Q&A with Connor James

By Brian Jennings

Connor James was taken in the ninth round, 279th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Los Angeles. He spent his last four seasons at the University of Denver. Last season he helped them to the 2004 NCAA Championship with 57 goals and 83 assists in 159 games.

This season James is assigned to the ECHL Bakersfield Condors. In 31 games, James has 12 goals and 15 assists and is tied for the team lead it plus/minus with a +14. He has been named to the ECHL All-Star game to be played this Wednesday.

Hockey’s Future recently caught up with James before his game against the Reading Royals. In the game he had a stellar backhanded goal on a 2 on 1, assisted on a power play goal. Then to top his night off, he finished the night with the game-winning goal in a 4-3 victory. In the shootout, he was the last shooter and came through to win the game.

HF: You were taken by the Kings in the ninth round 279th overall. Were you a little surprised about that?

CJ: Yeah I was, but that’s because I didn’t even think I was even going to get drafted. Just to get that phone call and realize that I was drafted was pretty amazing. It was definitely a big thrill and an accomplishment that I’m very proud of.

HF: You’re one of the team leaders in plus/minus on the team, do you pride
yourself on being a strong two-way player?

CJ: All of my coaches, both here and when I was at Denver, have stressed to me about being a strong two-way player. I hope it’s rubbed off on me (laughing). I realize that there’s a lot of room for improvement. I think that if you want to take your game to the next level you definitely need to have a good all around game.

HF: What else did your coaches stress to you at Denver? How is that translating into your game at the pro level?

CJ: They taught me some things about systems, how to tune up your game, and
how to be a more complete player. I can’t say enough good things about them. They were great coaches. They taught me a lot about playing the game of hockey.

HF: What are your coaches preaching to you now at Bakersfield?

CJ: Mainly just how to be consistent. That if I wanted to get to the next level I have to be consistent game in and game out. The coaches here know what it takes to be there, coaches like Paul Willett, and (Marty) Raymond. It’s definitely helping me try and get to the next level.

HF: How do you like playing in a market like Bakersfield?

CJ: I love it! It’s a great town. The weather is great, great golf courses, great people, and of course the girls (laughing). I’m glad I was sent there. I’m having a great time.

HF: What goals have you set for yourself while you’re here?

CJ: I don’t really have any goals (laughing). No I’m just trying to be as consistent as I can be so I can reach the next level.

HF: What have the Kings said to you about your development?

CJ: When I was in Manchester all they really said was use your speed and be
a strong defensive forechecker. It’s not like I was going to be a goal scorer there with all the great scorers they have. I will just have to work hard and create opportunities from my forchecking.

HF: Have you set yourself a timetable when you’d like to see yourself in the NHL?

CJ: No, not really, to get there would be a big thrill. I have my degree
(in science marketing) and I’m getting paid to play hockey so basically I’m having fun and I’ll try and ride this for as long as I can.

HF: What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?

CJ: My strengths I’d say are my skating and my playmaking ability. I’d say my weaknesses would have to be my size and my physical play. My physical game is something I definitely need to improve on.

HF: What got you into hockey?

CJ: The 1988 Olympics in Calgary. I went and saw a game there with my parents. That’s how I got hooked. I got started the next year.

HF: Who do you pattern your game after?

CJ: I don’t really pattern myself after anyone. I do admire and respect some players like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg. I got to see them play while I was in Denver. I can’t do some of the things they do, but you try and take a little bit from everyone and try and making yourself more of a complete player.

HF: What obstacles do you see between you and your dream of playing in the NHL?

CJ: Obviously there are a lot of great players out there that have been in the system longer than I have. I know that if I play my game though things will fall into place. I know that if I want to make it ahead of those players I have to work hard and do the best I can and hope I make an impression. I think just to make it to this level is still an accomplishment because there are a lot of great players in this league.

HF: Talk about winning the national championship at Denver, did it come as a
shock to you that your team won it all with so many good teams you had to go through to win it?

CJ: It wasn’t a shock to me because I knew we had such a good team. I was still a little surprised though by how well we did considering the competition. There are so many good teams in college hockey. Being a senior I don’t think you could have written a better script by winning it all my last year there.

HF: Would you rather see yourself as leading your team in scoring or in
plus/minus?

CJ: I think they’re both very important stats, but I think plus/minus is a little deceiving at times. It doesn’t really reflect how well you played. Sometimes you get bad bounces, which makes it harder to show how well you played in a game, so I’ll take the scoring.

HF: So far in your career, statistically, you have shown a lot of consistency. What do you attribute that too?

CJ: Actually I think that’s the thing I’ve struggled with this year. I started off hot, then, I got really cold. I’m hopeful that I’m coming out of that now. Basically the pro game is different from college because in college you play a couple of games during the week, where here you have to be play sometimes three nights in a row, take a day off, then go play another game. The mental preparation, being ready to go, even when you don’t feel like playing, it’s something I’m getting use to. Those are the types of things like that I’m learning to deal with.

HF: You were a team leader at Denver. You’ve automatically come in right away and taken on a leadership role. Is that something you’ve taken upon yourself or is that something Coach Marty Raymond has asked you to do since you got to Bakersfield?

CJ: I think that we’ve had a lot of good leaders here like Kevin St. Jacques, Guy Dupuis, they’ve made it easier for guys like myself to come in and be a leader. I think with me being a first year pro it’s important to be on a team with strong leadership. It has been great being with them so far.

HF: There are ideas out there about how to make the game better. What would you do to make the game more exciting for the fans?

CJ: We played without a red line in college so I’m definitely in favor of that. I know a lot of people don’t agree, but I think it opens things up a bit. You will see more breakaways, which would help a guy like me (laughing). That also would make it more exciting for the fans.

HF: You grew up in the hockey mad town of Calgary. I take it you were a Flames fan growing up. Who is your favorite player and why?

CJ: I was a Joe Mullen fan. I’m not too sure why though (laughing). When I was growing up though I had his jersey with his name on it. I always thought he was a
great player.

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