Q&A with Mike Egener

By Aaron Vickers

With Mike Egener, what you see is pretty much what you get. The Tampa Bay Lightning know it, the Calgary Hitmen know it, and anyone stepping on the ice in the Western Hockey League is well aware of it as well.

Egener, 19, was selected 34th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft. The 6’3”, 200 lb defenseman plays with a passion, and an edge matched by few in the entire Canadian Hockey League. To say that he is a player that opponents hate to face is an understatement.

Egener, originally ranked 40th among North American skaters by Central Scouting heading into the 2003 Entry Draft, has been a mainstay on the Calgary Hitmen blueline since the 2000-2001 season that saw him dress in 52 games. In total, Egener has participated in 223 games, which saw him register six goals and 37 points over a span of four seasons.

Despite not being known for his offensive abilities, the Calgary native possesses an excellent ability to distribute the puck to his teammates, whether it be with an outlet pass to get the puck out of his own end, or setting up a chance in the offensive end. On top of his abilities with the puck, Egener has proven time and time again that his skating ability is one of the best facets of his game.

This season, Egener has also stepped up as a leader in the dressing room, with an ‘A’ on his jersey, along with forward Ryan Getzlaf, Mark Rooneem and team captain Patrick Wellar.

And this season, Egener set career marks in assists with 16, points with 17, minutes in penalties with 228, and is +26. Both his plus/minus rating, as well as his penalty minutes had Egener in the top ten amongst his fellow Western Leaguers.

Although he finished sixth in the league in minutes served, Mike Egener’s off ice persona couldn’t be any different from his on-ice tactics. The hard-hitting defenseman is soft-spoken away from the ice, and although he led the Calgary Hitmen in penalties, was named the club’s ENMAX Humanitarian, along with teammate Lee Zalasky. Quiet and reserved off the ice, Egener is all business when the puck drops.

Hockey’s Future caught up to Mike Egener after a game at the Pengrowth Saddledome early last week.

HF: The season has been one full of ups and downs for the Hitmen, from Ryan Getzlaf coming back from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks camp a bit late, to the recent rash of injures on the team. What kind of season has it been?
ME: Well, you know, every team in any league you’re in is going to have an up and down road during the season. We, as you mentioned, having Getz (Ryan Getzlaf) gone for a while there, our team had to adjust and a lot of guys had to step up. Our record, I’m not certain how it was without Getzlaf, but when you have a guy like that out of the lineup, it gives younger players a chance to step up and start producing there out on the ice. We’ve had some good times, some good winning streaks. Our defense have been playing well over those streaks and we’ve had to learn how to play consistently throughout the year. I think we’ve done a good job of developing our own players over the course of the year. Just recently that losing streak we had obviously wasn’t a good time, but we were going through a lot of guys being injured. We’ve currently got three key guys out of the lineup right now, with (Mark) Rooneem, (Lee) Zalasky and (Shaun) Landolt. You know, the last three games a lot of guys have stepped up, it’s been good. It’s been a good year so far. Ups and downs are going to happen and we’ve battled through it and been very successful. Hopefully we’ll continue to be successful for the rest of the year.

HF: During the BC road trip, the Hitmen struggled to produce offensively. What has it meant to the club mentally to be able to score five goals Saturday night against Medicine Hat and another six goals tonight against Saskatoon?
ME: Once again it shows without those key guys, we can produce goals. I really believe it starts on the back end there with our defense. We take care of our own end and everyone else is going to be tough out there and confident that our defense will get the job done. You know, Barry (Brust) should be our last line of defense after they get past our forwards and defense. I think we’ve just been, the last three games, preparing ourselves better and getting ready for the playoffs.

HF: What has the addition of Barry Brust meant to the hockey club, and especially the defense corps?
ME: Oh, he’s unbelievable. You know, Mark Stiles mentioned a little while ago say that he hasn’t seen a WHL goalie ever move the puck like he has. He’s like a third defenseman out there. He’s a great motivator, he talks a lot and brings a lot of leadership and playoff experience. He’s been a great addition to this club, and you know, he’s a great addition for passing the puck when we get back there. We’re getting back there and he’s hitting us with outlet passes or clearing the puck. It really helps us out.

HF: Has it been a difficult adjustment for the defensemen to make from former Hitmen goaltender Jerry Festa, especially in terms of moving the puck?
ME: It’s obviously going to be a little bit of an adjustment. It took us a while to finally get used to him playing the puck so much. It’s a different style of play for us. When you acquire someone on your club via a trade it takes a while to adjust.

HF: Obviously the Calgary Hitmen are gearing up for the 2004 WHL Playoffs. What can this team do this postseason?
ME: We can do a lot of damage. Going back to Brust and the playoff experience he has. Last year in the NHL we saw how important a good goaltender was with JS Giguere and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The style of game they played was very well defensively and I think that’s going to be the same kind of thing our team is going to have to do in the playoffs, except I think that we have the offensive ability to be able to score goals. Definitely our defense is going to play a big role for us in the playoffs, with the big guys on the back end and Brusty (Barry Brust) with his playoff experience. It’s going to be interesting how we react once we get into playoff mode. The games will be a lot closer and we’ll have to deal with that.

HF: Are there any whispers in the dressing room about a Memorial Cup berth?
ME: Oh yeah! It’s something you obviously want to achieve and I think we have a team that can achieve that. We’ve got great leadership and WHL experience on the team. Great defense and good goaltending are key in winning a championship, and we’ve got that.

HF: You mentioned a couple of times about the defense of the Calgary Hitmen. Have you come across a defense corps so big and so physical looking through your junior days, or even forward at the pro level?
ME: In the WHL, I haven’t seen anything like it. I’m sure in the NHL there are teams that have the ability and the size that we do. Not saying that we’re NHL caliber, but if you compare the two, teams like Colorado and Detroit have some good defense back there. The thing about our defense is that we can skate with the puck, and we’re all big boys back there. We’re capable of playing very physical and it’s evident that we’ve got a lot of WHL experience and a lot of game experience, especially with our younger guys.

HF: I appreciate you coming out for this interview with your skates off. I’ve had (Jeff) Schultz and (Andy) Rogers come out with their skates on and it’s not fun (holding up the microphone)!
ME(laughing): That must’ve been sore on the arm!

HF: With your four penalty minutes tonight, you move into sixth in the Western League in minutes served. Is that more a result of the edge you play with, or would you say at times you need to be more disciplined?

ME: I think I’ve been a lot better this year, discipline-wise. I’ve been taught tremendously. I’ve been hammered a lot by the coaching staff and I appreciate that. It’s something I have to work on to be successful. I can’t hurt the team. I’m still in the learning process. I’ve got to learn how to take penalties effectively, and when to not take them altogether. You know, I do play an edgy game, and those things are going to happen. It’s a part of my game that’s going to come with maturity.

HF: You’re posting career totals in points this season with 16 and counting. Is that a product of you shooting the puck more and getting the forwards going from the back end?
ME(laughing): I’ve only got one goal, so I don’t think it has anything to do with me shooting the puck more or my goal scoring. It’s evident as the guys get older, they gain more confidence and they start playing more, and those points are going to come with it. It’s nice to get more then last year, considering I haven’t scored a lot of points in my career, but hopefully I’ll be able to develop that more and more as my career progresses.

HF: What kind of feeling did you get this December when you were chosen to the Canadian Junior squad’s tryout?
ME: It was an amazing feeling. I’ve had the opportunity to play with Team Canada before. It was during the summertime. I wasn’t sure if they were going to want me or not. They ended up not choosing me, and it’s something you forget about. You have to forget about those things. It was an exciting time, and at that time I was playing well, and it didn’t work out, I guess.

HF: Is it something you’ve used personally as a motivator?
ME: No. I just try to put those things in the back of my mind and play my game. You cannot control that kind of stuff. They made a decision and obviously I wasn’t a part of their plans, so it’s something I’ve just dropped and forgotten about. I’ve just looked ahead and play my game.

HF: How would Mike Egener describe his on-ice presence?
ME: I’m a great skater and I think I play very physical. I’m able to play a physical game and I feel like I’m a great passer, able to make a great first pass. I’ve got a good shot also. I feel like I’ve got a lot of character and leadership and I stick up for my teammates. I think I’ve got a lot of guys in the dressing room that look up to me.

HF: If you had to pick out one weakness or flaw in your game, what would it be?
ME: I think it would have to be getting too down on myself, or getting frustrated when I make a mistake. I’ve got to learn I’m only 19 years old and those things are going to happen. Mistakes are going to happen. The only way to get better is to forget about the mistakes, or even use them to your advantage and build yourself as a better player.

HF: What would be your one piece of advice for an opposing player coming down on you one-on-one?
ME: That’s a tough one. I’d probably suggest not to try to take me wide.

HF: Undoubtedly the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft was an event you won’t soon forget. The Tampa Bay Lighting selected you early in the second round, 34th overall. Were you in attendance at the draft?
ME: Oh yeah, I was. My dad was just home for the weekend this passed weekend and we were talking about how nervous I was at the draft. You know, it’s funny how you wish you could almost go back to the draft and re-live it and enjoy it. I had a fun time there but I was so nervous with the whole NHL experience and I remember my parents coming into the hotel room and I was just stone faced. I was just looking forward and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was just sick from nerves. When I got to the rink, I didn’t move from my seat at all until I was drafted. You know, my dad was asking me if I needed to go to the washroom or anything and I said ‘No, I’m going to stay here until I get drafted!’ It was a good experience and I hope to go through it again when my brother (Luke Egener of the Vancouver Giants) gets drafted and be able to go there and just enjoy the experience. When I was there I was just so uptight. I wish I could have a second chance and enjoy it more.

HF: What sorts of emotions were running through your head as the Tampa Bay Lightning announced you as their selection?

ME: I was out of my seat before they even said my name. You know, my dad almost had to pull me down, because if it wasn’t me I would’ve looked like a fool. I was up and I was just ecstatic, completely different from a second beforehand, stone straight ahead. It was a great feeling and something you’re always going to remember. It’s just the first step to making the NHL, and I know there’s many more.

HF: You brought up your brother Luke. About a month ago when you suited up to play against the Vancouver Giants, your brother was in the line-up. What was that experience like for you?
ME: Oh it was awesome. I didn’t get to play against him that long; I was ejected after the first period. It was a great experience. Luke was starting the game, and I was starting the game. He was wearing #4 and I obviously wear #4 as well. It was a nice gesture of the Vancouver Giants to be able to start him, and I was probably more nervous then he was. I wasn’t sure how he’d play out there, but he looked good, and he’ll have a good future ahead of him.

HF: The Calgary Hitmen have a unique quality about them this season. They’ve got three draft eligible defensemen, all ranked 34th or higher by CSS. Have they come to you at all for any advice or preparation or etiquette on how to handle the 2004 NHL Entry Draft?
ME: They don’t really go to me for advice. I think they handle themselves quite well. They’re quiet guys, but they’ve been opening up much more, which is nice. I think they see the way us older guys play and they look after that stuff. I’m sure during the end of the year they might be asking more questions about the draft. My only advice is to not take it so seriously, and to enjoy it. It only happens once in your life. We’ve got three great defensemen back there and they’ll all be very successful in the draft. It’ll be exciting to see where they’ll go.

HF: The labor negotiations that will impact the NHL, have you been talking at all with the Tampa Bay Lightning on negotiating a contract before the projected lockout?
ME: Yeah, they’re interested in signing a contract and, you know, I’m not sure if I should talk too much about it, but they want to talk at the end of the year about it, and we’ll see how everything works out. It’d be nice to do that, but I just want to worry about hockey and not worry about that kind of stuff and just play hard and working towards getting better and those things will eventually happen.