Randall Gelech is proving to be one of the rising stars in the Phoenix Coyotes system. Selected by Phoenix in the seventh round of the 2003 Entry Draft, Gelech enjoyed a successful junior career with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, culminating in the Rockets 2004 Memorial Cup victory.
The 21-year-old Saskatchewan native has had a fine rookie season with the Utah Grizzlies of the American Hockey League. Although the Grizzlies have struggled, Gelech has been one of their most versatile and hard-working forwards. The 6’3, 212-pound winger has been a mainstay on the team’s penalty-killing unit and his aggressive play has made him a fan-favorite in Utah. Gelech has played 72 games this season and has 12 goals, 10 assists for 22 points.
Randall Gelech spoke with Hockey’s Future after the Grizzlies practice on Friday at the E Center in West Valley City.
HF: Heading into the Coyotes rookie camp and Grizzlies training camp, what were some of your expectations for the season?
RG: I didn’t know what to expect, coming from junior to pro. I knew players were going to be bigger, stronger, and faster. I was trying to prepare myself the best I could for that. Once the year started I just wanted to keep developing as a player. Obviously any hockey player wants to keep developing, getting better every game. I wanted to win, that’s the biggest thing, and hockey’s the most fun when you’re winning.
HF: Were you surprised to make the Grizzlies club out of training camp and contribute as much as you have this season?
RG: I wasn’t surprised I don’t think, no. It was a goal for myself and I worked for that, worked hard for it. It was unbelievable to make the squad first of all and to attain my goals it didn’t come as a surprise.
HF: What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between junior and the pro game?
RG: There’s a lot more patience in the pro game. In junior there’s a lot more skating around, it’s more of a chip-and-chase game. Junior I’ve found sometimes is a lot more physical. Obviously it depends more on the time of year when it comes to pro hockey. Like I said earlier the players are bigger, stronger, faster, and definitely more intelligent on the ice. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed.
HF: Your stock has improved a lot this season. What are some things you need to work on to help your game develop even more?
RG: Definitely my speed for next year. I’m definitely going to have to work on getting that extra step, that quicker step. My strength too; I’m not huge by any means stature-wise but I could put on a little more muscle. I think that would help me out a lot battling down low in the corners and in front of the net, that’ll help me out a whole lot.
HF: What do you feel are the strengths of your game?
RG: I think that I position myself very well and I’m really strong on the puck down low. I like to work the puck along the boards in the offensive zone. Also defensively, I’m pretty strong in that respect. I look after my end first and that will lead to my offense, good defense turns into good offense.
HF: You’ve sat out the last couple games. Are you injured?
RG: Right now I’m just going to say I’ve got a lower-body injury. We’re taking things day-to-day right now.
HF: Do you think you’ll be back in the lineup by the end of the season?
RG: That’s definitely our goal, to be back before the end of the year. I’m setting my sights on returning for this road trip to close out the year.
HF: You said hockey’s the most fun when you’re winning. Obviously lots of losses this season, more this season than your last two years at Kelowna combined. What have you learned through losing and how have you stayed focused throughout the season?
RG: I think if anything before you can win you’ve got to learn how to lose. If anything from this year you’ve got to remember the feeling coming off the ice after a tough loss. That’s something as a player you can’t forget because they’ll stick in your mind when there’s a big game you don’t want to be at the losing end of. There have been a lot of losses this year and it has been tough. As players I guess you’ve just got to get better every day. That’s all you can hope to do, show up to play every night and get the result in a win.
HF: There was a lot of optimism coming into the season. Why do you think the Grizzlies have struggled so much this year?
RG: It’s not just one thing; you can’t point fingers at anybody. I think collectively we’ve struggled at times for different reasons. Like I said there’s no one to point fingers at. I think if anything injuries have been a big problem for us, we’ve definitely lost a lot of man-games from very important players to our hockey team. Without them in the lineup it forces players into roles they’re not comfortable with or having players called up. It makes things difficult when you’re missing some of your best players.
HF: What’s the biggest aspect of your game you’ve improved this season with the Grizzlies?
RG: I think all-around my game is steadily getting better. My first 20 games were a huge adjustment. Basically just thinking the game a lot better and once I figured that out I got a little more patient. That’s when I started getting some more points and pucks started going in the net for me. As a player there isn’t one thing I think I’ve really improved. I think my game has improved progressively as the year went on and that’s something I’m happy with.
HF: You have a very aggressive forecheck, you and Justin Cox both. Has that always been a part of your game, that aggressive forecheck?
RG: That’s been a huge part of my game ever since pee wee when we started body contact. I’ve always had a bigger frame and an aggressive part to my game. I like getting out on the forecheck and causing turnovers; that’s how you’re going to get your offense. If you’re not aggressive on your forcheck it’s easy for the other team to break out and play in your end. I love getting on the forecheck and finishing checks. For me I’m most successful when I’m doing those things, forechecking hard and finishing my checks.
HF: Who would you say has helped you out most this season in your development?
RG: There’s not one person again. I think the coaching staff; I know it’s been tough on them. It’s Pat Conacher’s first year as a head coach. I know Gord Dineen, he’s had a hard time too. It’s not easy losing, but those two have been consistent all year just taking each day, day-by-day and trying to help us develop and that’s all you can ask from your coaches. There have been some older guys that have helped out, if I get going in the wrong direction they get me back on track. I sit beside Aaron Gavey in the room and he’s got 355 NHL games played so he’s obviously a proven professional player. He’ll give you some hints and pointers along the way, he doesn’t say too much but if I have a question for him he’ll be sure to help me out.
HF: What current or former NHL players do you pattern your game after?
RG: I’m a big Mike Peca fan; I think he’s a real complete player. He plays power play, penalty kill, he hits, blocks shots, that’s the type of player I’d like to see myself become. I like him and Peter Forsberg because he’s the same way. He competes every night, the bigger the game the more often you see his name show up. Those are two players I’ve taken a lot of interest in the last couple years.
HF: What are your goals heading into next season?
RG: Now that I’ve gotten a taste of professional hockey I’m starting to get to know what it’s all about. Depending on what the NHL does next year, if there’s an NHL season I don’t see why my goal wouldn’t be to try and crack a spot on the Phoenix Coyotes. That should be every player’s goal coming into camp. That’s going to be my goal throughout the summer, working for a spot on the roster because the Phoenix Coyotes drafted me and they’ve given me a contract and a chance to play here in Utah and a chance to develop. I want to compete for a job in Phoenix.
HF: What are your plans for the summer?
RG: After the year I’m probably going to take a couple weeks off and relax, let the body recuperate. Definitely going to head back to Kelowna, British Columbia where I played junior and probably going to look at buying a house for the summer. That’s where I’ll be for most of the summer then I’ll head back after a couple weeks to Saskatchewan, small-town Elfgrass, visit my family and friends back there. Then I’ll be back in Kelowna, back and forth throughout the summer just training and getting ready for the next hockey season.
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