Six-foot-five, 215-pound Lee Falardeau was a 2002 draft pick of the New York Rangers out of Michigan State University. Last season he had five goals and five assists in 35 games with the Spartans.
The 21-year-old Michigan native opted to forego his senior season at State and sign with the Rangers this summer. After sitting on the shelf for a couple weeks in Hartford, Falardeau was reassigned to ECHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers on October 29th.
The self-admitted checking specialist has already matched his goal total from last season, in just eight games. Hockey’s Future spoke to him after the Checkers 4-3 overtime win over the Gwinnett Gladiators on Friday.
HF: You had a goal tonight and a hat trick a few days ago, did they accidently put you on the wrong line?
LF: (laughing) Oh, no, no, I think the guys I’m working with now, it’s great, we’ve got really good chemistry right now. (Eddie) Pershin gave me a great pass to get me open on that goal. I think we’re just working hard together and things have turned out well.
HF: What do you attribute your personal early success to, is it just your linemates or are you doing something different?
LF: Hmm, I think I’m just trying to relax, you know. I play the game and have fun with it because I think if you’re too uptight you don’t play well. Just getting together with my linemates and working on everything, all parts of the game, I think that’s helping us out.
HF: I’ve talked to Coach Wilkinson about the system you’re running, do you feel like the new system agrees with you and your style of game?
LF: Oh yeah, I think so. Working the puck down low, I think that’s great for me. I’m a big guy and I like to work in the corners. With (Dwight) Helminen and Pershin, we just move the puck well down low. It’s good for me and I like it.
HF: How about the pro game in general, does it agree with you?
LF: I think there might have been a little more clutching and grabbing in college. The game’s a little different, a little quicker here and there. I can’t really tell what the big differences are because I’m playing wing now and I was playing center back then so I had more defensive responsibilities. So that’s been a big change for me, but it’s been going well.
HF: How did the switch from center to wing come about?
LF: Well, we had a lot of centers here (laughing), so coach asked me to try it out and I did and it worked out well.
HF: Had you ever played wing in your life?
LF: No, not really. Yeah, I’ve pretty much played center my whole life so it’s something new.
HF: Maybe you should stay at wing!
LF: I know (laughing), it’s worked well.
HF: Can you describe from your perspective as a winger what your job is in the system?
LF: A lot of times in the defensive end, I really have to make sure to break the puck out, either bang it off the boards or give it to our center to make sure it gets out of the zone. I think that’s really the key, getting out of the defensive end, and even watching their defensemen so they don’t sneak down and get a shot on. And then I think all the forwards are working pretty much the same in the offensive end, we all exchange for the high man and the two low guys. We always want to have a third guy high. We’re just pretty much cycling all of us through.
HF: You mentioned the speed being quicker, but other than that there haven’t been any big adjustments for you?
LF: No, it’s pretty much what I expected. I’m really enjoying it.
HF: What would you say your biggest weakness is still?
LF: I want to keep working on my shot, getting it stronger. I think it’s better when I get in closer, and I want to keep on getting it until it’s a harder shot from farther out.
HF: Some have criticized your skating, is that another thing you’re working on?
LF: I think that’s something you always work on. I think all players have to be constantly working on that. It’s something I’m always doing.
HF: Do you go to skating camps in the summer then?
LF: I do a lot of just skates, sticks and gloves work. No equipment, just work on skating – turns, stops and starts and stuff like that.
HF: Who did you work with this summer?
LF: Well I was at school for the first half of the summer so I skated there. And then I was at home for a while and we rented out the ice and it was me and my brother. He’s younger. We were kind of doing drills. My dad set up some of the drills even. Then in the second half of the summer I was at the Rangers rookie camp in Calgary for three weeks. It was a ton of work there.
HF: Your brother, is he in high school then?
LF: Yeah, he’s in high school but he’s playing AAA hockey in Detroit for BellTire.
HF: Do you think he’ll be drafted?
LF: He’s still a long way off for that. He’s got some decision-making to do if he wants to go the college route or the OHL route. He’s a good player, he has really good hands and stuff. It’ll be interesting to see what he does.
HF: You mentioned the Rangers rookie camp, did you feel like you played well there?
LF: Yeah, I think I did. It was a lot of hard work, but it was a great experience. You got to meet a lot of the players, even some of the guys I’m playing with here. It was kind of a preseason to the preseason, really. I think it really helped me out, adjusted me what I was going to come to this year.
HF: You left school with one year left to go, do you think you’ll ever go back and finish your degree?
LF: Yeah, I’m definitely going to. I’m probably going to take summer classes and actually the second half, now that I’m a little more settled down, I’m going to probably start taking internet courses. Hopefully I’ll get my degree from Michigan State pretty soon here in the next couple years.
HF: You’re majoring in environmental policy, what got you interested in that?
LF: I’ve always been a fan of the maths and sciences, especially science. Just being in Michigan, I really enjoy the outdoors. I think a lot of things nowadays really pertain to what happens to our environment, because obviously our population is growing larger. We’re going to need people to tell others what they can and cannot do so we have a sustainable society. Since I really enjoy the outdoors, I want to make sure it’s all still there in the future.
HF: When you’re done playing hockey, are you going to pursue that as a career then?
LF: Yeah, I mean, it’s still up in the air. Hopefully it won’t be for a long time (laughing).
HF: You used to play against Helminen (when he was at Michigan) and now he’s on your line.
LF: Actually, it’s pretty funny because when we were younger, around 12, we played against each other in Detroit hockey. And then when we were 16, 17, we played together on the US National Program. So we were opponents, teammates, opponents, and now we’re teammates again, so it’s just back and forth (laughing).
HF: Do you like playing better with him or against him?
LF: Oh with him, definitely. He’s a very good player.
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