Round Table – Picking Into Murray’s, Glumac’s, Thomas’ & Hedberg’s Mind

ZAGREB - Bill Thomas (#9) of KHL Medveščak Zagreb fires a shot during a regular season KHL game against Jokerit Helsinki on November 22nd 2014 in Dom sportova (Krume Ivanovski/KHL.hr)

ZAGREB – Bill Thomas (#9) of KHL Medveščak Zagreb fires a shot during a regular season KHL game against Jokerit Helsinki on November 22nd 2014 in Dom sportova (Krume Ivanovski/KHL.hr)

It was back in February when we sat down with some of Medveščak’s best players of their 2014/15 KHL season, captain Andrew Murray, Michael Glumac, Bill Thomas and Edwin Hedberg. Now, some four months later, we look back at an interview that has not been published before.

What are the qualities of a good captain?

Andrew Murray: I think, leading by example. Whether it’s on the ice or off the ice. I think both are important for showing guys the right way, the way things need to get done to be successful. Younger guys can then see what it’s like to be a professional. Setting an example out on the ice, in practice and games.

Edwin Hedberg: Like he said, leading by example, always going out there and doing what’s best for the team. Murray’s a pretty good example of that. Showing up every day for practice and for games. We had some tough times this season and it’s important to have leaders that go out and lead the way.

Mike Glumac: Leads by example, hard worker, he doesn’t have to speak up or anything, he’s just the guy that goes out and works hard.

Bill Thomas: I agree. Leading by example is what I look forward to in a good captain and a good leader. A guy that will do the right things when nobody’s watching, a guy that will do the right things no matter what anybody thinks about him. Sometimes it’s hard to be a leader, you’ve gotta tell people some things they probably don’t want to hear. Sometimes that’s what’s needed of you.

When you get a letter, do you get nervous?

BT: No. I think at this point in our careers, we’ve at some point had a letter or been a captain of a team and we’ve seen other people throughout the years and how they lead. We try to just, I guess, emulate the people that you look up to.

MG: It doesn’t really change much. It’s just, you still have to go out and play the same way whether you have a letter or not. Maybe a little bit more responsibility in the room, but other than that you’ve got to go out and play the same way.

AM: I don’t think so. A lot of times you’re in a position where you’ve been through it before at different levels. It’s obviously an honor, whatever team you’re on, to wear a letter, kind of represent the team in a leadership way. Knowing that you have the support of your team mates and the coaching staff to do it right.

As a captain, when a player is not bringing it, what do you do?

AM: It’s on everybody, especially on this level, that you need to show up, you need to be a pro, bring your 100% every game. When that’s not going right, I think some times you need to say something and get guys going. Obviously, everybody, not just the guys that wear the letters have to say stuff, I think as a team we have here, I think we need everybody every night, and if guys aren’t playing good, it’s up to the leadership to say something, and make sure the leadership is performing before you say anything.

How do you pull a younger player aside, have a serious talk with him?

AM: A lot of times, too, you have coaches for doing that because as a peer, like any job as a coworker, you can talk to guys, you have that other level of communication than with the coach. As a group, we say “well, we need to play better, we need to step it up“. At times it gets tricky pulling individuals aside, saying something on the bench or in the game because it’s your coworker, and your peer. Sometimes it needs to be said, but for the most part, I think it’s, you know, you have that other level of communication with the players than the coaches do.

BT: Every case is different. Some young guys can be a little bit more sensitive than others. You can’t get in their face and yell at them. Then there’s some guys that need the, I guess it’s a fine line, talk to a guy, kind of call him out. Usually it’s not the best if it’s done in front of everybody, people get defensive, unless it’s a point you’re trying to make for everyone to hear it. Kind of the way I’ve seen a lot of leaders and coaches, they know that some players that are, they can call out in front of others to set an example. But then, obviously, there’s other guys that need to be kind of 1-on-1, individual, with a little bit more care.

MG: Yeah, you know, I agree. Everyone’s a case by case example, some guys can handle being called out in front of other people, and other people you need to be a little more gentle with, take them aside and talk to them.

What is it like from your perspective as a younger player?

EH: For me, when I got here, everything was new. It was my second year pro so, I was in Sweden, it’s a little bit different. A lot of guys from the juniors that came up to the pro team that year. This has been a big chance for me, coming here and playing with a lot of guys that have experience from the NHL and many years pro. For me it was just to learn every day, small details and seeing how it is to be a professional.

Goaltending has been an issue this year, and when you see the media coming down on the goaltender, how does it make you feel as a team?

MG: I think a lot of it goes to how you play in front of a goalie, too. You have to limit their chances, you can’t put blame on the goaltenders. It’s how everyone plays in front of them. It’s a team sport, so I think everyone has to be involved and help out in the defensive zone. If you’re getting scored on, it’s a reflection of the whole team, not just the goaltender.

BT: The goalie seems to be the easy one to blame. Their job is to stop the puck, and if you’re looking at it from the outside, if they give up five goals, you’re going to sit there and say “it’s the goalie’s fault to give up five goals“, but you know, if the score is 5:1, obviously we didn’t stop them and we didn’t score. In some cases, you can win a game 1:0, but that’s rare. Chances are in this league it’s going to be 3+ goals a game. It’s easy to look at the goaltender and blame him, but as a team, inside the locker room, we watch video, we see where the breakdown happened, 50-100 feet away from where the goal took place. We stick together. We know sometimes the media, some guys you can weigh on, but other guys can either avoid it, which sometimes helps, too, to stick with what our system is.

EH: I don’t think we should pay too much attention to that. There are always going to be people that don’t think your effort is enough, so as a team we have to stay strong and let other people care and worry about what they’re writing in their newspapers.

AM: For us, too, it’s different. When we were back home, playing in Canada and the States, we were able to understand the language and read the papers, watch TV and the teams were on the news, and here we don’t really know what’s going on outside. In that regard it’s a little bit easier to block it out. If there is negative articles about how individuals or a team are performing, a lot of us don’t see that or read it. That makes it a little bit easier. It’s always difficult. Whether it’s a goaltender, player, if they’re having a hard time or people are being hard on them, it can be difficult. We see a goaltender in a position where he kind of stands out there on the ice, the full game, he’s easy to blame, when you’re the last line of defense, it’s easy to blame it on the goalie.

A lot of changes this year, especially with all the players coming and going, but also with coaching. Is it possible that a coach can lose control in a room?

BT: I think so. Sometimes when the team never finds itself, it’s never losing control to begin with, and so when you don’t have the identity, and you don’t have the amount of people buying into what’s happeing, then the team truly never comes together, and if it gets to that point, sometimes it’s really hard to get back on track. We did a great job coming together later in the year, we ran out of games, we ran out of bodies, and so it was just, it started to become a good season and now, we’ve just run out of time.

MG: I agree. The beginning of the year, we weren’t playing great, but as the year went on, especially in January, we were making a push for it. Like Bill said, just kind of ran out of time and, you know, had we started that push earlier, you never know what happens.

AM: I don’t think so. I mean, any team I’ve ever been on has gone through a lot of changes. Rarely in pro sports can you start with one team and at the end of the year to have the exact same team. As far as the coaching staff, I think they did a good job this year with the position we were in, and ultimately, it’s the players that go on the ice and perform.

EH: I came in a little bit later during the season and haven’t had so many chances since I got here so. I know it’s pretty hard for me to say it, but I think we’ve done a good job to get the group together. The guys that own the locker room for a moment that are going to do their job on the ice. That’s how we have to see the whole thing.

Is it important to know who will stand up in the locker room during tougher times?

BT: I don’t think it matters who does it, I think it matters that everybody understands what the problem is, not just letting it go by. Anybody can stand up. It can be the youngest guy, it can be the oldest guy, it can be a guy in his first year here, it can be a guy who’s been here for four years. When nobody says anything, it means nobody cares. When you have people standing up and saying something, it’s out there and people need to realise the problem, whatever the problem is, it needs to be addressed.

MG: Anyone can stand up, it’s just a matter of, if everyone stands up and nobody does anything about it, then it doesn’t really matter either. I think it has to be both. Someone to address the problem and everyone to get together to try to fix it.

Where have you developed your defence first mentality?

MG: That’s a major point in any system, especially against the teams we’re playing. You know, we have to concentrate on defence, work hard. Teams are so skilled here that if you have breakdowns anywhere along the lines, and the skilled players will take advantage of it. We had a strong defensive core this year. It’s definitely a major thing to work the defence out and try to limit the breakdowns against guys like these.

AM: For me, I’ve been able to play for some pretty good coaches. Let’s say Ken Hitchcook in Columbus and St. Louis, I’ve played for him and he’s a coach renowned for a defence first mentality, won some championships, Stanley Cups because of it. I think playing for him for a couple of years really learned a lot. Obviously, practicing with players at that level and seeing what it takes to win. I kind of engrained that into how I play.

EH: You always want the puck. When you don’t have the puck, it’s hard to score. I always want to get it back when we lose it.

Where does your urge for shorthanded breakaways come from?

MG: (laughs) I don’t know, sometimes there is an opportunity, I guess you just kind of have to pick the opportunity and if there’s an opening and a couple defensemen that kind of knew I was going to go if the opportunity presented itself, and it helped, and I was usually out there with Murray who is a pretty good defensive player himself, so I didn’t feel too bad about leaving him down there if I felt an opportunity arose. It worked out a couple times and other times it didn’t. Trying to create some offence when the other team isn’t expecting it.

AM: (laughs) I don’t know.. I guess a lot of it is anticipation. Some times, even catch the other team being offensively inclined to score on the powerplay, and sometimes you can catch them going one way and the puck’s going the other way. It’s just the read and anticipation of the play. We’re going to get the puck and the puck’s going to turn over, and you can take off, hopefully get the puck and get the breakaway.

What scares you on the ice?

BT: I don’t know.. Playing with fear generally means you’re always going to play slower, because you’re always worried about what’s going to happen next instead of just anticipating it. To be worried about something.. You can fear a team, I guess, or a skill level of a team, but not to the point where, you know, you got to, almost respect them rather than fear them. If you’re playing scared out there, you’re going to get beat. If there’s any type of fear, you’re going to get beat, you try to eliminate that before it comes in.

MG: I guess if you’re playing scared, it’s a bad thing. We’ve been playing for so long, you’re kind of used to everything. You just use everything to your advantage really.

EH: Nothing, I think. You can’t have that feeling when you’re going out in a game. It’s just got to be, be pretty tough out there.

AM: I don’t think anything really scares me. I think the only really scary moments are some injuries when you see a player go down on the ice, whether they’re taken off on a stretcher or there’s blood coming off their face, it’s one of those things where hockey is a fast and physical sport, pucks are flying around, it’s a part of the game, but it’s kind of scary when you see that stuff first hand on the ice. One of those things where whether it’s your team or the other team, you never want to see a anyone get hurt.

What memories of mistakes during games haunt you to this day?

BT: There’s probably plenty but then you’ve got to forget about them.. (laughs) Short memory, I don’t know, you try to forget about them, there probably is but you try not to dwell on what happened previously or anything like that. Every situation is always different. No two situations are ever going to be the same. Every player you play against, every linemate, nothing’s going to be the same ever. It’s hard to pick one up.

MG: The same way.. If we were perfect players we’d be in the NHL right now. Everyone makes mistakes out there and during a game everyone’s going to make a mistake. You just have to brush them off, don’t worry about it, everyone does it and just hope it doesn’t end up in the back of your net. That happened sometimes, too. You just brush it off and keep playing.

EH: We were with the junior team last year, in the semi finals, it was in the shootout. I missed and they scored so they won and went to the finals. I think that’s probably it because I never had a chance to win the junior championship.

How smart is it for players to block shots?

BT: Everyone can do it, but you’re sitting here talking to two guys that do it. I think everyone can do it, but it’s just a mentality, I guess, that if you want to or not. It sucks, but when we PK, that’s just the way our system is, if we didn’t want to do it, we wouldn’t penalty kill because they’d find someone else to do it. It’s just a matter of will to do it.

MG: Yeah, it’s not the most fun thing to be doing, but I guess you just have to be willing to do it and hopefully the padding stops it, not the skin. That’s pretty much your only hope out there.

AM: I think it’s just being in the right position. If you’re in the penalty kill, you’re going to block more shots just naturally. I think that’s it. There’s certain guys, it’s almost like an art how they block shots, and I think it’s past them. It’s a really important part of the game. Some guys have made a career in the NHL out of being good shot blockers.

EH: Smart, I don’t know (laughs).. But you’re helping the team. If the puck gets through from the blue line, it’s hard for the goalie to see where the puck came from, so if you prevent a goal it’s good to block shots.

Back when you were in the NHL, was there ever a moment where you had to get in front of a Shea Weber slapshot?

BT: I can’t remember off the top of my head. There, more than anything in the NHL, I played the penalty kill, and that was the thing, for some teams, the only thing I would do. If I didn’t do it, I wasn’t getting on the ice either way, so it didn’t matter who was shooting it. I did everything I could to try and get in the way or anything like that. When you’re in the NHL and you block one shot, you’re hoping maybe it hurts and you get to stick around, a two month injury or something like that and collect the paycheck (laughs), it’s different blocking a shot there, like a couple hundred thousand bucks (laughs). There’s some guys in the NHL, and even guys out here. We practiced with Foster last year, nobody wanted to get in the way of that. Now he’s playing on a different team, and you don’t want to get hit with it, but that’s the job. You got Kulyash of Avangard who’s shooting at 108 mph. It could be in your net, you could lose the game. That’s just kind of the way it goes. You just have to do it.

How much has the culture of the game changed since you started playing?

MG: I don’t really know. I’m sure it’s a little different. Obviously, a different league now, too, living in a different place, travelling to different places, that all changes, but the in the room and that stuff it’s always going to continue to be hockey.

BT: I think it always evolves. When we started, the veterans were putting time in, they were battling through the minors, they came up in the NHL later, it seems nowadays like there’s so much young talent. Those guys are in the NHL at just 18, 19, 20 years old, making a difference, winning Stanley Cups. In North America, for sure it’s become a younger league, but like he said, everyone’s still a hockey player in the locker room, it’s all the same. It hasn’t changed in that sense, that it’s become something different than what it was before. Younger players are becoming more skilled just based on training, the accessibility nowadays, the mentality and the opportunity that they get.

AM: Yeah, I mean the game’s changed. I think it’s become a lot faster. They’re really cracking down on the penalties with the clutching and grabbing. Players, too, are taking off ice conditioning to different levels, making them stronger and faster. Off the ice, I think if you would say 20 years ago, it’s probably changed a lot more than in the last ten years. It’s just evolving. It changes naturally over time, but since I’ve been pro, it’s probably for the most part stayed the same.

Skating back to the bench after a bad play.. What’s that like?

BT: Demoralising (laughs).. If it goes in, yes, very bad, but it gets back to it, though. You can’t let if affect you. You can worry about it, maybe the coach will say something, at this point, every player knows when they make a mistake. If you’re worried about it when you get back out there, it’s just going to cause you to second guess whatever you’re thinking. You try to get it out of your mind as fast as you can and move on.

MG: You’re gonna make a mistake every game. As soon as you make one, you played long enough that you know it was a bad play. You forget about it, try not to do the same thing again.

AM: Obviously disappointing because, you know, it’s a team sport and other people are relying on your play out there.. You never want to let anyone down and most of all, you’re disappointed in yourself.

EH: It’s kind of disappointing for yourself. But you want to go out there again and do things right and show the team. Of course, it can be tough sometimes but you have to get out there again and try.

How important is it for you to trust other guys on the team?

BT: That’s the biggest part, I think. For Glumac, obviously, playing with Murray now for two years, there’s lot of trust there, Bjorkstrand last year with them. Those two have been together for a while now. When you have that confidence when you know what the other person’s going to do, then you automatically trust them, you know what kind of plays they’re going to make, what they’re going to do in these situations. You can trust that they’re going to make those plays, and it works in the same way, they know what type of player you are and that trust level just goes hand in hand with playing together over time and learning each other.

MG: You put a lot of trust in other team mates because it’s a team game. If you miss an assignment and something breaks down, you’ll still have trust in your team mates that they’ll pick you up and pick up your slack and help you out. Then, the next time they make a mistake you try to be there for them, too.

You’ve played on the same line with younger guys this year, Hedberg and Bjorkstrand, what was that like for you?

BT: It was good. I think they had some reservation putting us all together with those two guys being younger. Eddie, obviously, not being with us at the beginning of year, coming in, his experience level at the KHL, and Bjorkstrand being in his second year here, they’re both young. Bjorkstrand was one of our younger guys last year, and Edwin’s just turned 21 this year. I talked to the coach about it. I wasn’t like I was watching over them or something, they’re both very capable players, they’ve showed it that they can score. They’ve played really well and I’ve enjoyed playing with them. They both have a lot of speed, which is the reason they put us all together to have as much speed as we could have on that line. The skill level’s great. They listen when I talk to them, they’re attentive whenever I give them some advice. For the most part, they’re both great players, the way they handle themselves out there. They’ve evolved really well. Edwin wasn’t getting a lot of ice time at first. We had 13 forwards so he was kind of getting in sparatically. But you know, he was still able to produce and score, his first shift, his second shift in his first game. They did really well and I liked playing with them. They both did really well, and they actually helped me out, too. I had a really good second half of the season. I attribute that to them, to their skill level and their work ethic. They really helped me out.

EH: It was pretty good for us. Billy is really good in both ways, offensive and defensive. That kind of put some pressure on us (laughs), but we always know that he’s got our back and we play our game and we can read off of that. He’s helped us a lot to develop.

Did you see it as a bit of a challenge? Perhaps considering yourself somewhat of a teacher?

BT: I guess a little bit of a challenge, but Bjorkstrand, he’s 22, he’s probably in physical shape better than me. I mean, he’s stronger than me, he’s bigger than me, he’s got the tools, he’s got the ability, he can skate like the wind, he can fight off guys in the corners. It wasn’t too much of a challenge with him. Eddie, coming in, I know he had some time off, coming to this league with the highest competition for him at that time, he’s a smart player. He makes some incredible plays out there. He showed it in the last game, too. Always making great plays, just like he did for the last months, he’s got a five or six game point streak in the last little bit here. He’s got incredible skill. It kind of was, I was a little worried at first, kind of what our outcome was going to be, how long they were going to allow us to play together. They kept us for a long time. It might have been a little bit of a challenge at first, but at the end, I enjoyed playing with them. They were great to play with.

EH: Yeah, kind of, you can say that. I’m pretty sure it was the kind of hockey where we learned a lot from him and he taught us the small details that helped us improve. He’s helped us a lot.

You weren’t playing for some time before you came to Medveščak. How satisfied are you with your progress?

EH: I didn’t have a team to play with before I got here, so I practiced on my own with my dad. It was pretty tough to get into the games right away, but things got better and better over time. I’m really happy with how things have been going.

When you came here, coach Shedden said you wouldn’t be getting too much ice time, but now you’ve developed into a core part of the group.

EH: I tried to work hard every day, be ready when I got the chance, do my best every shift. It’s up to him. I just tried to do my best and create as much as I can. When I’m out there, we had some injuries and stuff and that made some spots open and I got the chance, I was ready to show him and the team I could play on this level.

Are you happy with the change you’ve brought into this team, having added a whole lot of speed?

EH: That’s the way I play, to always have speed out there and get the puck to the net to create something. Some games I feel really bad when I play those small passes, between the sticks and skates. It’s getting better the longer I play and get more comfortable out there on the ice. Of course, when you’re playing with Billy you get to play for a long time, that’s made it easy.

As the captain, what does it mean to you to see younger players develop into key assets?

AM: It’s really important. Eddie, Bjorki, they became guys we relied on for our offence, especially towards the end of the season when we made a push. You could see their growth. Bjork was here a little bit longer than Eddie, being here last year to this year, but you can see they’re developing and you can see their progress. Young players, they’re kind of early on in their professional career where they’re really getting, they’re seeing the game, they’re progressing in a way that the team really relies on.

Your lines of 62-9-94 and 16-17-74 made for two great lines this year..

MG: Me, Muzz and Perk have been together for a long time. Things got split up near the end of the year because of lack of players. We just kind of knew each other and played well together, fed off each other. It’s easier when you know where everyone’s going to be. They’re both really good players and bring different things to the table. It helped and we all worked well together. We were together near the end of last year, too, for a while. You get a little bit of comfort when you’re with someone for a long time, it’s easier. We’ve already gelled before we played with each other.

So you think you were a perfect fit for each other?

MG: Yeah, I guess it’s easier when you’re kind of the same mentality. When you know you’re going to be with them, it’s easier.

Was there ever a sense in the locker room that chemistry was lacking?

AM: I don’t know.. You can say that for some games, and then other games it was really good. I don’t know.. It was trial and error with finding guys that worked well together. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but that’s common for most teams, too.

Good chemistry, how important is it during tougher times?

AM: I think a great deal. You’re trying to create that bond off the ice with your team mates, not just your lines mates. It creates an almost brotherhood that you’re willing to sacrifice and play hard for each other because you don’t want to let those guys down.

EH: It’s important to have good chemistry in a team. It’s a team sport. It makes everything a lot easier. When you go out on the ice, as a team.

Fast Eddy is just one of the nicknames that came up during the year. What are the others?

EH: (laughs) I don’t know. It was Sheds that came up with it, and then it spread.. I can live with it. It’s an okay nickname. (AM: Better than Slow Eddie) It’s something positive. That’s always good.

AM: I don’t know if anyone doesn’t like theirs.. Heeter maybe – The Beauty, Kolanos – Special K, Bill Thomas – Lobby Bill just because he’s in the hotel lobby talking to his girlfriend all the time.

Lastly, if you were to describe the season using one word, what word would it be?

MG: Obviously, it’s disappointing to be done at this point, this early, especially after last year when we had a great run and made the playoffs. It’s disappointing. We had a tough start. The way we battled at the end, kept battling, we were getting close and then things didn’t work out. Any time you’re done before the playoffs it’s disappointing.

BT: I would say unfulfilled. Coming in with the expectations, last year making the playoffs, we played hard in the playoffs last year, we didn’t get the results in the games. We were all tied or winning going into the third period against Prague. We had high expectations coming into this year. I would say it was unfulfilled. We did come together, it was just too late. One of the main goals to start the year was to make the playoffs, and we didn’t do that so now we’re done early. It’s tough when a season’s done like that. You hope for better. We didn’t achieve it, that’s it.

AM: Disappointing.

EH: Whenever you don’t make the playoffs, and we didn’t, it’s disappointing.