With a boyhood idol like Teemu Selanne, it’s a little surprising that Derek Meech would turn out to be someone who strives to prevent snipers from doing their job. When the Detroit Red Wings drafted the Winnipeg born blueliner, he had just completed his second full year with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Having already captured a Memorial Cup title in his rookie year in 2000-01, Meech had already begun showing the leadership skills that have become his trademark over the years.
Meech was a member of the Brent Sutter lead powerhouse teams from early in this current decade but always seemed to be overshadowed by someone else on the blueline. Doug Lynch (EDM), Jeff Woywitka (EDM) and Dion Phaneuf (CAL) have all been teammates of Meech during his Rebel days but the likeable 20-year-old has never had ego troubles or a desire to hog the spotlight.
With his WHL days behind him, Meech is now skating with Detroit’s AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. It hasn’t been an easy for him, as he currently holds down a team low –12 rating and just four points in 42 games played. In his junior days, Meech wasn’t regarded as a highly offensive defenseman but he did have 10 goals one year and a personal best 38 points in a season just last year.
Meech and the Griffins recently journeyed to Edmonton to tackle the Road Runners in a two-game series with both teams desperately trying to shake losing streaks. In the end it would be Edmonton sweeping the Griffins 3-0 and 3-1 and Meech was a combined –1 in the two games.
Hockey’s Future had the opportunity on the morning of game 1 to speak with Derek Meech as he continued his professional debut season with a return to Alberta where he’d spent his last four seasons.
HF: What, if any, have been the most difficult aspects in your transition from junior hockey to the AHL?
DM: I think a lot of it is the speed and the strength up here. Coming out of junior you’re playing against 16 and 17-year-old kids but coming here you see that everybody is a man in this league and everybody is smarter, faster and quicker, so it’s a pretty big adjustment. So far I think I’ve done alright with it.
HF: What has helped you the most with the adjustment? Has it been a teammate in particular?
DM: I don’t think it’s an individual teammate, but just a bunch of the older guys. I’m a 20-year-old so I could technically still play another year in Red Deer and there have been a lot of ups and downs, but that’s to be expected here. I’ve had a lot of guys really help me along here. Blake Sloan has been really good. Pete Vandermeer I played with in Red Deer and his brother Jim and also Teddy who is still there so I’ve been with their family a long time and he’s done a great job of kind of taking me under his wing. Bryan Helmer has played in the NHL so he knows what it takes. I watch those kinds of guys on the ice and try to take from them what I can.
HF: In Red Deer you had great chemistry with Dion Phaneuf, have you started to develop that kind of chemistry with any of your current Griffins teammates?
DM: This year we’ve switched up the pairings a lot so I don’t think I’ve really had a consistent partner. Travis Richards is a really great guy to play with because he keeps things so simple so if anybody, I’d probably have to say him.
HF: You were a team leader last year but now you’re the rookie; is that a tough dynamic to get used to in the room, knowing when to talk and when not to?
DM: It does take a bit to get used to but I take pride in trying to be a leader in my own way. Even though I’m a 20-year-old in a brand new league and there are guys 15 years older than me around. It’s a lot different but what can you do? I think I’m my own player and I just try to lead as I can. I still talk in the room and when I’m on the ice I try to do my best, I’ll always try to keep that aspect of my game alive.
HF: What was the best advice you had going into this year and who gave it to you?
DM: Probably from Jim Nill and Ken Holland. They both told me that the jump from junior to pro was the biggest jump and to make sure I was ready for it by working hard in the summer on my strength and keeping focused. I think I did that last summer and this year I’ve played every game so I’m pretty happy. My dad always encourages me too, big time.
HF: Actual height and weight numbers?
DM: I’m 196 lbs and I’d like to say 6’ but I’m not quite there yet.
HF: 5’11 and three quarters?
DM: (laughs) Yeah let’s say that!
HF: What is your most underrated quality?
DM: My skating has always been good, but I take pride in being physical when I can. That doesn’t mean I try to go running around killing guys but when I see the right time to step up and make a hit like to do that. Every game I try to add that a bit more.
HF: What influence did hardnosed Coach Brent Sutter have on you in Red Deer?
DM: Huge I think. He really brought me along well as a 16-year-old kid coming into the league. The first year there we won the Memorial Cup and we had an unbelievable team. He handled me well, not being quite as tough on me at first but at the right times when it was needed he’d be on me. That goes on and off the ice; he’s the type of guy that takes pride in being a good person off the ice and he taught me a lot about being a person and a hockey player. I really enjoyed the time I spent in Red Deer.
HF: At one time you played alongside Lynch and Woywitka in Red Deer. Do you guys still keep in contact and how cool will it be to line up against them this week?
DM: It’s going to be a little different. Jeff and I were good friends in Red Deer, we always hung out there so it’ll be a little different. Lynch played in Spokane the last year so I’ve played against him once before but I’ve never played against ‘Woyzi’. If he comes down my wing though I’m definitely not going to be shy about putting him through the glass that’s for sure! (laughs).
HF: Whom else from the Rebels do you stay in touch with?
DM: I keep in touch with most of the guys that are still there. Colin Fraser (CHI), Dion Phaneuf (CAL), Chris Neiszner and also Ted Vandermeer. I still talk to a lot of guys from Red Deer who are now in the AHL like Woywitka, Matt Keith (CHI), Cam Ward (CAR), Carsen Germyn… it’s fun to see all the guys who come out of Red Deer and are now having success up here.
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