While defenseman Mike Card might come across as a man of few words, he’s built a successful junior career by letting his play do the talking. And the Buffalo Sabres have taken notice.
Selected in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL entry draft, 241st overall, Card has the potential to make the Sabres scouting personnel look very smart. He’s gifted offensively, often choosing to forego defensive responsibilities to contribute in the attacking zone. With the Kelowna Rockets, the veteran defenseman is certainly looked upon to contribute on the score sheet. Only time will tell if this evolves into offensive prowess at the professional level.
“Obviously Mike is a very important player for us,” said Rockets assistant coach, Kim Gellert. “He handles the puck very well and has a great shot. He sees the ice very well, too. He’s a key player on our power play.”
Through 49 games, he’s collected 11 goals and 36 assists. With 91 penalty minutes, Card has proven he’ll stick his nose in when the going gets rough. Heading into the 2005-06 season, the Rockets had high expectations of the 6’0, 200-pounder from Kitchener, Ontario.
“We’re looking to Mike to play very smart back there for us,” Gellert said. “He’s an important player on the power play. And there’s no doubt he’s a leader, he has so much experience.
“He was expected to play quite a bit more than most of the guys this year, there’s a big workload placed on him. He’s expected to play a lot of minutes for us.”
But Gellert admits the veteran rearguard has some work to do.
“What we think Mike maybe needs is to play with a little more intensity,” Gellert suggested. “He can skate so well, we’d just like to see a little more jump.
“Off the ice he’s a pretty quiet guy, pretty laid back. I think we’d probably like to see him become a little more outgoing. But just his play alone, a lot of the guys really look up to Mike.”
The 2001 bantam draft was perhaps the Rockets most proficient day at the table in recent memory. Along with Card, Kelowna selected Blake Comeau (NYI), Tyler Spurgeon (EDM) and Brent Howarth, all of whom remain with the club to this day.
“Mike just continues to get better,” explains Rockets director of player personnel, Lorne Frey. “We knew when we drafted him, just from watching him play summer hockey. I think not too many teams were familiar with him because he didn’t play in the area. We didn’t have much chance to see him in winter because he played in Chicago.”
“We liked him and we were fortunate to get him in the fourth round. He came in at 16 and he’s gotten better every year. His skill level is up there and he’s rounded into one of the premier defensemen in our league.”
Hockey’s Future caught up to Card for a quick chat at Prospera Place, home of the Kelowna Rockets.
HF: How do you feel the season gone so far?
MC: I think it’s gone fairly well so far from a team standpoint. We’re in third place right now. We’re not in first place, which has always been the team’s goal here. The last few seasons I’ve been pretty fortunate to be on first place teams. First place is definitely something we’ve been shooting for and we want to get that for the last game of the year.
HF: The BC Division is arguably the toughest in the WHL. How do you pace yourself when every game seems like a playoff game?
MC: Our division is very tight. I don’t think you can really pace yourself. I think we’ve always had the philosophy that we want to win every game and we’re going out hard every game. You can’t take nights off against anyone, even Kamloops and Prince George have great teams this year.
HF: What can you tell us about your Memorial Cup experiences?
MC: It’s been unbelievable for sure. I mean, I’ve been to the Memorial Cup during each of the three seasons I’ve been here. I guess when we won in 2004, at home here, that was pretty spectacular. It’s all just been a great experience.
HF: Where did you play your minor hockey and how did you arrive in Kelowna?
MC: I was born in Kitchener and we moved to Penticton, BC when I was 6 years old. I played my minor hockey there the majority of time, but I moved to Chicago, and played two seasons with the Chicago Young Americans in bantam. I was drafted by the Rockets and then played one season of junior ‘A’ in Penticton when I was 15. I made the Rockets as a 16-year-old.
HF: Any contact with Sabres since training camp?
MC: Well, not much throughout the season so far. When I was down there I got to go the main camp and it was a good experience for sure. I got to talk to quite a few of the guys and the coaches. They gave me a few things to work on. I’ve spoken to the trainer a couple of times about a bit of a shoulder injury, but it’s a lot better now.
HF: Who have you been playing with on defense?
MC: At full strength, mostly with Alex Edler (VAN). And we’ve been paired together for penalty killing, too.
HF: You’ve known Kyle Cumiskey (COL) for a long time?
MC: Kyle and I are probably best friends, we’ve known each other since we were 8 or 9 years old. I used to live at his house when we played summer hockey together, so it’s pretty cool to be on the same team. We play together on the power play here.
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