were really playing well, their goalie was on his toes. When their goalie’s playing well and we’re not scoring that’s definitely defeating for your mindset and it’s still eating me away at little bit.
-- Texas Stars --