As the 2003-04 Western Hockey League season came to a
close, Andy Rogers began to feel the pressures of having every shift scrutinized by National Hockey League scouts, hoping to get the inside track on what makes the 6’5 210-pound defenseman tick.
In an interview with Hockey’s Future in March when asked if there was any additional pressure to perform nightly, knowing the draft was inching closer, Rogers admitted, “Yeah, there is. Ever since the rankings have come out, there’s been that pressure. You’ve got to come
to the rink even more prepared. I mean, you get a little nervous here
and there, but it’s one more thing you have to battle through.”
And battle through he did. Rogers finished up the campaign on a strong
note, which saw his stock rise from that of a potential third round
selection to become the last pick in the first round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, something that surprised even Rogers himself.
“I think everything [surprised me],” Rogers said of the draft. “I didn’t know what to
expect at all. I didn’t know where I was going to get picked or
anything. But obviously being selected in the first round, that was a huge honor and
a huge surprise to be picked by the Stanley Cup Champions. It was definitely a huge
honor and a great experience altogether.”
The experience wasn’t one that the blueliner will soon forget. Describing being
selected by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning as
icing on the cake, the entire weekend in Raleigh, North
Carolina was ‘awesome’.
“It was unbelievable.” he said, unable to wipe the smile off his face. “It
was by far the best weekend of my life. Just everything from the first day I got there to
the plane ride home – everything.”
Perhaps easing the tension surrounding the draft weekend was the fact
that Rogers had a few familiar faces around him. In all, five Calgary
Hitmen were selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, including forward
Andrew Ladd fourth overall to the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington’s
27th overall selection in Jeff Schultz, fourth round selection Brett
Carson, again to the host Hurricanes, and Steve Covington, a seventh
round selection of the Detroit Red Wings. All were in attendance, with
the exception of Covington.
“A lot of the other selections I had played with
at U-18 tournaments and knew beforehand, then to have Schultzie and Ladd and Carse,” paused the rearguard, “It was good to have them there, it was awesome.”
As enjoyable as the draft experience was for Rogers, it certainly
wasn’t able to prepare him for his first professional camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was definitely a brand new experience, being
my first NHL camp,” explained Rogers. “You don’t really know what to expect, and the
caliber of hockey is a lot better, a lot of guys are older, bigger,
faster stronger. Everything was new, but I felt I had a strong
Easing the tension of his first professional camp was the presence of former
Calgary Hitmen teammate Mike Egener. Egener, selected in the second
round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, was able to guide
his friend through the motions, behaviors and expectations of an NHL camp. Taking a leadership role for Egener, who was signed in the offseason by the Tampa Bay Lightning, wasn’t
difficult at all, and certainly appreciated by Rogers.
“Having Mike there makes it that much easier and
that much better,” he admitted. “Me and Mike are good buddies and it’s
nice to have him there, who has been there before, and kind of coached me along the way.”
It wasn’t only Egener, though, that helped Rogers set expectations for
himself. Being out amongst the organization’s top youngsters had a
profound effect on the first rounder.
“You see the guys that are the best players
coming out of the program. You want to be
better than the next guy, so it definitely sets up a ground for what you need
to work on.”
Rogers’ desire to improve his overall game had him head straight to the
gym, as Rogers spent his summer training at the National Sports
Development center in southwest Calgary. He shared a trainer
with teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Jeff Schultz, and spent much of his time
not only working on building strength for his 6’5 frame, but also on
the finer points of his offensive game, something he declared he’d do
last March when talking with Hockey’s Future.
“I’ve never been considered a super-offensive player,” Rogers
explained then, “so things like that
definitely could be worked on, and like I said, getting those shots
It was something Rogers didn’t take lightly.
“It was something I worked hard on during the
summer,” Rogers described. “Working on my puck
movement and my hands and my shot.”
His intense training not only helped him prepare for his first
camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but also aided in his
performance at the Canadian Summer Developmental Camp held,
coincidentally enough, in Calgary in August. The camp, comprised of
Canada’s elite junior players, was held as a showcase for Team Canada
Head Coach Brent Sutter, who will hold another camp in December to
decide the 2005 edition of Canada’s junior team, set to compete at
the 2005 World Junior Championships.
“The caliber of hockey was excellent,” said Rogers about the camp. “The best CHL players
and college players coming up through Canada were great to play against, and it gave me a lot of confidence heading into this season. It was amazing. Just being there is more than
enough. Watching each Christmas you just dream about being on the team.
That was just another great experience I’ve taken.”
Another great experience of many for Rogers over the course of his busy
offseason, all of which used as motivation as he prepared for the
current season at hand.
“I gained confidence through the summer,” Rogers said simply. He returns a little older, a little wiser and ready to take his game to an entirely new level.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.