(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, January 20, 2013)
Where are the Sharks? Of course they are in Calgary, about to play a game.
But where do they stand now, with camp all wrapped up? It might have something to do with where they have been. I asked several players over the course of the week about the pros and cons of playing overseas during the lockout. There seems to be a consensus from observers, myself included, that those who did play are in a better position to start, even if those who did not play might be better off in a couple of months. Fitness wasn’t exactly what I was asking about, and I got several interesting answers that addressed the mental aspect of playing overseas.
Earlier in the week, I had asked Jason Demers and Justin Braun about how they made the transition to the Finnish game, a somewhat different question from making the adjustment back. Here’s what I asked other players later in the week, and what they told me.
I couldn’t do anything so scientific as ask everyone the same question. I’m no pollster. So for clarity’s sake I’ll include the questions with the answers.
Question to Joe Pavelski, who played for Minsk’s KHL team, Belarus: Playing in a different system, different team …, do you think that’s going to influence how you see the game over here?
Not really, I don’t think. There are still aspects of that game over there where you just have to play and do your thing. We’re trying to accomplish a certain thing here. We’re not trying to do too many different things. It definitely allowed you to try a few different things, work on a few things you wanted to get better at when you were over there. For the most part going over there accomplished being able to play, getting up to game speed. They were playing full speed, there were some skilled players. It was good, I was glad I went over there.
Question to Antti Niemi, who played in Finland: Playing there and then getting ready to play here again, does it change how you see the ice, see the game?
For sure, it’s a different size of rink, it’s a different speed, a different style of play too but I think it’s been already two months since I played there so I’ve been skating on a small rink for two months here. I don’t think it’s going to affect me.
Question to Michal Handzus, who played in Slovakia: Is there something to be gained for players by playing in both systems, or is it just a rough transition [from European hockey to the NHL]?
It’s up to you…you can gain in Europe. You play more with the puck, it’s a lot of skill. You have to have a lot of skill to play there because it’s not as much contact. It’s maybe a little bit slower but you have to make something happen off the puck so there’s a lot of skilled players playing there. But the transition, [back to the NHL] you have to make sure you still play a skilled game here but within the rules. Less room, so sometimes you have to dump it even if in Europe you don’t.
Question to Douglas Murray, who played in Sweden: Do you get something from playing in Europe, apart from being able to play?
Nothing directly to the game. I mean, you’re keeping your game a little bit sharper, you’re playing game speed but it’s very important to eliminate any habits you had over there, because you have a lot more time with the puck… Those things you’ve got to erase from your game very quickly. But at the same time it’s good to maybe have the puck a little bit more … when I was over there, looking for plays and such. Don’t have as much opportunity over here, so you’re more used to it when you get into that situation, but I think it’s more about eliminating the habits you had there and getting back to the habits you had on the smaller rink. I think that’s more important.
I imagine having made the transition back and forth more than once will benefit the players who have. Someone like Michal Handzus who has played in World Championships pretty regularly for the past few seasons, he should know exactly how the jump from one style of play to the other influences his game. Others might be making the change for the first time in a long time. Playing in a different hockey system during the lockout was their only option if they wanted to play, but I like to think it was a good option, not only from a fitness and game readiness standpoint. I believe seeing things from a different angle is helpful. The more you see, the more you see.
A lot of things have changed for a lot of Sharks since last season. Health, fitness, time off, all of these play into how ready they are to be in a sprint to finish the season. Because that’s what it will be from the start. That sprint starts today.