When the rosters were announced for the CHL’s Top Prospect Game one player that some felt was missing was goaltender Robert Mayer. However, due to injury to Victoriaville netminder Kevin Poulin, Mayer has in fact arrived in Edmonton and will take part in the showcase event after all.
Mayer (pronounced My-er and not May-er) is the goaltender for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and also represented Switzerland at the recent World Junior Championship in Prague. The fact that Central Scouting has him ranked well down their list (15th in North American mid-term rankings), Mayer’s presence here is based strictly on the input from all 30 NHL teams that they want to see him play.
Monday night the players met with the local media for the first time and Hockey’s Future had a chance to speak in an exclusive one-on-one with Mayer.
HF: First, the adjustment you’ve had to make in coming over to play junior in Canada — has it taken you a while to get used to your surroundings and the cultural differences?
RM: Sure, I mean, the language and everything is a big thing. The hockey there, in Saint John, it’s a big hockey city so it’s pretty exciting for me to play there. It’s the old Saint John Flames rink and it’s pretty nice, I love just to play there.
HF: What was the process you went through in making the decision to come over and play in the CHL? Was it something you had to think long and hard about whether to stay in Switzerland or was it an easy decision for you to come over here?
RM: Oh no, it was clear after the U18 World Championship. I made the decision to come over to show the scouts and everyone that I can play hockey and that I want to play eventually in the NHL and that’s why I’m here.
HF: So far are you happy with that choice?
RM: Oh for sure! So far it’s just been great and I’ve just enjoyed the time here in Canada.
HF: What was the attraction to playing in the CHL?
RM: The smaller rinks, the ice is smaller and I like that because it’s the same as in the NHL, whereas in Europe it’s something different so here I can get used to it.
HF: But it’s a lot more games though than you would have played in Europe and some players who come over seem to hit a wall halfway through the season here. Are you getting tired yet?
RM: (laughs) No, not yet. I’ve got [Travis] Fullerton there and he’s a good goalie too. We (rotate) and so I’m actually playing like the same amount of games as I did in Europe but I’m looking forward to next year and playing more.
HF: How about the travel? That has to be an aspect that takes some getting used to here.
RM: Oh yeah for sure! That’s the big difference. I have more problems on the away games than at home. I’m getting used to it though so it’s getting better and better.
HF: You’re in a battle with some good teams in Halifax and Cape Breton. How are things shaping up for Saint John as you head into the second half and towards the playoffs?
RM: Pretty good, I mean so far we’ve won almost every game and we’re first in our division. For sure we’re a playoff team. We work very hard every game and we already play every game like it’s a playoff game.
HF: Is this your first time in Western Canada or have you played out here in some of the international tournaments?
RM: I played in the Mac’s Midget Tournament with the U17’s from Switzerland so I think I’ve been to Calgary three times. I’ve been once to Edmonton just to the big mall here but I’m comfortable here, I really like it and I’m enjoying my time.
HF: At the World Junior Championships, obviously it was a very disappointing finish for Switzerland, not just because you were beat by Kazakhstan but because in the end you were relegated down a level for next year.
RM: Yeah it was very disappointing. We had a really good team and we didn’t do it. It’s tough… tough, really tough to talk about it. I’ve just tried to forget about it and to move forward.
HF: Was the loss to Kazakhstan the nail in the coffin?
RM: Yeah, we lost 3-1. We played pretty defensively against USA and Finland and we did pretty well but we had to make good on the game against Kazakhstan but we couldn’t score and they had some good rushes and scored on the rush. Those are pretty tough games against teams like that; Kazakhstan had their backup goalie in there and he had nothing to lose so he just played the best game of his life and we just couldn’t score on him.
HF: In talking with some other Swiss players I know that hockey has really grown in popularity there and that in some cases it’s as popular as soccer. What got you into hockey?
RM: It was my grandfather. I’m actually from the Czech Republic, I was born there and then I moved to Switzerland where my stepfather is from. My mom and my dad are both from the Czech Republic and my grandfather was the Zamboni driver at the rink and I went there almost every morning, sometimes 4 o’clock in the morning just to go skate. I’ve been skating since I was four years old. That’s what brought me to hockey.
HF: Were you always a goalie?
RM: Other than one year when I was young I’ve always been a goalie. The equipment is exciting for all young kids, everybody loves the equipment — the masks, how they paint it. When I was small, the top team in Switzerland was having a photo shoot before my practice and I was there. The goalie from the senior team called me downstairs and they took some pictures of us and I was so excited I just always wanted to be a goalie.
HF: You’re here in Edmonton to take part in the Top Prospects Game, you kind of got in through the back door because of the injury to Poulin, but what does this opportunity mean to you?
RM: It’s something really great. I was thinking about it the whole year and I was lucky to get here but I’m so excited. I’m sorry for [Poulin], he’s a good goalie, but I’m happy that I could come here and I’ll try to play the best hockey that I can.
To this point in the season, Mayer has appeared in 19 games for the Sea Dogs and holds an 11-4-1 record with a 3.20 goals against average and a .891 save percentage.