Q&A with Kurtis Foster

By Holly Gunning

Kurtis Foster was acquired by the Thrashers back in December 2001 in a trade with Calgary. He was a 40th overall pick of the Flames in 2000. The Thrashers immediately signed Foster out of the OHL and placed him with the AHL Chicago Wolves where he is now in his third season.

The 22-year-old blueliner has 10 goals and 19 assists in 64 games with the Wolves this season and is –2, an improvement over his –15 last season. He has played a total of five games with the Thrashers, two in 2002-03 and three so far this season. In those five games he has one assist and is –2.

Listed at 6’5” 225 pounds, the offensive defenseman boosts a renowned right-handed shot. Blessed with both size and skill, he needed time to put all the elements of his game together. Having now done that, he’s now just looking for another chance to play with the big club.

Wolves coach John Anderson said of Foster this weekend, “He’s got a great shot and he’s scoring lots of points. His defensive game has picked up so I think he’s within a year of playing in the National Hockey League.”

Hockey’s Future spoke to Foster after the Wolves 4-0 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday.

HF: How do you think your season is going so far overall?
KF: I think it’s going pretty well. The first half of the season started up pretty slow for myself, only had eight points before Christmas, playing alright. Then after Christmas I for some reason turned it up and been playing really well since. With injuries now and Heinsy up, I’m getting a lot of ice time so it’s really helped my game.

HF: How would you compare this year to last year?
KF: Last year if you look at the stats I had more points than this year. But right now I’m even on plus/minus. I’m really trying to work on my defensive game, that’s one thing they wanted me to work on. Just working as hard as I can on that and just trying to chip in offensively as much as possible.

HF: Do you feel more confident out there, you look more calm.
KF: Yeah, I mean playing with (veteran Greg) Hawgood and being in my third year, I’ve calmed down a little bit out there and just playing with some poise. Try to make good plays. If it’s not there, just chip it up the boards. Try not to get frazzled or rattled when the game gets tight.

HF: How did you think you did playing in Atlanta both last year and this year?
KF: Well, last year’s camp went pretty well, I stayed a lot longer than I thought I would. Played a couple games. Then during the year played a couple games. I was pretty happy. They were my first two games, I was just happy to be playing and make my debut. This year’s camp I was hoping to stay a little longer and I did and played a few games. This season I got three games a couple weeks ago. It was good to get in there and get a taste of what it was like, play a little more, know what Bob’s like, what he expects. I’m hoping to get up at the end of the year, but if nothing happens, I’m hoping to have a good camp next year and stay a little longer.

HF: Did you feel like you played better in your games in Atlanta this year?
KF: Yeah. Last year was more just getting experience. I was like ‘oh my God, I’m in the NHL’, making my debut, ‘look who I’m playing against’. But then this year was more like ‘OK, I can do this’. Steve Weeks and Bob Hartley told me ‘we know you can do this, just go play your game’. It was good, I just went out there and did what they wanted me to do. I didn’t play too much, but once when we were down 5-1 I got to play a lot in the third period. It’s good to get to play against good players and see that I can play at that level.

HF: You’ve mentioned it a little bit, but what in particular are you focusing on improving on?
KF: It’s such a cliché, but my defense. Positioning, being strong in the corners, finishing my checks, not getting beat out of the corners. This year I’ve really worked a lot on my skating with a power skating instructor and I actually changed my blades, got longer ones, to get better balance. It’s really worked. I’ve just got to work on that every day. All you can do is work on it, gain experience and get better at it.

HF: So the power skating is during the season?
KF: Yeah, during the season. I did it last year a little bit and this year a little bit. He got me to change my blades to a size bigger. We found it helped my balance a lot. I’m not getting knocked off the puck as easily anymore. It’s helped a lot I think.

HF: Did Bob Hartley tell you anything in particular at camp to work on?
KF: Not really. In my man to man meeting when they said they were going to send me down Bob said he was real impressed with how I came in. I came in early. He said he was impressed how much I’d matured. That’s one thing I wanted to do, come in and show him I’m ready to be an NHL player. He gave me some things to work on here, just little things like defense, being strong on the puck, working hard, and just working to be a better overall player at both ends of the ice. The little things he teaches you make you a better player.

HF: Do you think about anything while you’re on the ice?
KF (laughs): No, you really can’t think. You have to read the play and read what’s going on but a lot of it is just instinct you learn throughout the years. Like there was a play tonight behind the net where the guy made a nice move on me and I learned how to play it for the next time. If I see it again, I’ll know how to play it. Read and react. Mistakes happen as part of the game but when something goes wrong you learn from your mistakes and try not to let it happen again. You really don’t think, it’s all instinct and reacting. If something goes wrong when you go off you think how not to let it happen again. Or you do it again if it’s good.

HF: You look like you’ve put on weight since last year, how much have you put on?
KF: Yeah, I put on about 10 pounds this summer. During the season I’ve almost lost it playing so much. I’ve played 63 games in Chicago and three in Atlanta. It’s been a long season. As you can see I have a few injuries (ice bags on hand and ankle). It really wears on you, but you have to keep your conditioning up so you feel good in the playoffs.

HF: At the beginning of the year were you at the weight you want to be at to play, or do you still think you need to put on more weight?
KF: Oh yeah, I’d still like to put on another five pounds of lean muscle but I was happy this summer, I thought it went pretty well. All I can really do is go home and work hard in the summer and just make sure that I don’t lose my speed and my ability to move.

HF: I don’t think you’re at that point yet.
KF (laughing): No, no.

HF: Do you still find that it’s hard to put on weight because of your body type or are you getting to an age where it’s easier?
KF: Growing up I was always a skinny kid with no muscle, really bony. I always had to work extremely hard to get any muscle at all. For me it starts with nothing. Some guys like Karl Stewart and few other guys just naturally have lots of muscle and no fat. For me it’s the opposite. I come from a family where no one is really ripped. My dad and all his brothers are big people. I’m lucky, my dad and all his brothers are all tall. That helped me, I got my height from my dad’s side, but I’ve had to work hard for what I am now. It’s funny because when you go to camp you realize how hard everybody else works so you have to work even harder every summer, it’s amazing. For every stride you make, everyone else is making the same amount. You have to put in that extra effort on top of that.

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