April 30 2014 09:58AM
If you missed part one of our conversation you can read it here.
In part two we discuss Don Cherry, practicing with skilled players, Ryan Smyth and more.
Gregor: Don Cherry didn’t mince his words, he went after you a few times. I found it interesting considering he usually protects and defends players in your role. What did you make of his comments regarding you fighting with a visor?
Gazdic: I have a lot of respect for Don and I grew up watching him every Saturday. And then I’m watching him attack, so I don’t know. I just don’t think, I think that Ron was trying to explain the role to him a little bit, but it’s a tough situation for me. I’ve got to wear the visor, you needed 25 NHL games before this year, before they grandfathered it in and I had zero so it’s something that I’m going to have to wear for the rest of my career and there’s no way around it. There are not too many things you can do. You get the extra penalty for taking it off, and I had the situation too in Montreal. I dropped the gloves with Travis Moen at centre ice and we both took our helmets off and the ref jumped in right away. It’s a sticky situation for me and just one thing that I’m going to have to deal with for sure but I don’t think that it affects the way that I fight or anything like that.
***I never understood Cherry going after Gazdic for fighting with a visor. I did ask Gazdic about a pop off visor, but he said right now there isn't a good one on the market. It would make sense for one of the suppliers to make one. It would make every fight fair, and it would lessen risk of guys hitting their head on the ice without a helmet on.**
Gregor: His theory was you can somehow punch more recklessly because you’re wearing a visor and the other guy isn’t?
Gazdic: Yeah, and I don’t buy that for one second. If I’m going to hit you with my right hand, and it’s going to knock you down, it has nothing to do with whether I’m wearing a visor or not. Whether you’re going to punch me, it doesn’t really give you that much more protection, it really doesn’t. If you’re going to get punched in the chin, there is no visor blocking your chin. I really don’t think, I might sound biased because I’m wearing one, but I really don’t think it’s that much of an advantage in a fight.
Gregor: I know that in the [Shawn] Thorton fight you almost bent over and let him take your helmet off.
Gazdic: Yeah, and I think, that was a little
more respect factor for him. He kind of grabbed me and we grabbed on and he had
had a hold on it and instead of me backing off, and backing off, I just kind of
let it happen. I let him rip it off a little bit. I mean he’s a guy that’s been
around for a while, he’s done the job for a number of years, so I kind of just
let that one happen and I’m fine with that.
***Look at Shawn Thornton's career. Like Gazdic he played four full seasons in the AHL before getting a shot in the NHL. He then spent the next five seasons back and forth between the AHL and the NHL before landing a regular spot with the Bruins. Thornton has played 94 NHL playoff games. He's become a useful 4th line player. Their offensive numbers in junior are very similar, and Gazdic should look at Thornton's progression as a player and try to mirror it. It will take time.**
Gregor: I went back and watched some of your fights and I didn’t see you punching differently in the fight where you had no helmet compared to when you were wearing a visor.
Gazdic: No, I literally fight the exact same way, go back and watch fights in the minors, anything when I was taking helmets off before, it doesn’t change my technique or strategy at all. I literally fight the same way all the time.
Gregor: I don’t think that you can suddenly change how you fight depending on your visor can you?
Gazdic: No, [laughs] not at all, it’s just something that I’ve grown into. My style of fighting, my strategy that I use doesn’t change whether I have a visor on or not.
PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS
Gregor: Have you watched the playoffs?
I have been. I’ve been watching a lot more than I thought.
Gregor: Teams that go deep use their fourth line guys for 8-10 minutes and sometimes more. There is very little fighting in the playoffs. You talked about wanting to improve your skating, your puck possession and puck skills, so that’s got to be an even bigger motivation because no one wants to sit out at the most important time of the year .
Gazdic: Yeah, for sure. There’s been some great examples of that in the playoffs so far, San Jose with Brownie [Mike Brown] and [Raffi] Torres both ex-Oilers, Thornton in Boston has played for years and they’ve done a heck of a job, and that’s kind of what I’m striving towards for sure. In the playoffs, everything is a little more heated, a little faster so you do see a less of the fights. But that style and type of hockey from a fourth line is where the game is heading and that’s where I want to model my game into.
Gregor: I had the pleasure of playing with Marty McSorley recently at the Alzheimer’s Pro-Am tournament. He talked about when he came to Edmonton from Pittsburgh, very similar situation to you actually, except the Oilers were a dominant team back then and had won Stanley Cups.
He said after his first practice in Edmonton he said, ‘oh my God, these guys are good! I have a long way to go to improve.’ Sather helped him improve by putting him with Messier and Anderson in practice, even though he didn’t play with them in the game. Sather did that so Marty could get a feel of what you have to do to play with those types of players and he said that made him a better player in practise.
Do you look at the off-season as an opportunity to try and get on the ice with guys like Taylor Hall to really work on your game with high level elite players?
Gazdic: Yeah, I always try to do that too. I’m from a big city in Toronto and there’s a ton of pro players, so I always try to find the best skates, so I’m practicing with the most elite players I can. It’s weird that you said that because Dallas (Eakins) would do that throughout the year too when a guy like Hallsy was sitting out, he would regularly throw me on a line with Gags (Gagner) or Ebs (Eberle] or somebody like that, just kind of giving me a feel for the way they play and the way they push the pace of the practice and I love that. I’m not saying I would like to play there all of the time, I don’t even know if I could play 20 minutes a night, but it’s definitely good to practice with the best and it shows you how they really work to push the pace.
**McSorley said that practice time with Messier, Anderson and the other skilled guys allowed him to become a better player. He was the one who spent hours after practice and in the summer working on his game to improve, but Sather opened the door by showing him how much work he needed to do. Hopefully Eakins does the same with all the 3rd and 4th line Oilers, and then it is up to them to match the work ethic of McSorley and want to improve their game.**
Gregor: What were the things you noticed in practice that were different when you went on a line rush with them compared to when you went with fourth line guys?
Gazdic: [Laughs] I don’t want to be chirping my fourth line guys at all, but it’s just, the passing is so crisp, sometimes you’ll bobble a pass every once in a while, they just don’t. It’s always just straight, straight line and they just handle the puck so well. You just literally hand them the puck, go to the net, and you get it back, it’s just that. It’s incredible some of the way that those guys work, especially down the middle Gagner and Nuge, you give them the puck and all you do is you go down your wing and you’re going to get it back at some point with a chance to score. It is pretty special to see how skilled some of the players we have on our team really are.
Gregor: I found out today that you played lacrosse a lot growing up. More field lacrosse than box. What did you like about field more than box?
Gazdic: I just like the wide open game and I actually played long pole growing up, so I was defending the with that huge six foot pole. To be honest I just really liked to take advantage of smaller players and there are a lot of big open hits and a lot of stick work, and a lot of foot work. And I thought lacrosse was great for my training for hockey. I would play in the summer and it was great for my feet and it was great to keep my physical sense up. I just loved it. I think it’s a great game and I think it’s a really good sport for young kids to get into.
Gregor: Were you still playing lacrosse when you played for Erie?
Gazdic: Yeah, I went to play for the Erie Otters when I was 17 and it would have been my grade 12 year. And after the season was done, you always go home. We didn’t make the playoffs so everyone usually goes home to their hometowns and finishes high school, but I stayed in Erie with three or four guys to finish high school. It was just easier transferring grades wise and the head coach of the lacrosse team comes up to me and says ‘ I hear you play lacrosse.’ So I ended up playing for their high school team for the whole year. It was awesome, it was great.
Gregor: Have you ever played box?
Gazdic: I did. I played a little bit when I was younger, but it’s still the same thing too. It was too condensed and there wasn’t enough hitting for me. I always liked the physical side of sports.
Gregor: But now that you play hockey, it’s in the exact same venue?
Gazdic: You’re right. (laughs) To me, I think it was just harder, and that’s why I didn’t want to play it. I think in field, it looks like there is more running, but there really isn’t. It’s just kind of containing guys and playing on the cement floor (box lacrosse) that was too much for me.
Gregor: In the NLL they’ve got turf, but I watch the guys in summer league and they’re still diving across the crease to score goals with no knee pads on the cement. To me, that’s crazy.
Gazdic: There are some tough guys in lacrosse, I don’t know how they do it. The fights there are crazy too, you see those all of the time, it’s like a street fight. I don’t know how those guys are doing it.
Gregor: Have you ever been in a street fight?
Gazdic: [Laughs] No not really. Nothing I could say on the air… I’m really the complete opposite personality on the ice than I am off of the ice. I’m not a guy that goes to the bar looking to pick fights or anything like that, but I can definitely protect myself if I need to.
Gregor: When was your first fight in hockey?
Gazdic: Oooh, probably playing Junior A, the Ontario Hockey Junior A League. I’m trying to think of who I fought, I don’t even know who I fought.
Gregor: Was that when you were with Wexford or North York?
Gazdic: Wexford Raider I think, but maybe even before that. I went to camp in Erie and I think I fought the captain of the Otters at the time when I was 16 I had just got drafted. Same thing, I wanted to make a name for myself. I went right after the captain at the time. I think that he laid me out, split my eye open. But afterwards I thought… ‘Well I got beat up but that was kind of fun, and my teammates all loved that, I think I should try that again.’ I really didn’t fight that much until I got to Erie. That whole year of Junior A I didn’t really fight and then I actually got back to camp in Erie the next year and I fought the same guy the next year, the captain. I fought him again and I kind of learned a little more by that time and then I just sort of grew into it, I liked doing it.
Gregor: How do you get into that position where some days you’re not mad, but you know fighting is your job and you have to go out on your next shift and fight. Do you psych yourself up for it, how does that work in the course of the game?
Gazdic: I think sometimes I almost over psych myself up for it, I’m not even really mad to be honest. There isn’t too many times where I fight where I’m not upset with the guy. I think that’s a good thing for the other guy, because most of the time I’m not doing it just because, but I’m doing it because there is a purpose for it.
Like when we were down two nothing in Calgary and I think I
fought Brian McGrattan. It was a situation where we were on the road, we’re in
front of their fans, we don’t have much life and I’m sitting on the bench
thinking, ‘You know what, I’m probably not going to score a goal, there is a
chance I could score a goal, but there is a better chance that I could fight
than I could score’. And it’s just something that I had to do. I’m not mad
about it at all; it’s just a matter of getting myself ready and trying not to
over psych myself.
Gregor: Do any of your young teammates, ask you for tips? They’re never going to fight the guys that you fight but I see Jonathan Toews drop the gloves a few times, Sidney Crosby fights once a year. Taylor Hall has joked that he is kind of nervous to fight because of what happened with [Derek] Dorsett, but it wasn’t the punch that hurt him; it was his knee going out. Do you ever give those young guys tips because eventually they will have to stand up for themselves?
Gazdic: Yeah, I actually do sometimes [laughs]. Like every once in a while I just grab somebody, I like grabbing Nuge [laughs] and tossing him around. It’s not that I want to see those guys fight, but every once in a while I just like to grab them and mess around and show them a couple of things just in case push ever did come to shove.
Gregor: How does Nugent-Hopkins respond?
Gazdic: [Laughs] I think that he likes it. He’s always laughing when I grab him. I’m always telling him the guy he should fight on the other team. I remember walking into play Carolina and saying you should fight Jeff Skinner tonight and he’ll laugh. And then I’ll show him something that he should do and he’ll just laugh, but if it does happen I think he’ll do okay because he’s learned a few things.
Gregor: Nugent-Hopkins has, in a good way, a nasty, cheap side to him on the ice though doesn’t he?
Gazdic: He does. And I’m not trying to take any credit for it, but I do like to stay in his ear. Especially with a guy like David Backes that when we play St. Louis, he’ll pick on a guy like Nuge and I always tell Nuge, ‘If he gives you a shot, give him one back. Don’t just sit there. If he gives you a slash, give him one back. The worst thing that happens is the ref is going to give you both a penalty but if he wants to give you a face wash, get right back in his face. You don’t have to initiate, but don’t take it, especially when we’re at home.’
***This response is exactly what more Oilers need to become. It isn't about fighting, it is about standing up and showing the other team you won't back down. Toews is a great example. He did it to Chara in the playoffs last year, and he fought Joe Thornton one night in San Jose. After the game Toews basically said that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. You can't expect your teammates to do it. You need to show them you willing to do whatever it takes to win and show the other team you won't back down.The Oilers need to match the competitive fire of guys like Toews if they hope to eventually contend for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup."
Gregor: Teams will try to intimidate the Oilers because your team is so young. Do you feel your team is getting better at not be intimidated by the likes of Backes or other players?
Gazdic: You can’t be intimidated by anybody especially a team like St.Louis or anyone. I mean Chicago wins the cup last year, and when we go into United Center, you can’t ever be intimidated by these players. I mean eventually if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and there’s going to be times where you have to walk into United Center or you’ve got to walk into Scottrade Center. You’ve got to beat the Blues and you’ve got to beat the Hawks. You just can’t back down. You always have to have that little bit in you, that little side of… of fight and you can’t just back down and roll over for teams like that.
Gregor: You’re going home this weekend, back to Ontario?
Gazdic: I am going back to Toronto and starting my rehab for summer.
Gregor: You might have to make Edmonton your home. I know the fans would like to have a few more Oilers sticking around. You look at Ryan Smyth and you see what the community does when a player makes Edmonton his home.
Gazdic: It’s true; it actually is a special place in winter. Win or lose, I’ve experienced that and it is a special place to play hockey.
Gregor: What did you think of the Smytty game?
Gazdic: It was one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen in my life to be honest. Andrew Ference and I talked about it, he’s played in the league for 15 years and he said that a lot of guys would play their whole career and never see anything like that. It was cool that I got to spend his last year with him and I actually played for a little bit on his line as well.
Gregor: Did he teach you how to deflect pucks?
Gazdic: [Laughs] honestly I was in that guy’s ear every day for the entire year. Just asking him questions about how he takes pucks off of the walls and how he wraps pucks around the net and everything. Every time I saw him doing something I would just ask him questions because it’s probably the only time I’m going to be able to do that.
Gregor: For the last two decades, there were very few guys who were better on the wall than Smyth. He wasn’t very big, but he had an unbelievable ability to win a lot of battles.
Gazdic: He was determined, and he’s got that canoe paddle of a stick too.
Gregor: Did you ever use it in practice for fun?
Gazdic: Yeah I tried it one time. I was in shock that a hockey player in this day in age could use it, but he did and he made a heck of a career with it. I got him to give me one; he signed the blade for me. I have that sitting in my house. That will be something going up on the wall for sure.
Gazdic is like many of the young Oiler's prospects. He still has room to improve, but he showed this year that he can handle himself very well in a fight. He wants and needs to improve his overall game to get more icetime, and if he does he could become a regular, useful 4th line player not to mention a fan favourite.
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