On why Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano and Patrick O'Sullivan were his favorite players growing up: I think, for Patrick, I used to go watch the Mississauga Ice Dogs all the time when he was playing in the OHL. And I always liked his creativity with the puck, the way he handled the puck, the things he did out there with the puck, the way he played and the creativity he had in his game. So those were always things I looked at. And always liked to try to get there for warm-up to see the different things he practiced with the puck and the different moves and the things he did that I could use for myself.
I think with Modano, he's just a natural, gifted skater, with a great scoring touch. For me, my skating isn't my strongest point of my game. It's always something I envied from him, how smooth he was, and he made it look effortless.
I think with Mario, just his raw talent -- the things he did out there were really unique. The things he did, I don't know if anyone else could ever do them. Just the way he played the game, his hockey sense, his talent. He really had the whole package with the way he could skate, his size, his soft hands, his hockey sense and everything -- I think, if you had a few of those things, you're doing pretty well.
On being drawn to the game at a young age: I think my oldest memory that I have is when Gretzky high-sticked Gilmour in '93, and I was only three years old then. I think that's the earliest memory I have as a child, of being a young kid. I always remember watching Hockey Night in Canada with my dad every Saturday night and watching the Leafs.
I remember my dad putting a stick in my hands. The first time we went skating, he put two blades on my feet, on both feet, so I had four blades. And being a beginning skater, you always had to hold onto the boards, but I would never listen to him and always tried to skate in the middle with everybody else, even though I had no balance yet or no proper form of skating -- he always laughed at me. We always used to argue on whether I should be on the boards or the middle of the ice.
Just things like that, I remember as a young child, playing with my first stick and just shooting the ball around. I think just watching the game really got me to love it and really want to be a hockey player.
On being the youngest throughout his career and playing against older competition: Well, I think my mom told me when I was young, she saw my passion for the game and realized I had a good opportunity in front of me. She pushed me forward. She used to lie about my age just to get me in certain hockey schools, try and make myself look a little older just so I could participate. She said when I was young, two, three days a week wasn't enough. It had to be every day, six, seven days a week skating and playing because that's all I wanted to do. Playing with older kids, she saw I had the ability.
There's a game I recall I had seven penalties when I was a kid. I was young. But I was too mature I think for those guys and she saw that, so she moved me up, saw that I excelled, saw no reason for me to go back to kids my own age just because it would be better for my development. It was good that she realized that, saw those characteristics and realized that it benefited me at the end of the day.
On his competitiveness and will to win: I think that's part of me growing up, learning the game early, and having a passion for the game. I remember every day playing hockey and coming home from school and going shooting pucks in my basement, just excited for practice. I just had so much fun. I enjoyed it so much. I tried to do my best each and every day and wanted to excel and wanted to be the best at every level and everywhere I played. I think that's what drove me and still drives me today.
On playing on the outdoor rink with Sam Gagner in Oakville, their friendships and its effect on his game: Things were starting to move forward for myself in hockey, and you realize that this is your dream, this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, you realize, junior hockey's coming up ahead of you and things like that. So I made a change in organizations in minor hockey to play with the Toronto Marlboros.
I was fortunate enough to be on a great team (with the Marlboros) and Sam Gagner was one of my teammates. We lived five minutes away from each other in Oakville. We started to become really good buddies and become really close. And his dad had a backyard rink with boards, (a zamboni), pipes and the whole bit. I think every weekend for seven, eight hours a day we'd play, and during the week even if we could, just to play and have fun.
We got really competitive out there sometimes, and there are some really good stories just about us getting too heated where we got some bumps and bruises. But at the end of the day we had big smiles and big hearts for the game; we just loved playing together and really grew. And I think it helped us both develop our competitiveness, our skills, and our love for the game.
On the heated battles on the outdoor rink with Sam Gagner: Well, one time I took a full slapshot and hit him in the shin. We were only wearing skates, gloves and a helmet. We wanted to beat each other so bad -- just got too competitive. We'd be so hard on each other that it would get to that point where we didn't want to lose that bet where we would do anything. Just a lot of things like that. But, like I said, at the end of the day, we always put a big smile on and put our arms around each other and said we had fun.
On the outdoor rink helping him with his hands, shot and scoring touch around the net: I believe so. I think a lot has to do with how much I skated and how much I played and was able to work on my skills, scoring goals. I think that's my best attribute, I love to score. I just have that drive where I think there's no greater feeling for myself than putting that puck in that net. So I think just me wanting to be the very best at that made me want to work on it as much as I could and become better at that each and every day. I think just doing that helped me improve on that area and made it my greatest strength.
On becoming a more complete player: Well, when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was score, score, score. I loved to score goals. That's what I saw with me helping the team win. That's what I knew how to do. I always thought the more goals you score, the better chance you have of winning.
As you get older, you mature, you develop more and you understand there's a lot more to the game of hockey than just producing offensively. That's obviously still my strength, the thing I'm counted on for the most. But I've learned to be more of a complete player, to be good in all three zones, not to let my teammates down, myself down, make sure I'm competitive all over the ice and good on the faceoffs, keeping the puck out of my net as much as I want to put it in the other team's net.
It’s all come from coaches, teammates, people I've been around. The training for a bit in Los Angeles, I was able to be around some professional players where I learned just how hard you have to work and what it takes to be a pro and an NHLer. I think that's helped me come a long way.
On training in Los Angeles in the summer and learning from NHL players: I got to have breakfast with (former Boston Bruin) Glen Murray; we had a good chat about a lot of things. I got to train with Chris Chelios. Everyone knows the stories about how good of shape he's in and why he's still playing. And there are guys like Mathieu Schneider, Jiri Hudler, Sheldon Souray. A lot of guys that have great careers, are still playing and have been around a long time. I learned a lot from them.
I enjoyed it so much. I just realized how bad I want to be there. I want to get there. I think that just helps me push myself and drives me to get to where I want to be.
On the best piece of advice he received last summer: I think it was probably from Glen (Murray) and from my agent Pat (Brisson). Just to be myself and to enjoy this season because it only comes around once. You don't want to look back and say you put too much pressure on yourself or you were too hard on yourself or you didn't enjoy it.
I just approach every day with a good attitude, working hard, trying to develop a lot of memories, and say when I look back on this year I had a lot of fun, I enjoyed it, I gave it all I got and I have no regrets.
On playing for his country and putting the jersey on for the first time as a World Junior member of Team Canada in 2008: It's tough to say and describe that feeling because it's so amazing. Especially when I was cut the year before, you really learned how to appreciate being a part of Team Canada. Being cut and then finally getting that jersey and that knock at the door to say you're on the team and here's your track suit.
It was a dream come true obviously. And for me it was a great experience. It was one of the best times in my life. There was nothing more amazing than what we went through and how we won. To represent my country, to bring back home another gold, it was special.
On his role with Team Canada on the power-play at his first World Junior Championship: Coach Hartsburg had a lot of faith in me. He had a lot of confidence and just said, ‘you're a young guy, you just have to prove yourself. Don't look at where you're starting. You're going to have lots of opportunity. Obviously we're going to use what you're best for right off the bat. But, we believe in you and you're still a big part of this team’.
My confidence just grew every day with being around (the team) -- we had a great bunch of guys. Lucky for me I got a nice bounce early on, scored a couple goals. My confidence level just grew and grew. I started to learn more, making sure I was good all over the ice. It wasn't just about me putting the puck in the net, like I said earlier. I just learned what it took to be a Canadian, what it took to win, to represent my country.
It was nice getting more responsibility; it helped me grow as a player. Even today to understand what it takes to be a winner, how to accept the role. Even though you want to be an important piece and want to be doing everything where you're used to with your club team, I think I learned how to be a good teammate, what it takes to be part of a team, how to contribute in a team environment, to get the ultimate goal.
On the first thought that went through his mind when Matt Halischuk scored in overtime to give Canada the gold in 2008: I'm a world champion. I think, not too many people can say that; say ‘I'm a world champion, a World Junior champion for Canada’. I think there's no greater honor than winning gold for Canada. So to be a part of that for a tournament that means so much to our country, a game that means so much to our country, I think the feeling of overcoming all that adversity, all that hard work we've put into our lives, and now I'll say I'm a world champion I think was amazing.
On watching the World Junior Championships growing up: I remember Kyle Wellwood's goal in Halifax, I think that was 2002. Crosby's goal against the Swiss, to become the youngest player to ever score. Obviously the gold medals in Vancouver, Leksand (Sweden) and last year for sure. Those recent memories -- Jonathan Toews' three (goals) in the shootout. That year he was my roommate for the camp before I was cut so it was nice to see him thrive around that pressure situation and deliver. I learned a lot from him.
On top Swedish prospect Victor Hedman: He's a big guy who can really skate and has good offensive awareness. Obviously, he's a guy who can be physical. He's an impact player, definitely a very good player that has a lot of potential.
On winning his second World Junior gold medal in Ottawa: A lot of sacrifices and a lot of hard work from everybody that was a part of that, all my teammates. I don't think there's any better feeling than that, especially on home soil, to win a gold medal that means so much to our country in Canada. It was remarkable really. You look at the crowd; saw just how special that moment was … all the things we overcame and the tough games we worked through against the U.S. and the Russians. I think dominating the Swedes like we did in the final game, there was no better story line than that, than winning it on home soil the way we did.
Each gold medal is unique. It's special in its own way. It's hard to say one's better than the other, but definitely they're different. And the way you get there is a little different. The feeling is just the same, though. Just so proud and so happy, so relieved of everything you've worked for your whole life. To succeed in everything you've sacrificed, there's no greater feeling to represent Canada like that and to bring home gold.
On reaching the gold medal in the 2009 tournament: Obviously I think our best game was our last game. That's the way we wanted it to be. Our goal was to get better each and every day. We wanted every game, we played to be our best game at that time and obviously our last game would be the gold medal game, we wanted to be our best.
But, the American game was big, to get that bye to the semifinals. A lot of players, we knew each other growing up, are playing against each other now in junior and college -- it was a big rivalry. We started off a little slow, but I think we showed a lot of character coming from behind and doing what we did to beat them scoring a couple of empty-net goals late to finish them off. It was a good character win for everyone, made everyone feel good about ourselves, knowing we can beat the best teams that are here, that are favorites, as well. It was good.
The Russian game was one for the ages. Right when everyone thought we were down and out, that would be the end of the streak for gold, (Eberle) makes a great play in front and scores the goal to tie the game and send it into overtime. Me and him are able to score in shootout and sent us to the gold medal game again. Even when people think it's over and think that's the end of us, I think that speaks a lot about why Canadians are so good and why we're the best and we always seem to win.
On thinking about the Draft, that day in June and all the hard work that he’s put in: It's exciting. No question you think about it. But I don't think you want to put pressure on yourself. Like I said, you want to enjoy it. You want to enjoy the moment and this time of your life, because it only comes around once.
It was always my dream to play in the National Hockey League. To soon be a part of an organization in the NHL is going to be a dream come true and a great honor. It would be amazing to have that feeling that (an organization) thinks you can be part of a team that can win a Stanley Cup. It's exciting. But, like I said, I want to enjoy the season and everything that it has in it and soak it up because it's here once and I want to enjoy it. Hopefully it doesn't go by too fast.