An unfortunate injury to one of the Ducks top defensemen meant some big skates for Brett Festerling to fill when he made his NHL debut on Sunday, Nov. 16. He had impressed the Anaheim Ducks top brass during training camp, and was one of the final cuts, but the 6’1, 214-pound blueliner had to wait for his chance.
The Quesnel, British Columbia native made the most of his meantime stint in Iowa playing big minutes each night. He played in 14 games with the Chops, earning five helpers. It’s his second year playing pro hockey, having spent last year with then-AHL affiliate Portland Pirates.
Now in his time with the Ducks, Festerling has taken advantage. He’s been paired with captain Scott Niedermayer and the Norris trophy winner had high praise for the 22-year-old.
“He’s doing great," Niedermayer said. "In camp we played a few games together so that was good. Then when he got called up it wasn’t like he had to learn everything right away cause we had spent a little bit of time playing together. I think we compliment each other. He’s a physical guy, a hard-working guy, [he] makes smart decisions and you know as a defenseman that’s something that usually takes a little bit of time to learn. Being smart with the puck, positioning yourself in a good spot really is a big part of the game. He does that very well so I feel really comfortable with him. I feel like we work very well together.”
And head coach Randy Carlyle must be in agreement with the Ducks captain. Through five games, Festerling is averaging 18:19 minutes of ice time, including time on the penalty kill. While he has yet to earn his first NHL point, he’s made his presence known on the blueline with some big hits (11) and big minutes (18:02).
Hockey’s Future caught up with Festerling after a recent Ducks win and asked him about his call-up and his adjustment to the NHL.
HF: What was it like getting the call-up? Where were you?
BF: Well, [Iowa] actually had the weekend off so a bunch of the guys were out for dinner and stuff and I got the call. So I mean it was kind of surreal. It doesn’t really kick in. It’s one of those things you hear and you kind of…I don’t know. I had to go home and pack but it didn’t really kick in and then I phoned mom and dad and all that kind of stuff. It was a cool experience but it’s almost like a deer in the headlights at first. It was nice. It was exciting for me.
HF: Getting called up, it was kind of a whirlwind the first couple of days. You were here for a game then down to Bakersfield for a day. What was that like?
BF: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s funny. That’s one of those things later on that’s a story to tell and that’s part of the whole first game in the NHL experience. I think that’ll be a cool story down the road.
HF: You look pretty comfortable out there. How are you feeling?
BF: Yeah, I’m feeling more comfortable and getting used to the speed, getting used to the strength, getting used to knowing what I can do and what I can’t do kind of thing. And playing with Scotty [Niedermayer] is easy. He makes it easier on me anyway so I’m getting used to it and I’m feeling better so hopefully I keep getting better.
HF: With the injury to Francois Beauchemin, was that a difficult situation to step into?
BF: The first thing, you never want to see a guy get hurt. That’s unfortunate for Beauch, we all want him to recover as fast as possible, but it’s an opportunity for me and hopefully I’m taking advantage of it. I think your first NHL game is never easy but I’m enjoying the transition anyway.
HF: But it was a different situation than starting the season with the Ducks. You got called up and already had some game time under your belt. Did that make it any easier?
BF: Definitely, you’re kind of into the season and you’re into the flow and things and you’ve got some game time, some game experience, so it’s probably easier that way than coming straight from training camp and never playing at speed and stuff so yeah I was fortunate that way and I was playing a lot of minutes in Iowa so that worked out well.
HF: Has playing with Niedermayer been any easier because you played with him in camp? You’re a little familiar with him.
BF: Yeah, a little bit. He’s a smart player. Wherever you need somebody he’s going to be there. He’s a good skater and he gets into those positions quick. I just try to support him and if he needs an outlet, I try to give him an outlet.
HF: Have you had a ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment? You’ve already played against Alexander Ovechkin and some other good players.
BF: Yeah I play against some good players and these guys are good. The whole thing’s been pretty good. It was snowing in Iowa and when I came in here it was like 85 degrees so (laughing) that’s a pretty good thing. I mean a sold out arena is pretty cool too.