NHL Player Interview: Mike Liut

mikeliut

Who remembers GOAL Magazine?!

Our latest installment of NHL player interviews is a little conversation with Mike Liut. For those of you over, say, 35, you know right away who Mike Liut was – one of the league’s best goaltenders, hands down, during the 1980s. For those of you who may not remember Mike, trust us, he was good. So good that he finished second only to Wayne Gretzky in Hart Trophy voting in 1981. That’s MVP of the league! Mike played thirteen seasons in the NHL for the St. Louis BluesHartford Whalers and the Washington Capitals and before his NHL career, he played in college for Bowling Green (CCHA). Mike won a variety of awards throughout his storied career in the NHL and for some reason, his hockey card back in the early 1980s was always one of my favorites! Here we go….

1. You almost won the Hart Trophy in 1980-81 as the NHL’s most valuable player. You ended up a runner-up to some guy…….let’s see……Wayne something? Gretz…….? Anyway, it’s hard to remember his name. How did you, as a 25 year old, react to being named a candidate? That must have been wild!

Mike Liut hockey card

Sick mask!

It was my second year in St. Louis; as a team we had a great regular season finishing second overall to the Islanders. I think we had 8 players who scored 20 or more goals and Wayne Babych reached the 50 goal milestone.  We invented ways to win that season, everyone pulling in the same direction and definitely a lot of fun.  When a team has that type of season, the credit can fall unevenly. It was very satisfying to be recognized in the Hart Trophy voting, finishing second to Wayne in what was, at the time, the closest balloting ever and winning (what is now) the Ted Lyndsay award from the players – that was very special.  Unfortunately, we had a very difficult first round win against the Penguins and we were forced to play 11 games in 17 days, plus overtime, which ended in a second round loss to the Rangers, a team we had beaten 4 times during the regular season. So…in the end it did not feel much like a successful season, that loss over-shadowed everything that season.

2. As a gear shop, we have to ask a couple of gear questions. Were you picky about your equipment when you played? If so, what were you most picky about?

I’m dating myself, but we really had two equipment companies, Cooper (eventually acquired by Bauer) and CCM; we did not have the luxury of being picky! I used Cooper gloves/pads and Bauer skates. The knee section wrapped around to the inside of my knee which allowed me to butterfly – most goalies played a stand-up style – so the Cooper equipment fit my style and once I found equipment that worked I would stay with it.  I used Bauer skates and John Brown arm gear for my entire career also.

3. That said, who in your career was the MOST picky about equipment? Forwards or goalies apply.

I am not sure any of us had the luxury of being picky, the options were just as shallow for skaters.  I think players spent their time on their sticks; everyone (scorer or otherwise) shaved, torched and taped their sticks to perfection; you can do that with wood!  There – I dated myself again!

Liut, Michael

This man stopped a lot of rubber.

4. As you look back, is there a single moment or game in your career that you find the most memorable?

I was privileged to have had a long career, but the highs and lows of a career meld together unless you win the Cup.  The team and league awards/milestones are great, but winning is the only statistic that matters, so its the only truly memorable moment.  During my 15 year career the Canadiens, Islanders, Oilers, and Penguins won 14 of the 15 Stanley Cups with the Flames winning the other one on a bit of a fluke, if you remember, when they upset the Oilers.

(editors note: oh, we remember!)

5. You are a second cousin to Hall-of-Famer Ron Francis, whom you played with in Hartford. Were you guys close growing up? If so, there must have been some hellacious backyard hockey games going on. Who got the better of who?

Ron and I actually grew up 500 miles and seven years apart so we did not grow up knowing each other.  My dad saw Ron play when he was playing midget for the Soo and that is when I became aware of him (I think it was my second pro season and Dad said he would be in the NHL shortly – I think 3 years later).  As I was seven years older, I think I would have gotten the better of him based on age, but Ron was playing on those Penguin teams that won the Cup and I was with the Caps…..he definitely got the better of me then!

6. Now in your post-player days as an agent with Octagon, we’re sure you find a lot of satisfaction in the success of the players you represent on and off the ice. Did you always know that you’d be involved in hockey after your playing days? What do you think you would have done for a career had hockey not been an option?

I attended law school immediately after my career finished, which I had somewhat thought about while in college, but the opportunity was presented to me and I was encouraged to go in that direction.  I think I always thought I would stay connected to hockey (I turned down jobs at ESPN and with an NHL team as a goalie coach to attend law school); hockey is a passion to play and compete. With the friendships that you develop, it is hard to walk away from it completely.  If I had not joined Octagon I would have practiced law in Michigan, but I think I would have had a touch with hockey as part of that law practice as opposed to being fully embedded in hockey and touching the law in support of our hockey clients or in some of the other non-hockey roles I have filled with Octagon.

Big thanks to Mike for taking the time to chat with us. So cool.


Interview with David Warsofsky of the Providence Bruins

David Warsofsky

Today we spend a few minutes with Providence Bruins defenseman David Warsofsky. The Marshfield, MA native played his school hockey in Massachusetts, college hockey at BU and is now in the Boston Bruins system. We talk with David about the thrill of playing all of his organized hockey in his home state and a bunch of other stuff that we think you’ll find pretty interesting. Off we go…..

1. You’re a guy who played prep school in Massachusetts, college at BU and are now in the Bruins system – all Massachusetts! Do you ever wake up and feel lucky, man!? Before coming into the Bruins system, you were a part of the Blues organization. Did it ever enter your mind that you’d be where you are now? What crossed your mind when you got the call that you were coming into the organization you grew up rooting for?
Everyday I wake up and feel very lucky to be in the situation that I’m in today. I get to play the sport I love as my profession – and I get to do it all in front of my family and friends! I had only ever dreamt about playing for the Bruins organization. When I first got drafted by the Blues I thought I would play my whole career there. When I first got the call that I was coming back to Boston, I was just in shock. It took a little while for it to set in that I was actually part of the Bruins organization. It was a call that every kid playing hockey in this area dreams about every day and I will remember it my whole life.

2. As a gear shop, we have to talk some gear. The pro players we talk to run the gamut from not being interested at all in their gear all the way up to being completely obsessed. How picky are you about it? Are you the type to let stuff literally fall apart before replacing it or are you really into the newest, the gear technology, etc?
I would say I’m somewhere in the middle of being very picky and then not really caring. I think it all depends on what type of gear we’re talking about. I like to have new gloves, skates and sticks, obviously. But things like my elbow pads, shoulder pads and shin pads are usually pretty worn down. I do enjoy when the new gear comes out, the technology and to test it all out.

3. With that said, is there one piece of equipment you’re most picky about? 
I think every hockey player is very picky about their skates and sticks. I need to have my particular curve and flex, but after that I can get used to pretty much any type of stick. After that I would say I’m most picky about my gloves. I have to be able to feel the stick and be comfortable with the gloves.

4. You mentioned you used to shop at the Pure Hockey store in Braintree when you were younger. In your memory, was it just a means to get gear for you or did you look at it the way tech-geeks look at going to the Apple store?! (we won’t be offended, promise). Would you ever just go there to look at all the stuff?
I would go to Pure Hockey to get all my equiptment needs, everything from base layer to skates and sticks and when I was there I would check out all the new gear that was coming out. I have three older brothers who all played, so if I didn’t need anything I would always go with them to look around and pick things out for them. As I got older and started to understand the difference between the equiptment better, I think I looked at it in more of tech type of way.

5. What was the last thing you laughed really hard at?  
I have two little nephews and they both love hockey. So whenever I go over their house to babysit they always want to play mini hockey. Well, the youngest one got his stick up a little too high and ended up giving me a black eye. Not so funny at the time, but after it happened I couldn’t help but laugh!

6. Is there one particular goal you’ve scored (or prevented) that is your most memorable?
I would say my most memorable goal was at Fenway Park, where I got to play in the outdoor game against Boston College. I had just gotten back from the World Junior Championships and went straight to Fenway for the game! I scored the first goal in the game and we also ended up winning, so that was a pretty special goal for me.

7. Who is the toughest player you know? I don’t mean fighting, I mean what teammate or player you know is THE guy who would get hit by a truck in the afternoon and be in the lineup that night?
I would have to say Bobby Robbins.  He is – hands down – one of the toughest guys I have ever played with. He will fight anybody or do anything to help the team win. I have seen him stick up for teammates numerous times. It takes a certain type of guy to do that. ?

8. Having come out of BU, you’re probably somewhat used to the AHL level schedule where most games are played on weekends. Do you ever find yourself ever-so-slightly rusty when the puck drops on a Friday night (after 4-5 days of no game) and conversely, are you feeling a little gassed in the 3rd period on Sundays?
When I first turned pro it was definitely an adjustment but I think over the months I have gotten more used to it. The most important thing is to stay focused during the week and make sure you are always working hard in practice. The staff down here in Providence does a good job keeping us in game shape over the course of the week. I think Sundays are the toughest games to play in – it’s usually the third game in three nights and its important to stay mentally focused for those games.

Big thanks and continued good luck to David this season!

Interview with Hal Gill of The Nashville Predators

By Jeff Copetas, VP of Marketing & E-Commerce

Joining us the second time for an interview on our blog is the Nashville Predators defensamen Hal Gill, now an NHL veteran of five teams and 10+ years in the league. We talk with Hal about playing in Nashville vs. the more pressure packed cities he’s played in, what he might do after his hockey career is over and what series/games he’d like to have back. This interview was conducted on Saturday, one day before the lockout ended. Here we go…..

This will be the only lockout question: It’s safe to say the lockout sucks on many levels, but let’s try to spin it positive. Besides the obvious answer of getting to spend the extra valuable time with your kids and family, what other positives have you been able to wrestle out of this lockout? 

I guess I get some rest. Maybe I can add another season to my career. Really not much good comes from any of this CBA foolishness.

You’ve now run the gamut of pressure cookers, or lack thereof. Not belittling Nashville in any way, but playing in Boston, Toronto and Montreal – and then playing in Nashville – that has got to be completely different experience. Does the scrutiny or attention you get as a player in Montreal, for example, help your game and do you wonder and/or worry about how you may respond to just PLAYING without all the other stuff buzzing around?
When you are in a big market, there is a lot of noise so you can easily ignore it.  In a smaller market it is quiet a lot, so when there is an event, then things get loud real quick.  In the end, it’s all the same when you get out on the ice.
In our last interview, we asked about your most memorable goal and your response was that you couldn’t really think of one and that most of your good memories are of blocked shots. So now you know the next question – is there really one particular blocked shot you can cite? Or is it just the general collective pride of doing so? 
The best feeling is making a difference in a win. If I have a nice bruise from a blocked shot that won a game, then that’s like a goal for me.  I guess it’s a badge of honor.
There are endless websites and discussion forums chock full of youth and high school players who are OBSESSED about the technical features and the ins-and-outs of hockey equipment. Equipment doesn’t make the player, I think that’s obvious.  With that said, who would you say is a teammate you’ve had who was the most “into” their gear?
I played with Michael Cammalleri. He is very in tune with his gear – especially his skates and sticks.  I am comfortable with most gear.  Consistency is my biggest worry. I want each stick to be the same.
You are now 37. Congratulations! You’ve played a lot of games in the NHL – can you put into words somehow what it feels like as a 37 year old compared to, say, a 25 year old? Does the 37 year old Gill still feel the WOW factor when you step onto the ice in front of 15,000+, for example? Or is it something different now?
I still get the butterflies (man i miss those), but now my full attention is on winning.  When I was 25, there were more thoughts on ice time, contract and things of that nature.  I wish I knew then that it ALL comes together when you win.
You played through the playoffs this past season with a fractured tibia that had to be “frozen” before each game. Can you explain that process? Are you simply dipping that thing into a tub of ice for a while? Or is it more medical than that? That seems insane. Admirably insane, that is. 

Thank you but I think when you get “needled” to go out and play, it’s something that most players have done just the same, so it isn’t that big of a deal. What is a big deal is the way you play. When you can elevate your game while injured, then that is remarkable.

As a New Englander, you grew up a Bruins fan. Are you still? The vibe we get from a lot of NHL players we talk to is that as the years go by, you find yourself becoming a fan of the team for which your closest friends play for as opposed to a particular team. 
Not really. I still havent gotten over my Hab days where they (Boston) beat us in 7. I’d give anything to get that one back.
Finally, do you think about post-career stuff yet? Do you want to stay in hockey somehow? Twitter for a few years and relax? Start a brewery? 

Haha, that all sounds good! I would love to get involved in coaching on some level and I will always support breweries – maybe not start one though!
Big thanks to Hal Gill for the time – and we are glad we were able to catch him before camp started.


Interview with Todd Skirving of the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede

We are on the cusp of another hockey season for pretty much all players now. Except the NHL, of course. While the NHL and NHLPA are entangled in their complicated web of dollars, all other professional organizations are ramping it up and getting ready to press the GO TIME button. So we thought it made sense to check in once again with Todd Skirving, forward for Sioux Falls of the USHL. In our last interview with Todd, he walked us through his typical offseason, among a few other things. This time around we’re talking about getting prepared for another season and some memorable games from past seasons.

A few of you have asked how we found Todd. Simple answer. We don’t have any endorsement deals or any kind of contract with Todd. Our Marketing team simply found him on Twitter and sent him a DM! He was a willing participant and is clearly a well-spoken, intelligent kid. Here we go…..

Growing up, who was your favorite hockey player?
Growing up as a kid I would have to say my favorite hockey player would be our home town hero Patrick Sharp. During my childhood I’ve had the pleasure to watch “Sharpy” grow not only as a person but as a player when he suited up for the Thunder Bay Flyers of the USHL. I had the opportunity to get my picture taken with Patrick when I was 8 years old and that picture still hangs up on my wall with his autograph to this day. Ever since then he has become my role model and a hockey player I look up to. I am fortunate enough to train and skate with him during the off season every summer. Patrick is always quick to offer me advice both on and off the ice and pushes me to be my best. He carries himself very well and is always giving back to the community. He constantly makes time for others even through the busy schedule that every NHL player experiences. He is a true hockey leader who plays with passion and determination and I can’t think of another player I would want to pattern myself after.

Who was the biggest inspiration for you throughout your hockey career?
My biggest inspiration for me throughout my hockey career and to this day has been my parents. My Mom and Dad have been there for me since day one and have been by my side day after day through thick and thin. They aren’t just my parents but they are my biggest supporters and motivators. They both have worked hard for me to strive to be my best whether it be as a hockey player or as a productive member in life. They’ve had their fair share of early mornings taking me to practice during my Midget AAA days where I played for the Thunder Bay Kings. All the miles driven and missed days of work really helped me to be where I am today. They have sacrificed many things for me and basically put me ahead of themselves. To this day I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done for me. I am truly grateful to have the parents that I have. They care so much about my well-being and have put my dreams ahead of their own. I love them both very much and want them to know that I cherish all the little things and commitments they have made to me throughout my young life thus far.

Now that we’re getting close to a new season, what changes for you in terms of physical preparation – and mental?
Now that we’re into our main training camp the physical and mental preparation is different. You want to train and practice at a high intensity and simulate game speed as much as possible. You want to get out of summer mode and get back after it. It’s a time to get yourself back into actual game speed. In the USHL teams are fortunate enough to have preseason games and also take part in the fall classic. Since I’ve trained all summer it makes it a great tool to see where I’ve brought my game to from the previous season. It’s very important to utilize these efforts and mentally prepare myself for game days. In the summer I would physically and mentally prepare myself for workouts. Now that the season is close to getting underway, it’s time to dial in on we’ve worked on in practices to prepare yourself for weekend games.

If someone was to offer you a vacation to any place in the whole world, where you want to go? … And why?
If someone was to offer me a vacation to any place in the whole world I would want to take a visit to the beautiful country of Italy. Many reasons for this include the fact that my Moms side of the family mostly all lives in Europe. It would be great to experience their lifestyle and enjoy the different culture aspects of the Italians. I think it would be a treat to try out the different types of food of their culture compared to what we eat here in Canada. I’m fortunate enough to have my Nonna (grandma) make me some of her special Italian recipes which include spaghetti, cabbage rolls and lasagna. Most grandmas are amazing cooks, but with her I get to experience the great meals passed on to her from her family. I have an amazing Nonna who takes good care of my family and I at all times. She has always been there for me with both moral and financial support since I chose hockey as my preferred sport.

Most hockey players are aware that the locker room can be a place for fun and games some of the time. Have you witnessed any good pranks in the locker room during your career?
I have witnessed some good pranks in the locker room during my career and have been one of those guys that pull them. Most pranks are just for the excitement of all of the guys and some may be because of revenge due to previous pranks. Whether it’s one or the other it’s always in good fun and the guys always get a laugh from it. One good prank is semi cutting the guys’ lace so when he goes to tie his skates up before practice the lace breaks forcing him to re-lace his skate. Another classic prank is the water in the shinpads. In most locker rooms, players put there shinpads on top of their stall. Since it is so high up the player can’t see the full cup of water sitting in his shinpad and when he pulls it down the water dumps all over him. Recently a player on my team figured a way to put that cup of water inside the skate while it hangs upside down in our stall. That probably has to be one of the worst ones yet as you go on the ice with a skate soaked in water. You go to put your skate on and the water cup tips all inside your skate. As most people know, the equipment managers have free time periodically on their hands so you never want to mess with them or get on their bad side. We once showed up to the rink during the first few winter cold days to all the players equipment sitting in a cart soaked and somewhat frozen. It had been put in the shower and left out in the cold to freeze. You never want to mess the equipment guy as they will always get the last laugh! All in fun and definitely keeps everybody loose.

What was the most memorable game that you have ever played in?
Everyone has probably had some personal highlight nights and I’m sure most people can’t say those would ever be more memorable than a championship. I did however win a city championship back in my 15 year old season with the Current River Comets, but I feel that winning the Kelowna International Major Midget Tournament in British Columbia and being crowned champions was probably one of my most memorable weeks during my 16 year old season. I played for the Thunder Bay Major Midget Kings program back in Thunder Bay, Ontario my 16 and 17 year old seasons. It was a weeklong tournament and definitely a grind. A lot had transpired throughout the week from flight delays forcing us to be late, almost landing on top of another plane, being frozen shut inside the shuttle bus, sleeping in airports, having a full out team brawl, and even missing a few more days of school than expected right before final exams for our first semester. It was a week where we had to come together as a unit in a very short period of time. You have to learn from your mistakes quickly and overcome the adversity. We lost our first game and then our second game in a shootout which led to a post-game handshake brawl against another Ontario team at the time No. 2 Hamilton Red Wings who we were battling with for No. 1 in the province. That point turned out to be huge. We played the next game short due to suspensions and we won the rest of our round robin games. Every team that needed to either lose or win did and we found ourselves in the semis finals against No. 3 in America Colorado ThunderBirds. We went onto win that game 3 to 1 and of course met the Ontario rival Hamilton Red Wings. We went on to beating them 4 to 1 in probably one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of. It wasn’t so much a personal night, but more of a team night. It was something special with a great group of guys which brought us together down the stretch into our playoffs back home. It is something we still all talk about to this day and will down in the future. It’s a great memory to look back on knowing how much went into winning a championship and all the grittiness that went into winning. The team will always have a special spot in my heart. I will never forget that group of players and coaches for as long as I live.