Q&A with Tom Gilbert

By Guy Flaming

Tom Gilbert Q&A

The newest member of the Oiler
organization already has an interesting list of accomplishments on his
resume. He’s been the leading defensive
scorer on his team, he’s had a book written about him and he’s even been involved
in a big NHL trade at the March deadline!
That’s pretty impressive for a kid who’s still a sophomore in college.


GM Kevin Lowe acquired Tom Gilbert
from the Colorado Avalanche on the morning of the trading deadline in exchange
for goalie Tommy Salo and a sixth round draft pick in 2004. The 21-year-old native of
Bloomington Minnesota was a
fourth round selection by
Colorado in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft but was on the Oilers
hit list that year as well.


“Tommy Gilbert is a player that we’ve
really liked for the last couple of years,” commented VP of Hockey Operations
Kevin Prendergast.


Brad Winchester, currently an AHL rookie with the Toronto Roadrunners, was a
teammate of Gilbert last year at Wisconsin and gives the rearguard top grades
in his description of him.


“Tom’s a great player,” Winchester
began. “He has good offensive instincts
and he’s a really good skater as well.
He definitely is of an offensive mind and he can jump in to make plays
when needed. He’s good on the power play
and as a right-handed shot, he can find the seams and he has a great shot. He can do a lot of good things.”


“He was a really good player for us last
year as a rookie and he’s a great kid too, a great individual.”


Last year a publication written by author
John Rosengren entitled “Blades of Glory” was released. The book was an overview of the experiences
of a handful of athletes at a major Minnesota high school and Gilbert was one
of the main characters.


After high school Gilbert played for the
Chicago Steel of the USHL and was a league all-star that year. As an all-star, the 6’3”, 206 lb blueliner
also represented the
U.S. at the Viking Cup in Camrose Alberta alongside
fellow Oiler prospect Matt Greene.


A strong performance in his rookie year
at Wisconsin, 20 points including 7 goals, enabled Gilbert to place second in
the entire NCAA for goal scoring by a defenceman. He led his team in power play points and was
given the Dr. Joseph Coyne Most Consistent Player Award last year as well.


The Wisconsin Badgers had a terrific
regular season this year and again Gilbert was near the top of his team in
scoring. He finished just a single point
behind the leading defensive scorer but played in five fewer games. Unfortunately the Badgers, who were ranked
No. 5 in the nation at the conclusion of the season, suffered a humiliating
defeat in the opening round of their conference playoffs.


Hockey’s Future was fortunate to speak at
length with the newest player in
Edmonton’s prospect system a day after the Badgers were eliminated from the
WCHA playoffs.


You’re from Bloomington Minnesota, is that also where you grew up and
played your minor hockey?

Yes, that is where I grew up and where I have lived for my whole life.


From there you went to Chicago to play in the USHL.

Yes, that’s when I played for the Chicago Steel for just the one year.


Now you’re playing at the University of Wisconsin. What factors led you to decide that Wisconsin
was the program for you?

TG: I guess it
was partly because it was my first recruiting trip that I went on. I liked everything about it; I liked the
campus and then I saw the rink and it just sold me. Some of my senior friends from high school,
because I played a year in junior first, some of them went to Wisconsin
and I talked to them before I made my decision to see how fun it was and they
said that it was a blast.


Did you also have some friends from high school who stayed back in
Minnesota and went to one of that state’s schools?

Not really. I knew some of the
players that played there but I wasn’t really that close with any of them.


HF: Tell me what your role is with the Badgers
this year.

TG: My role is to supply some offense
from the defense.
I jump up into the play or get the puck up and make a good transition
from our end.


HF: Your defensive partner is Ryan Suter who was
a highly regarded prospect last year.
How well do the two of you mesh together as a pairing?

TG: He’s more of a defensive defenseman. Me and (Suter) are pretty comfortable with
each other and we know when to jump into the play, either one of us, so it’s
really good.


HF: The regular season is over now and
unfortunately the conference playoffs ended yesterday for you with a loss to

TG: Yeah, obviously that’s not what we
wanted. This was their first “final
five” appearance and this wasn’t a record that we wanted to set for them but…


HF: You still have a very good chance of getting
into the national tournament though, being a highly ranked team in the nation.

TG: If we would have made it out of the (WCHA)
final five we obviously would have gotten a bid there but I think we’re tied
for tenth now in the “PairWise” rankings.
It’s up in the air but it looks pretty good right now. I guess the only way we wouldn’t get a bid
right now is if all the under seeded teams win all the tournaments and then
we’d get bumped down in the rankings. We
just have to wait around and practice for the next week until they pick


HF: Last season you won an award for being the
most consistent player. How highly do
you regard that distinction?

TG: The plus and minus thing, it’s something that
I pride myself on. I hate being
out there for goals (against). It’s the
one thing that I work really hard for so it was pretty neat. My plus/minus last year wasn’t really that
good (+5) but I guess it was good enough to be on top.


HF: You took part in the US National Team’s summer
evaluation camp back in 2002. I have to assume that it was a great experience
for you.

TG: Yeah, that was fun! It was about a week and a half and obviously
you’re playing with and against really good players and the puck is moving
really fast, it’s a much faster game. We
played against Finland and that was a lot of fun because I’d never played a team
from there before. It was a really good


HF: You also played in the 2002 Viking Cup up
here in Camrose too, correct?

TG: Yeah!
The European teams we played there weren’t all that good, they moved the
puck well but they were young. There
were a lot of good Canadian teams up there though. It was fun but unfortunately we got bumped in
the playoffs against, I think it was B.C. (Manitoba actually). It worked out kind of good though because we
got to go through the big Edmonton Mall and we also got to go see an Oiler


HF: Fellow Oiler prospect Matt Greene was on that
Viking Cup team with you. He’s with
North Dakota, a pretty big rival of your team.
What kind of a player is he to play against?

TG: That was actually our best series of the
year! They came into Madison and we won
both games. They’re a good team and
there’s always a big crowd when they come here.
Matt’s definitely a guy you want on your team! He’s a pretty big kid. We have two players on our team who actually
played with him last year, and they say that he’s a pretty tough kid. He’s got the reach and the size going for him


HF: Will you make the trip up to Edmonton this
summer for the prospect camp?

TG: I assume that I will go. I see no reason why I wouldn’t. This summer is really up in the air; I have
no idea what’s going to go on. I don’t
know if Colorado had one or not (last year), I wasn’t informed of anything so I
just stayed here in Madison and worked out with a trainer all summer.


HF: I should ask you what it’s like being traded
from Colorado before you even got to do anything for them. What are your thoughts on the trade to

TG: I think being on the transactions list is
kind of exciting. You don’t really think
about that yet, you know that a team has your rights but you’re really just
worrying about college, and then all of a sudden you get traded for someone who
is playing in the NHL and it’s kind of weird. I have to say I was pretty excited,
especially when I found out that I was traded for a starting goalie like Tommy
Salo, that’s pretty neat. I got ragged
on a lot by my teammates in the locker room (laughs) but all in all, it’s a
good experience.


HF: Do you have a nickname?

TG: (laughs) I’ve got a lot of nicknames…

HF: Anything I can
print? Do you go by Tom or Tommy?

(laughs) People call me Tom or sometimes ‘Togi’. People call me Tommy too.


Tell me about the book that was written that features a character based
on you.

Actually, one of the characters was me. It was a high school book and this guy
followed us around all year taking in the high school experience at Bloomington
Jefferson and seeing what it’s like to be an athlete
and a student and all the pressures we get.
It was interesting.


What do you still want to accomplish in college before that part of your
career is over?

TG: Well, we’ll have to wait for a week
or so but I still haven’t won a championship yet.


Did losing this past weekend to Anchorage just fire you guys up enough
that the motivation from that loss will aid you in the coming weeks?

Oh yeah. It’s a pretty big boost
right now. We want to go to Minnesota to
play for the national championship but for now we have to wait to see what’s
going to happen.


Who are the big rivalries for Wisconsin?

Minnesota is a pretty big rivalry school, Minnesota and North Dakota.


Impressions of Edmonton?

What I saw was awesome. I loved
the Mall; it was great. I come from
Bloomington where the Mall of America is and it’s the second biggest one to Edmonton’s
so it was cool to see it. The rink was
awesome and the fans were too.


Wisconsin lost its opening best-of-three
playoff match up to Alaska-Anchorage, a team that had never won a playoff game
let alone a series. The defeat has
dropped the Badgers in the national rankings but probably not significantly
enough that they will not get into the NCAA tournament. Selection Sunday is this coming weekend so
the team will not have to wait long to see if they lived to play another day
this year or if the summer will be much longer than they’d hoped for.


Oiler fans will get there first chance to
see Gilbert in person this summer once plans for the second annual Top
Prospects mini-camp are finalized.


Discuss Oilers prospects at the Oilers section of the Hockey’s Future
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