Day Five: Sizing up the Competition
Saturday, 07.16.2011 / 1:00 PM
After each team’s morning skate, I spoke with a few players from each team and had all of them size up their competition. What I learned: the atmosphere in the two locker rooms was very different.
Calvin de Haan and Nino Niederreiter, players for the Blue Team, gave some detailed answers, but were primarily down to business. But when I walked into the White Team’s locker room and spoke to Aaron Ness and Rhett Rakhshani, their answers were quite comedic. So who will take the cake tonight, the down to business Blue Team or the fun and energetic White Team?
Here’s what the Blue Team had to say:
Calvin de Haan
Q: Tell me, what do you expect from tonight’s game?
de Haan: I think it’s going to be a pretty high-tempo game. A lot of guys are trying to make first impressions and some are trying to make lasting impressions as well. I think guys are going to work hard out there, especially for some of the camp invites. It’s a chance to make a name for themselves.
Q: Which team do you think will win?
de Haan: We think we’re going to win. You have to be confident, but at the same time you can’t be cocky, it’s a fine line. Their top line definitely has a lot of skill, with (Rhett) Rakhshani and (David) Ullstrom up there. They had great seasons last year. And they have the pest up front too, (Justin) DiBenedetto. He’s going to try to get under our skin, I can tell you that right now. Other than that, they have a solid squad just like us. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q: What’s the best part about the skills competition?
de Haan: The skills competition is a good time to show some creativity that we have as players and as goalies to stop the puck, making incredible saves on breakaways, but it’s competitive as well because it’s an aspect of the game. It’s a good way to show your creativity.
Q: Who do you think will win tonight?
Niederreiter: I have no idea. I think we have a very good team and my opinion, we’re probably going to win. We have great skill. Kirill (Kabanov), Ryan (Strome) and I have some good chemistry so far, we’ve been passing a lot. They’ve got good skills and good shots, so I think it’s going to be a good line.
Q: Do you think it will be a close game?
Niederreiter: It’s definitely going to be a good battle. We both have good teams. It’s always fun to play summer hockey. There’s going to be a lot of good skill out there and we’ll be competing hard so it will be very fun.
Here’s what the White Team had to say:
Q: What do you think of your competition?
Ness: I haven’t had the chance to see them, but I think we’re the harder working team. I think we’re a little more skilled too, on both ends. We’ve got great goaltending and really great coaches (Brent Thompson and Geoff Sanderson) so it will be a good game, but hopefully we’ll come out on top.
Q: So you’re not going to size them up for me at all?
Ness: I haven’t really had a chance to look at the roster yet. I usually like to study that before the game starts, so a couple hours before the game I’ll check out the roster and memorize some of their numbers. So it won’t be until pregame that I’m going to know this stuff.
Q: Want to give me a more serious answer?
Ness: I think both teams are pretty even tonight. You never know until you jump on the ice. We didn’t get the chance to watch them at all this week because they were on the ice when we were in the gym and vice versa so it will be fun to see what they have. It should be a good game.
Q: How is your team’s chemistry?
Ness: It’s been good. There have only been a couple practices so we’re kind of jumping right into it. I think we worked hard this week. I think we’re ready to jump out there and into a game situation.
Q: Mark Katic said he was going to try the knuckle puck during the skills competition. Do you have any hidden skills or surprises up your sleeve?
Ness: No, I don’t have any moves. I’m more of a shooting guy. I’m just going to go down, shoot as hard as I can, close my eyes and hopefully it goes in. I don’t know what a knuckle puck is, but we’ll see.
Q: You have the mentality that you guys are going to win tonight?
Rakhshani: That’s not our mentality. That is what’s going to happen. We’re going to win. The biggest concern for them right now is do we want to just beat them or do we want to embarrass them. Because I think that’s what it comes down to. We’re all friends and we’re all Islanders here, but at the end of the day, where do we stop? Do we stop at three goals? Five goals? A ten-goal lead? That’s important for us and that’s what we’ll be talking about – how much we want to beat them by. It will be fun. We’re excited to work on some moves out there and work hard.
Q: When I went into the other room, they were more sizing up the competition and you guys are a little more comedic in your responses. Why do you think that is?
Rakhshani: That’s because they’re worried about us. They’re very worried.
Q: So you guys are worried, not at all about the other team?
Rakhshani: No. You respect all opponents, but you fear none. We’ll respect them enough not to completely embarrass them.
Q: Skills competition, do you have any moves planned?
Rakhshani: I don’t know. We’ll see what event I’m chosen for. Everyone tries to have fun out there and has some fun moves or will pull something crazy out of their sleeves, so it should be fun.