HF: As far as this season is concerned, Erie is on its way to a division title. How has this season been compared to the previous one?
CC: Well, this year has been a season of ups and downs. We started off great, then hit a bit of an injury bug to some of our star players. Then Christmas time came around, we got all of our guys back, made a big trade at the deadline, and we just started to turn things around from there. We’re finishing off the year with a 10-game winning streak, leading to another division title for the 3rd year in a row, so we’re finishing strong the way that you want to.
HF: As far as your season goes, are you personally satisfied with what you have done, or do you feel like there are things that you need to work?
CC: Obviously, there are a lot of things I need to work on, especially if I want to play at the next level, which is my ultimate dream. This year has been a lot of ups and downs for me, also. I’ve been struggling at times; but then again, I’ve been at the top of my game. Going in to the playoffs, I want to find the top of my game again. It’s coming along very well, right now, and me being a big leader on this team, I’m going to be looked at to contribute in any way possible. Whether it’s scoring goals, making a big hit or a big play on defense, it’s what I have to do to be a leader on this team. I’m willing to take the role of doing anything it takes to win so our team can be successful.
HF: I noticed that last season you were voted the best defensive defenseman in your conference, but I also noticed that you had 39 points. Do you see yourself as just a defensive defenseman, or do you think there is more to your game than that?
CC: I think I’m most definitely a 2-way defenseman. I’m pretty skilled offensively, but last year I improved tremendously in my defensive game. I owe a lot of credit for that to my coaching staff, and to the hard work that I put into it during the summer. All year last year, there was one thing I needed to get better at to get to the next level, and that was to get better at my defensive game. Its come a long way, starting last year, and continuing through this year. The only benefit for me is, if I can learn to play both ends of the game, then the better I’ll be as a player.
HF: How was your experience at this year’s World Junior Championships?
CC: It was the best experience in hockey that I’ve ever been through. Playing against the top juniors from across the world is just an incredible experience, an incredible thing to be a part of. We had a great team, a great bunch of players. We came away with silver, which was nice, but we had the team to get us the gold. We were that close, but I’m fortunate enough to get another shot next year. It’s definitely my goal to help Canada bring back the gold.
HF: Did you notice a change in the way you were playing the game following your return from the WJC?
CC: Absolutely! I came back from (the Czech Republic) having played a high tempo game shift after shift, and you come back here and feel you’re still at that level. You just feel like you’re so much better than everyone else. You come back here, and you’re flying for the first couple of games, then you finally settle in to the junior level. It’s something different, and something I hope to continue doing, that’s playing at a higher level. It helps being surrounded by elite players, the best junior players across the world. Then again, we’ve got a great team here in Erie, good team chemistry; guys just love each other in the room, so it’s something that I love about playing here.
HF: Where are you from, the Toronto area?
CC: Yeah, Toronto, ON. Actually, it’s in Etobicoke.
HF: So it must have been a big thrill to have your name called by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
CC: It was the biggest surprise of my life, I’ve got to admit. I never expected it at all going into the draft. I only talked to Toronto once previous to that; I didn’t expect it at all. Just to have all my family there at the draft, and being all Leaf fans, and growing up watching the Leafs. To see their son be drafted into that organization, it was just great to have my family support there. It’s something every Toronto kid hopes for growing up, being a hockey player, and I’m lucky enough to be living that dream.
HF: You and Brad (Boyes) went through Toronto’s training camp together, his second and your first. What are your thoughts on your initial NHL training camp?
CC: To be honest with you, I didn’t really experience any training camp. I went to rookie camp, and I had a shoulder injury. I didn’t play at all in the rookie camp because they wanted to rest me up to see how I’d perform in the main camp. Due to the September 11th attacks, the 1st year guys weren’t able to go to camp, so it was a little bit unfortunate. I was a little bit disappointed, but I’m looking forward to my chance next year.
HF: Did the Leafs say anything to you as far as what they’d like to see you work on this year?
CC: They didn’t really say anything to me, they just want to see me develop, to be the best hockey player that I can be. That’s the one thing I work on the most, to be a complete player all- around. Every practice I’m out there working on little things to make me better. To be associated with a great team like Erie, who has had a successful run since I’ve been here, it helps to bring your game to the next level. I feel I’ve come a long way since my first year in the OHL. I want to continually get better, and hopefully make my way to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.
HF: What sort of things do you do in the off-season to stay in shape? Do you do more dry-land training, or do you stay on the ice?
CC: My main concern right now is to build up my strength level. The one thing I concentrate on the most is to get stronger. Then again, to keep my conditioning at a top level, I do a lot of weights, do some conditioning here and there to stay in top shape to make sure I’m ready (for camp), and not start over again. Right now, I want to put on more weight and get stronger so I can be one of those big defensemen that everyone wants me to be, including myself. That’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to work on for awhile. It’s going to take some time, but hopefully I can fill out and be the way I want to be.
HF: Do you think adding weight or muscle will affect your speed?
CC: When I say that, I mean adding weight and strength so I can be faster, be stronger on the puck, and be more physical. I don’t mean that I want to be a big slug out there, I don’t want to be that. I just want to fill out, gradually develop, grow into my body, and grow into my strength. That’s really what I meant by it.
HF: Are there any particular players that you’ve modeled your style of play after?
CC: My dad was a big Bobby Orr fan, and he always thought I reminded him of Bobby Orr. When I was young, I always used to rush the puck, so I think that’s where I got all of my offensive skills. I’ve never really patterned my game after anyone, I just want to go out there and be myself. I watch a lot of NHL games to learn here and there from everyone in the game, including the big stars. I’m just a guy who likes to watch and learn.
COAST TO COAST AND ACROSS THE POND
Jay Harrison – Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Jay and the Leafs agreed to a multi-year Entry level contract this past Monday. Jay had just been transferred from Brampton of the OHL to Memphis of the CeHL to gain some playoff experience.
Micheal Knoepfli – Cornell Big Red (NCAA)
Michael has made his intentions for next season clear. He will be returning to play at least one more season with Cornell, and quite likely will remain there for his senior years.