Q&A with Brad Winchester

By Guy Flaming





Winchester Taking Aim







Expectations were high for Brad Winchester at
the start of the season in
Toronto. The rookie forward had just completed four
years at the
University

of Wisconsin,
one of the best hockey programs in the
United States. The native of Madison was a
second round draft choice of the Oilers back in 2000, a pick that
Edmonton acquired
from the Islanders during the trade involving Roman Hamrlik.

But Winchester’s
debut in the AHL did not get off to a great start. The 6’3” winger struggled early on while
making the adjustment to the professional ranks of the American Hockey League.

After scoring in the opening game of the season in
front of friends and family in
Milwaukee,
Winchester’s
production really tapered off. He wasn’t
alone in that situation however. Joe
Cullen
, J.J. Hunter, Sean McAslan and Dan Baum were
all struggling in their first years in the league as well. Sometime after Christmas, things began to
turn around for the team.

“I know the coaches kind of went in when we were on a
losing streak and started pointing fingers and got on some of the young guys by
saying ‘you’ve been here now for 30 games and you can’t play like rookies
anymore’ and I’ve noticed since then that those young guys have really been
playing well,” said veteran Roadrunner and team leader Chad Hinz.

Since the beginning of 2004, Winchester and the
rest of the rookie Roadrunners have become players that the coaches can rely on
during the course of any game.

Winchester
has been outstanding but it’s taken him a little while,” said Oiler scout Chris
McCarthy. “He’s starting to use his size
to physically dominate and fight for position, he’s making plays and he’s
scoring goals. If he keeps progressing
at the rate he is right now he might not be too far away.”

The versatile forward can play either wing, normally
on the left side but more frequently as of late on the right.
Winchester

has scored a dozen times and has 17 points on the season thus far.

With the playoffs in sight, the Roadrunners will be
counting on all of their young players for their endurance and energy as much
as for their hockey skills. Normally
pretty laid back, just talking about the playoffs can get
Winchester fired up
and noticeably excited.

Hockey’s Future spoke with Brad Winchester before the
Roadrunners left on a two-game road trip through
Milwaukee and Cleveland.

HF:
The start of the year was a little rough for you in terms of production
but in the second have you’ve really come on strong. Was that just a matter of getting adjusted to
the league?

BW: Yeah,
getting used to the league, the team and the systems too. I think as a first year pro you’re just
trying to learn as much as you can and take advantage of all the time you have
out on the ice. You try to soak up as
much as you can from the coaches and the veterans on the team and that’s what
I’m trying to do all the time.

HF:
Kevin Prendergast feels that it’s a tougher adjustment for college
players to make than for a junior player because of the travel and the amount
of games, would you agree with that?

BW: I think
so. There’s definitely a lot more games
and I think around the half way point of the season all the college guys start
to feel it a bit. Now I’m definitely
used to it and it’s just a mindset that you have to have to play night in and
night out, it’s a lot of fun.

HF:
Joe Cullen is another former college player who struggled early this
year but has picked it up since Christmas.
Was there one thing you can identify as a turning point in the year for
the team, and especially for the rookies that has helped turn things around so
dramatically?

BW: It’s about
gaining the confidence of the coaches and the other players that you can go out
and execute the game plan. Developing
your overall game so that you’re not thinking as much but you’re just playing
and as a first year guy I think the coaching staff
really wants to see how you’re going to respond to certain situations that they
put you in. All you can do is keep
working hard and like I said, try to learn more everyday.

HF: What is
your role on the team as a rookie?

BW: My role is
to work hard, try to control the walls and have a presence out on the ice. All the time you’re trying to develop your
game to new levels and it takes time to feel those things out but I think I’m
starting to provide some more offense and I’m doing
good defensively. Those areas have
improved as of late and you just try to build off that and keep getting better.

HF: Who have
you been playing with on most nights?

BW: Recently
I’ve been playing with Jamie Wright quite a bit. Also with J.J. Hunter a lot but Mike
Bishai
recently returned from
Edmonton

and I’ve been skating with him a bit now too.

HF:
According to the Roadrunners’
website, you are playing on the
right side now?

BW:
Yeah.

HF:
I seem to recall you telling me that you can play all three forward
positions, and did in
Wisconsin at times. Is one side more
comfortable for you than the other?

BW: No, it
doesn’t really matter to me which side I’m on.

Right now I’m on the right side and that’s something I’m comfortable
with and in terms of positioning, with the amount of movement on the ice, where
you are changes all the time throughout the shift so it’s a benefit that I can
play any position and it doesn’t matter.

HF: Have you
played center and leftwing as well this year?

BW: I haven’t really
played much in the center this year because we’ve got a lot of good centermen
so I’ve pretty much played only on the wings.

HF:
Who are you rooming with now? I
know things have been shuffled lately and I think you’re with
Chad Hinz
now?

BW: I’ve
roomed with Hinz a bit but mostly I’ve been with Mikko Luoma.

HF: Has the
language barrier created any stories yet?

BW: No we have
a good time together and I try to pick up a few Finnish tips. It’s good unless he’s trying to trick me into
saying things that I shouldn’t be saying. (laughs)

HF: What has
he had you doing?

BW: I try to
learn something and I think he’s teaching me one thing and it turns out to be
something else. (laughs) It’s pretty funny though and we have a good
time with it, especially with Jani (Rita) and Tony (Salmelainen)
too. The Finnish guys on our team are
pretty funny guys and rooming with Mikko I’ve learned that he’s a character.

HF: Who on
your team has really caught your eye and impressed you this year?

BW: I guess
that from playing with Jamie Wright a lot that he comes to mind. I’m just trying to learn from him, especially
coming back to the bench during a game and talking about shifts and about
plays, body positioning or certain things where we can get each other the puck
better. There’s so much to learn from a
guy like that who’s been around and through the ups and downs. He’s definitely a true professional and someone
who brings fun and humor to the game as well.

HF:
Other players I have talk to also point him out as a guy who leads by
example and takes players under his wing in a sense.

BW: He’s just
such an energetic guy too with a quick wit and he’s an overall great guy. He’s someone who enjoys coming to the rink
and that makes for a great teammate.

HF:
Considering how far back in the standings you once were, and also that
basically the Roadrunners are an expansion team, it’s remarkable how far the
team has come this season. Does your
success even surprise the team a bit?

BW: Not
really. I think we were playing some
pretty good hockey at the beginning of the year but we were losing a lot of
really close games. I think being at
home and using that to our advantage, we’ve been able to get on a roll and we
have confidence in each other as players.
It’s not too surprising considering the quality of a coaching staff that
we have; the way they get the team prepared is pretty amazing. They do a great job with video and game plans
and things like that.

HF:
Are you feeling like
Toronto is more like home now? What
is the atmosphere around the city towards the Roadrunners these days?

BW: It’s great
to have a home rink to practice in every day.

At the beginning of the year we were shuffling around between York University and Toronto and it
had a lot to do with our schedule. The
city has taken us in a bit with the recent success that we’ve had. They’re trying to promote the team and get
the city aware of the things that we’re doing.
We had a public skate downtown in kind of a park setting and the guys
went down there in their jerseys and stuff to sign autographs and skate with
people. They’re trying to get the city
more involved and there’s a lot of little kids waiting
around to get autographs and it’s a cool feeling. The way the rink is set up, walking away from
the locker room you walk past the fans so it’s kind of cool.

HF:
It’s probably not that long ago that you were one of those kids waiting
outside to get an autograph yourself right?

BW: Oh sure
and you always have to keep that in mind too.
It’s neat on the weekend because a lot of the games are in the afternoon
so it’s a great family atmosphere.

HF: To look at the 2000 draft the Oilers
had, fans are often critical of that year because they haven’t seen much from
that class yet. There’s Alexei Mikhnov
in Russia, then yourself, Cullen and Jason Platt, all college guys so really in
a sense you’re on the backburner for three or four years. Do you and Cullen ever talk about the fact
that the Oilers have had no one from that year establish themselves yet?

BW: We don’t
really talk about that. Each individual
has their own growth and development period.

I know for myself that I’ve learned so much and added so much to my game
this year in the AHL because it’s such a great league. All you can do is try to keep developing your
own game but as far as a timeline on any individuals, all I can do is go out
and try to improve the best that I can.

HF:
The team has played about a dozen more games then you have this
year. Have you been injured at all or
were those mostly healthy scratches?

BW: For the
most part they have been scratches but I broke my nose the other day and I
missed the next game.

HF: Was it a
stick or a puck?

BW: (laughs)
Fist. It was against
St. John’s.

HF: Do you
still follow what happens back in
Wisconsin?

BW: Oh
definitely yes! I’ve still got a lot of
buddies there and it was unfortunate they lost out in the first round of the
conference tournament last weekend.

HF:
I would assume that you would consider this season in
Toronto to be a
successful one for both you and the team.

BW: Oh yeah,
we feel confident about the last regular season games and we’re just going to
go out and get it done.

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