John Tavares had the label of a future NHL star over his head since he was a young teenager playing in Juniors. After being selected first overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft, he has been one of the top leaders of the Islanders in scoring with 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points in 57 games played, making him a possible candidate for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
Today I attended the morning skate along with a handful of other NHL writers such as Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank and Katie Strang, the Isles reporter for Newsday. Despite the Islanders recent six-game losing streak, the team seemed to be loose and relaxed on the ice. A couple of times you could hear DiPietro howl after making a save and attempt to smack a puck into the crowd. In general, the team didn’t seem to be faltering or feeling too stressed. Maybe it just felt good to be back home or maybe that’s what you get with a relatively young team.
After practice, I waited in the locker room for the media to finish their tours with Meyer, Schremp, Tavares and DiPietro being questioned. While I stood to the side by the laundry basket for their sweated up attire, someone brushed his jersey over my head, politely implying I was in the way. I took a step back and apologized and looked up to see who it was, finding myself chest level with the 6’6 Andy Sutton. He had a smile on his face and patted me on my chest, indicating it was no big deal. Little did he know that friendly smack could have knocked me and my 5’7 frame into next week.
A Chat with John Tavares
A few minutes later I had a chance to spend a few minutes with John in the locker room to ask him a few questions that I thought could help fans get to know him a little better with how he’s been dealing with life on Long Island as well as adapting to everyday life in the NHL. Enjoy!
With the season more than halfway over, how would you evaluate your personal performance so far?
I got off to a really good start and kind have gone through a little bit of a skid right here, but overall I’ve been improving a lot so it’s been great and I’m feeling good.
Assuming at this point you are more adjusted to playing for an NHL team, how long would you say it took you to reach that comfort level?
Every day I’m still learning. So with every day, more and more how everything goes, I feel more comfortable and I feel better on the ice.
What has helped you the most?
Just gaining that experience every day. Coming to the rink and playing all the teams and all the players and knowing what works and what doesn’t and how to keep successful.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the Oshawa Generals or the London Knights?
Yeah, well it’s hard. Those guys are a big part of my success and have been a big part of my hockey career and are why I am here today. So of course they have always been important to me, and everything that they have done for me, I’d always want to give back to them and to those organizations.
Calvin de Haan, who was drafted 11 spots after you, was your teammate in Oshawa. What was your reaction to seeing that the Islanders were drafting a former teammate?
It was exciting. Calvin’s a great kid and for him, he’s just kind of entering the spotlight now and understanding what it’s like. I was very excited and proud of him because he came a long way from the start of the season to now and he’s a big part of our future.
In general, the team has had a line-up that has been pretty close in age to you. Was that something that you were excited about in knowing that you wouldn’t be the only player getting used to life in the NHL?
My main focus is on just trying to help the hockey team. Obviously we got a young team and I think that’s the exciting part, where we’re going forward and the future we have with the young group and the young core we’re building. That’s what I’m most excited about and how good we are now and seeing what we can do in a few years, it’s going to be great.
Besides Doug Weight’s house, what are some of your favorite places on Long Island?
There’s a lot of great restaurants. I tell everybody that my favorite part about NY is how good the food is. I’ve been to a lot of good places around the mall, around the area, around my house. They’ve been great. I was treated to Vincent’s the other night, so I enjoyed that. I always like going to the movies, the mall is popular of course, and once in a while it’s not bad to pop in the city.
None really. I guess probably the beach in the winter but the beach is great in the summer time so I’d say there aren’t too many bad places.
How well did you know Matt Moulson before you came over to the Islanders?
We’ve known each other for about maybe seven or maybe even eight years. I played lacrosse with his younger brother and then we started training together and we’ve been skating together in the summers. I remember when I was about 13 or 14 starting to work out with him. I always appreciated and was amazed at how hard he worked and how he took nothing for granted. It’s kind of funny how things have worked out now, here together. We’ve really enjoyed it together.
Your name has been in the running for the Calder Trophy before the season even started. How important is it for you to be nominated or to even go as far as winning the award?
If you’re honored for something like that I think it’s a pretty special achievement. Obviously during the season you’re main focus is on winning the Stanley Cup and making the playoffs, that’s your ultimate goal. But anytime you’re nominated for an award like that, you see some of the guys that have won that award, to have been acknowledged as rookie of the year, it’s a tremendous honor. If I was either or to win it or be acknowledged, I’d be very proud.
Players such as Steve Stamkos and Alexander Ovechkin have commented on what it’s like to be the first
overall pick with high expectations in his first year of playing in the NHL. Are you looking forward to the Olympic break to take some time away from hockey to rest yourself mentally and physically as they have suggested?
I mean it would be nice to be home of course and visit my family and get some home cooking from my mom and be around my sisters and my Dad and a lot of my buddies and friends back home. But I love playing the game and this doesn’t come every season so I got to make sure I prepare myself for when there is no Olympic break and be ready for it. But yeah, I think it will be great for everybody with how demanding the schedule has been and I think it will be good especially for me in my first year to get some rest and recuperate for a good finish.
How did you end up getting into hockey as a kid?
I remember watching it with my Dad. My Dad loved the game. I remember watching Hockey Night in Canada with him all the time. I remember the first time he put me on skates and every day I was in my basement shooting pucks with a stick and always wearing my Dad’s equipment when I was three or four years old in my basement and kind have just grew from there. I got into organized hockey when I was four or five years old and my Mom said I couldn’t be off the ice six or seven times a week when I was that age and it just never stopped from there.
My favorite food is my Mom’s Veal Parm.
Favorite team growing up as a kid?
Toronto Maple Leafs.
Who was your favorite player that you idolized the most?
I never idolized really one guy the most. There were many guys I looked up too. Many guys that I loved to watch because of what they could do. There were always certain facets of their game. I always looked up to guys like Steve Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, I always loved watching those players and another guy, Mike Modano. I used to love the way he could skate. It was awesome playing against him this year and getting a stick from him. I remember how much I used to watch him play because I used to love how much of a great skater he was and leader he was. I used to watch Patrick O’Sullivan in Junior all the time and was amazed at what he could do with the puck and the great shot he had. And recently looking up to Sidney just from kind of going through the same kind of footsteps and seeing how he handled everything. Those guys have been big influences on me and I look up to them a lot.
What are some of the biggest inspirations in your life that have affected your career?
Just wanting to be great and wanting to be the best at what I do. I just love the game and obviously my parents and how hard they have worked to get to the position that me and my sisters have now and the opportunities we have now with the sacrifices they made for us. So every day I think about them and know what they did so I could play this game and it’s remarkable.
As you can see, John was courteous enough to spend a few extra minutes with me after having the regular media staff question him pretty much from the start of when he began to undress himself.
As noted, he has been in a bit of a recent funk, but that’s to be expected of a kid who is only 19 years old in his first year of playing in the NHL. The Olympic break should do him some good. He’ll get to head back home, have his Mom’s Veal Parm dinner and get to take his mind off the game for a little bit and enjoy what it’s like to be a teenager in his hometown.
Hopefully a trip home will be all he needs to help him and the Isles have a strong finish to what has been an exciting season so far.