2011 prospects: Carter Sandlak takes added pressure in stride

By Jason Menard

With a father who enjoyed an 11-year career in the NHL, Guelph Storm forward Carter Sandlak would seem to have big skates to fill. And, although he’s had a less-than-stellar start to the 2010-11 OHL campaign, he said the added pressure that comes from having a name known throughout the hockey world is something he relishes.

“I kind of like that pressure. You have to prove to everybody every night that you can play with these guys,” Sandlak said. “Growing up in a hockey family, it is good, but my dad says he’d be happy with whatever I did — it didn’t have to be hockey — he’d be supporting me 100 percent. But if I wanted to get a career out of this, then he’d help me wherever he could.”

And there are the obvious advantages that come from having a father familiar with the game and what it takes to make it to the NHL.

“Growing up he was my coach for a couple of years. He just tells me the little things to do that you have to do well, the things that people notice. That’s the kind of stuff,” he said. “He’s really not that much involved right now — he’s back home doing his own job. I have my coaches and my agent telling me things that I need to work on, so they’re helping me with that right now.”

Sandlak’s coach and general manager, Jason Brooks, said it’s obvious that there is going to be added pressure on young Carter, but it’s not something that he nor Carter’s family is putting on him. In fact, Brooks explained that the pressure of having a famous name on the back of his jersey is something Carter’s well prepared for.

“I think there’s going to be pressure on him, sure, because Jim had a great NHL career. He’s somebody that you recognize in the hockey world, he’s an NHL scout. So sure, there’s pressure, but it’s not pressure that Jim’s putting on him or that we’re putting on him,” Brooks said. “He’s a kid that’s grown up with a father in the NHL his whole life, so it’s not as if this is anything new for him. He’s worked hard his whole career to get to this point and he’s got the opportunity to be selected in the draft. When that draft happens, it’s a year for him to go out there and play.

“The worst thing he can do is go out there and worry about the draft, worry about what goes on during the year. He just has to go out there and play and if he plays the way he’s capable of, then everything is going to take care of itself.”

With only one goal and no assists in his opening 11 games, Carter admits that the start of the season has not gone the way he’d hoped — but he’s got a plan to get himself back on track.

“I’m in a little bit of a rut right now. I just have to go out, play simple, get pucks to the net. You have to make your own bounces,” Sandlak said. “Right now things aren’t going my way, but it’s not an excuse — you have to make your own bounces. I have to keep things simple, get pucks to the net when I can, and hopefully have one of them go in off of someone’s leg, and just go from there.”

He’s also trying to block out any added pressure that comes from knowing that he’s auditioning for future employers courtesy of the myriad number of scouts that pepper rinks throughout the OHL.

“You have to work everyday and prepare that somebody’s going to be watching you, whether it’s in practice or a game,” he said. “You have to get to the corners and practice like you want to play if you want to be in the lineup. And you have to come ready every game like there’s going to be scouts in the stands every night.”

Brooks admitted that the self-inflicted pressure that comes from this being Sandlak’s draft-eligible year is likely having an impact on the forward’s on-ice offensive performance, but he’s been pleased with the other aspects of Carter’s game.

“I wouldn’t say anything’s going wrong. I would say, like any young guy in their draft year, they put pressure on themselves, they want to have unbelievable starts and put up big numbers and it hasn’t gone that way for him,” Brooks explained. “From his overall play he’s been fine. As a coach, I’m pleased with his play. He works hard, he battles in the corner, he goes to the net, he finishes his checks. Defensively he’s been very responsible.

“Obviously, we’d like to the numbers for him increase and when his numbers increase he’s going to help the team. He’s been fine and I’m pleased with him. If he wasn’t getting scoring chances, then I’d be worried.”

Brooks added that getting back to basics should help Sandlak get back on track over the remainder of this season.

“I think the big thing is what’s going to make you successful as a player and where are you going to get your chances from?” he said. “Carter’s a big body and he’s a big player. Where it starts for him is getting involved in the forecheck and being aggressive. That’s what one of his greatest intangibles as a player is anyway.

“If he’s doing that for us, it’s going to create open space for us and it’s going to create open space for his teammates, which is obviously going to create opportunities for him and his teammates.

And keeping it simple means focusing on Sandlak’s attributes. “I think that’s biggest thing. We’re not asking him to do something that’s maybe out of his skill set or out of his capabilities,” Brooks said. “We’re asking him to be simple, solid, get pucks out, get pucks in, go to the net hard, set up in front, be a force in front of the net, and score some of those ugly goals. He’s capable of all those things.

“We’re not asking him to toe-drag six guys and go back-hand shot — we’re asking him to do the simple things.”

While Sandlak may not be filling the nets, he’s certainly filling bandwidth with a multitude of fights featured on various hockey-fight-related Web sites and YouTube. Sandlak admits that it’s a bit of a rush to see himself on-line.

“Actually yeah! When I fight I have to see how well I did, what I could do different, and whether the guy got a lucky punch,” Sandlak said. “I try to look at that, have some fun with it, and show my buddies back home. It’s kind of fun to see yourself on YouTube and sites like that when people type in your name. It’s kind of cool to see.”

Sandlak was born in Vancouver when his father was a member of the Canucks — although just barely. “The day I was born he was traded to Hartford, so I was almost born in Hartford,” he said.

And he avoided any potential long-term scarring caused by spending so much of his developmental youth exposed to the musical horror known as Brass Bonanza. “It’s kind of good,” he said, laughing.

As Carter was born towards the end of Jim’s NHL career, he didn’t exactly grow up in NHL dressing rooms. However, having a father known in the hockey community did give him some exposure to the professional ranks that he wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

“I don’t really remember anything, but my dad said he used to take me into the dressing room all the time,” he said. “When he was playing in Germany near the end, I got to go out there and go in the dressing room — I remember a little bit of that. He was helping out with the World Juniors when they were out in Vancouver so I got to go out there and meet some of the guys and see the dressing rooms, so that was a good start to this career.”

Sandlak added that he’s been spending a lot of time working on his skating — including getting help from a seemingly unlikely person — Canadian Olympian figure skater Barb Underhill. Underhill, who is a former pairs’ world champion, is married to one of the club’s owners and has moved into teaching hockey players the finer points of skating.

“I’ve got to come and compete every night and play each shift like it’s the last one I’m going to get that night. I’ve got to work on those first few steps, the first few strides — skating. I’ve been working with Barb Underhill this summer and through this year — she’s helped me a lot, so I’ve got to keep working on it and build on that during the game,” he said. “She’s actually a really good skater. She taught me that I’m not getting my full extension through my back, and that my legs are tight, and my hip flexor too, so I’ve been stretching those out a lot. She’s a really good skater and can turn on a dime, so that helps when you want to get help with skating.”

And although he’s too young to remember his skating coach from her competitive career, he did get to see her in action last year during the popular CBC reality series Battle of the Blades, where she was paired with former New York Ranger icon Ron Duguay, and was eliminated third.

“Yeah, we [watched Battle of the Blades],” he said. “I don’t remember who she was paired with, but we watched her — it was kind of fun seeing her out there.