JM:In your time up with the Panthers, was there a particular player that took you under his wing and helped you along, gave you pointers, etc.?
JT:There wasn’t really one particular player that did it for me. I found that the way to learn the most was just by watching everyone and their different strategies and styles of play.
JM:Who would you say influenced you the most by watching them on the ice?
JT: Definitely Pavel Bure. He is a spectacular player and his speed is just awesome. It was really a learning experience, watching someone like him day in and day out.
JM:How nervous were you for your first game? Was it all it was cracked up to be?
JT:I was completely totally nervous. I had no idea what to expect. The game was against Carolina. I just remember sitting on the bench and the first two shifts were just a blur. My legs wouldn’t work. I guess I was kind of in shock. But, when the awe of the situation went by, I started loosening up and really getting into the game.
It was all that it’s cracked up to be, yes. But, I feel that it will be so much more fulfilling as I get to play more NHL games in the season to come, with more playing time, it just gets better and better.
JM:Both coaches Murray and Sutter had great things to say about you, are you confident that you’ll see much more playing time in Florida this year?
JT: Yes I am. My goal for the 2001-2002 season is to start in Florida right out of Training Camp and stay there for the whole season; I don’t want to play one more AHL game.
JM:You are one of the Top 10 Panther Prospects this year, do you feel that if you start the season with Florida that you will be splitting any time between right wing and defenseman? And, what gives you the upper edge over other prospects?
JT: Definitely a right-winger with Florida. I believe that with 30 NHL games now under my belt, I’ll have somewhat of a head start over others for what to expect, etc.
JM:Former Louisville Panthers teammate, Lance Ward has shown versatility as both a winger and defenseman and earned him a coveted spot on the Florida roster for the majority of the 2000-2001 season. Do you see similarities in your styles of play and versatility that will help your chances of gaining a permanent role on the Panthers roster?
JT: Lance and I are the same in a lot of ways and different in a lot of ways, too. We are both very aggressive players, but Lance is better on defense and I am a better forward. We can each play both roles when necessary.
JM:You had a remarkable night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets with two goals on three shots on goal and as third star of the game. It’s great to score your first two NHL career goals and be named third star of the game, but it was in a losing effort for the Panthers. What did the coaching staff have to say of your performance?
JT: Not too much. They were really proud of me, but we lost, the bottom line comes down to if your team gets the W or L. I scored two goals, but I only ended up even, so that’s not good.
JM:What is the status of your contract with Florida now?
JT: As of the end of June, I’ll be a free agent, but Florida still has my rights, we’re looking to come to terms this summer.
JM:As you were in Louisville, you quickly became a Florida fan favorite. What would you attribute that to?
JT: I guess that when you have an outgoing personality, you give off energy that people feel, you can’t contain that excitement and sometimes you gesture to the crowd and they love it. It shows them that you’re aware that they’re there and watching you. It helps when you get that personal connection.
JM: What kind of mental preparations are you going through prior to game time? Are you relaxed with your teammates or do you need a ‘distraction-free zone’?
JT: Definitely relaxed. If I think too much, my legs don’t want to move. Now, I’m not saying I goof around, but I don’t want to focus too much and waste energy on being uptight…but, that’s just my style.
JM:Do you ever watch film of your play?
JT: I watch when the team watches films, we go over strategies, etc. But I don’t like to watch myself much.
JM:It’s been said that your leadership skills from your days in Portland, when you led your team to the Memorial Cup Championship, as well as in Louisville are beyond others your age. What is it that makes a good leader?
JT:There are lots of different things. There are basically two kinds of leaders, those that are more vocal and like to plan out strategies and those that lead by example and elevate everyone else. I am an A-Type personality and I try to lead by example and get everyone pumped.
JM:Explain what is involved in switching from right-winger to defenseman. Is it a lot of mental preparation or do you just hop on the ice and become one or the other?
JT: Well, in the first season in Louisville, they had me playing defense for half of the season and RW for the other half…and it was on a game-to-game basis. It is tougher than just trying to be tough offensively and skating forward and then just skating backwards and keeping the puck out of the net. When you are getting switched around like that I just try to loosen up and not get too wound up about it. This year I’ve mainly been on RW, so it hasn’t been too hard. When I’m on defense, I tend to focus a lot more, maybe too much, I’m just not loose enough. But, when I’m playing forward, I can just go with the flow and do what I need to do.
JM:They say ‘that which does not kill you makes you stronger”, how does that apply to the last season with the Louisville Panthers. Do you feel as if you became a better player by dealing with so much adversity during the season? How do you think some of the younger guys will be affected by this last season?
JT: (laughing) For me, I see it as a place that I never want to be in again, and I’ll continue to work hard to never let it happen again. As for the younger guys, I really just hope that they don’t think that’s what pro hockey is all about.
JM:What do you feel is the key to securing a spot on the Florida Panthers roster for the next season? Is there something you’ll be working on improving over the summer?
JT: The things I’ll be working on will be my speed, both foot and hand speed, my forechecking, moving quickly in all situations and my strength. I just want to be able to move quickly and be consistent.
JM:You must be very excited about your first child expected to make its appearance next week. You know it will be a boy…will you encourage him to be a little tough guy like his daddy…if that’s what he wants to be?
JT: Well, his name will be Kaiden James, thought of by Tina’s aunt. I won’t exactly encourage him to be a ‘tough guy’, but I am very open-minded about people doing what they want to do and I’ll support him 100% of the way.
JM:Do you have any exciting plans for the summer?
JT: I’ll have my hands full with being a new dad, but other than that, I’ll be working out a lot and my parents will be coming to visit later this summer.
JM:In light of the upcoming draft this weekend, you were drafted in the 1996 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers in the 4th round, 82nd overall, what do you remember about that day? Did you have any idea that Florida was interested in you?
JT: I had no idea that Florida was interested in me. I was there 2 days before the draft. Teams notify your agent when they’re interested in you and you meet with them. I spoke with Toronto, Buffalo and San Jose. I had never even met with anyone from Florida. When the teams I had met with were up, I got SO nervous and then they wouldn’t call out my name…it was nerve-wracking. Then Florida gets up there and picks me…I was amazed! I was really glad, though, I thought that Florida would be a really nice place to play.
JM:Joey, thanks for your time and best of luck to you as a new dad and in the upcoming season!
JT:Thank you, Jenn, it was a pleasure.