With this year’s season coming to a close and the hockey world entirely focused on who will be the next to raise the Stanley Cup, Islander country has been relatively quiet. With the exception of enjoying some exciting games, Islander fans are only looking forward to the 5th overall pick at this year’s draft as well as free agency, which begins on July 1st.
For me, this seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Kyle Okposo, one of the rising stars of the New York Islanders. Last year he finished the 2010 season with 19 goals, 33 assists and 52 points, a 13 point improvement over his first full season in 2009. Not only did he improve statistically, but he showed the maturity of a seasoned veteran. Game in and game out, Okposo played with his heart on his sleeve, doing everything he can to give his team a chance to win every night. He transitioned that mentality into the World Championships this year where he played with Jack Hillen under Head Coach Scott Gordon. However the tournament has ended with the Czechs taking the grand prize.
Kyle gave me a call this afternoon to talk about this year’s experiences as well as what lies ahead for his future with the New York Islanders.
What was it like competing in the World Championships this year with teammate Jack Hillen and head coach Scott Gordon?
It was good. Obviously we didn’t turn out the way that we wanted too but we had a good time over there. It’s a good experience, any time you get to play for Team USA it just feels special wearing that jersey on your chest.
Did you keep in touch with Frans Nielsen or with John Tavares throughout the tournament?
Yeah I talked to Fransy a little bit after we played them. He’s such a good guy and such an important player for that Denmark team and JT too, he had a good tournament and we stayed in contact too.
Did you feel that Gordon, being your head coach during the regular season and the tournament, used you in an expanded role amongst the other guys on the team since he already knew you or used you similarly to the way he uses you during the regular season with the Islanders?
Yeah, pretty similar. I played a good amount and just tried to help the team as best I could. It was probably nice for him knowing that’s how I play, seeing me the whole year. So it was definitely very helpful.
Overall, how would you describe the experience of competing for your country in the World Championships?
It was great, like I said before, anytime you put that sweater on, you look down and you got USA on your chest you know you’re not playing just for your NHL team and their fans, but you’re playing for the entire United States which is a pretty cool thing.
Going back to the Islanders, how would you evaluate your team’s performance this past season?
I felt we made a lot of big strides and that’s key with rebuilding. We need to be making those strides to go forward and next year we’re hoping to make another little climb up that mountain. I thought that the youth on our team definitely matured throughout the year and got better as the year went on and that’s probably the biggest thing when you have a young team.
Where do you see the Islanders finishing next season, do you consider yourselves as a playoff team?
I think so. I have a lot of faith in us as a team, in the coach and management, and I think that hopefully we can put some good stretches together throughout the season and minimize losing streaks. You know they’re going to happen, you’re going to lose a few games here and there, but if we can minimize those I think that we’d have a really good shot of making the playoffs.
With Doug Weight’s contract up and there being an uncertainty of what is in store for his future, how would you feel if the Isles approached you about having the captaincy next year?
Obviously I’d be honored by it, but as far as I know Doug Weight is our Captain and he’s done a great job in that position and he’s such a good leader that until the time comes he’s our Captain.
What are your personal goals for next season?
I want to have a better year than I did this past year. I want to keep improving and get better and take a big leap forward in my game to try to push our team to the next step. That’s what this summer is all about for me.
What are your plans for the off-season? Are you going to be spending time on the Island or going back home to Minnesota?
I’m back in home in Minnesota right now and I am just going to kind of hang out and work out. It’s a long season and it’s good to get a bit of a break but the summer is where the bulk of your training comes in because you play so many games during the year it’s tough to get into a regular training routine. So the summer is where you build up your strength and stuff like that. It’s going to be a good summer.
Is there anyone in the NHL that you grew up playing with in youth hockey?
There are a few guys from my draft year. Eric Johnson, I’ve played with him since I was about 8 years old, and Jonathan Toews is a good friend of mine, we played together in High School at Shattuck. Peter Mueller also, now with Colorado. Me, Peter and Eric were all on the same team growing up.
What was your favorite team growing up as a kid and who was your favorite player?
Favorite team growing up was the Colorado Avalanche because the North Stars moved away when I was too young to start really following hockey and we didn’t have a team in Minnesota, so I’d have to say Colorado because I loved Peter Forsberg. Just because the way he played the game the right way with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he mucked it up and got dirty. Another good player also is Jarome Iginla. He’s another guy that’s been an unbelievable leader and he plays the game hard, all the time.
What is your favorite food?
I’d have to go with steak on that one.
Who is your favorite band or artist?
Right now I’d have to say Eminem is my favorite artist right now, he’s coming back.
Where is your favorite place to spend time when you’re on Long Island?
I like spending time at home. I’m kind of a home bobby. I kind of just like being home or hanging out at one of the guy’s houses, just hanging out, talking, talking stories, watching a little TV.
Who is the one player you hate playing against the most?
That’s an interesting question. I would have to say Chris Pronger.
Well then, what do you think of him picking up the pucks used in the games during the Cup?
(Laughs) That’s his own strategy, trying to help his team. I have a ton of respect for the guy, don’t get me wrong. I think he’s an outstanding player, he’s a leader and he’s a winner. That’s his stuff, just trying to help his team.
Who were you rooting for in this year’s playoffs?
(Laughs) Ah you know I try not to root for anybody, but if I had to say I would pick Chicago because of Jonathan Toews.
Well that answers who you were rooting for tonight, whether it be Hawks or Flyers.
(Laughs) Yeah, I’d like to see a Game 7. I’d love to see one.
So do I, despite rooting for Chicago in the playoffs for the past two years. Like Kyle, I hope to see the Flyers win tonight so Chicago can have the possibility of raising hockey’s biggest prize on home ice.
Okposo has a deep understanding of his role with the Isles and is aware of the steps he needs to take in order for them to reach the next level. He is an integral leader and part of the core in the rebuilding process, and he knows it. It’s without question that Isles fans can continue to expect big things from him in the future.