Bret Hedican is a 17 year NHL veteran and is currently an analyst for CSN-California. The two time Olympian and former Stanley Cup winner (with Carolina in 2006) has held that position for the 2009-2010 NHL season. Mr. Hedican also contributed to Vanity Fair during the 2010 Olympics.
Mr. Hedican was kind enough to talk with Plank and TCY about the Sharks' first round playoff series with Colorado and their pending matchup against the Detroit Red Wings. You can read more of his thoughts on the Sharks at CSNBayArea.com, his website BretHedican.com, and by following him during the playoffs on CSN-CA.
Fear The Fin would like to thank Bret Hedican and Comcast for making this interview happen.
San Jose had to handle some adversity in the first round, falling victim to a pair of bad bounces that resulted in Avalanche wins. How does a locker room take that experience and apply it to the next series?
Well I think if you have the wrong guys in the locker room, those things will affect you in ways that are negative. But I think if anything, the Dan Boyle shot that went off O'Reilly's stick and went in the net, I think it actually galvanized the team. It brought them closer together and I think that says a lot about the group that is the San Jose Sharks.
Who in the locker room do you see as one of the leaders who takes the reigns after a loss like that?
Well I think it's changing. You take a look at this series and there are some players who are coming to the forefront, obviously Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe. For me, they are the two guys who come to mind automatically because they have done more than just score goals and make things happen. What they've done is they've carried the team in the playoffs. Obviously you can't say enough about Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley and what they did in the regular season, but the Pavelski line won that series. They were the one pivotal group that made a difference on the nightly basis, and they took the series for the Sharks.
You mention the second line and the impact they had in the Colorado series. What other players impressed you during the series against the Avalanche?
There are some players who got better as the series went on. The defensive corps got better. Even Huskins and Demers, to some degree, got better. Demers-- I always thought was a really good player. But he still had a lot to learn in the regular season, and I didn't know how he would fare in the playoffs. However, he and Huskins solidified as a pair as the series progressed. Vlasic got healthier and in turn was effective. He also makes Blake better because they feed off each other, they know what the other is going to do and that's important, especially in the playoffs.
On the forward side, Torrey Mitchell is finally starting to skate. He's starting to turn his brain off and just play the game, use his legs. He's been a noticeable factor. Scott Nichol was noticeable because he was doing what he does best, being physical and using the body. Nobody was doing that the first two games, and consequently they weren't doing too well in those games. Scott Nichol has been physical the whole series, but as we saw, it took more than one guy.
Looking at the team, who do you think can elevate their game for the next series?
I'm not going to tell you anything you don't know already. You have to have Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton elevate their game. There's no doubt about it. I think they are feeling the heat and I think they are getting frustrated sitting around and hearing about it. But the good thing is, for these three, is that the first series is over. They have a clean slate next round on which to build upon.
Do you think this is merely a cold streak, or is it bigger, underlying issues for the three of them collectively?
That's a good question, but ultimately I don't know them to the point where I know what's going on inside their mind. I don't know how they are going to react when the chips are down. You really have to play with someone to know how he will react in that situation.
I can only comment on what I've seen this season. Patrick Marleau has been skating this year at a level I hadn't seen since, I don't know if I've ever seen that level of play out of him. He was flying this year. He didn't score those 40 goals on accident. He scored those goals from working hard and skating hard. But when you get away from that because maybe you're stressing out about scoring in the playoffs, you have to dig deep and find a way to perform at your highest level when it really counts.
Some guys never figure that out. I know that I love the pressure situation. I used to build that into my head, it was the greatest situation I could ever imagine. If you can do that and do those positive repetitions for yourself, that muscle is going to get pretty strong. For the guys who can't be positive and build that into their head, it can do the opposite and affect you in a negative way and work against you.
During the course of the year, San Jose's ability to limit shots was one of their weaknesses, but they did well in that area against Colorado. Was this an improvement by San Jose, or a factor of an offensively lacking Avalanche squad?
I think San Jose was just the better team. Nothing against Colorado, they were depleted, and still played well. But the Sharks had a solid year, and if the teams played 10 games, I think the Sharks would win seven. So yeah, if the series was more equally balanced you would have seen more shots against.
But I think the Sharks did a good job with back pressure, they went back just as hard as they went forward. Also, they took the body in the neutral and offensive zones, making sure that the forwards and defensemen for Colorado didn't have anything easy. They got better in both areas as the series went forward.
You played with Niclas Wallin in Carolina. Sharks fans haven't gotten to see much of him, especially since he was injured before the first round and hasn't dressed in the playoffs to this point. If healthy, what will he bring to the defense?
He's a steady defenseman who has proved himself in the regular season as well as in the playoffs. That's a big thing for Doug Wilson, and you can see that in the players he's added. Not only do they bring a calming influence to the club, a calming influence to the locker room, they also bring experience on the ice. Nic won't just throw the puck away. He's collected in the zone and he will make the smart play with the puck because he has been there before.
Look, I'll put more pressure on him than anyone. I played with him and he was one of my defensive partners in Carolina. Frankly, I'll expect a lot out of him when he comes back to the lineup. What he brings is that he's won. He scores big goals in the playoffs and just knows how to get it done when it matters. I expect to see that when he's playing again.
Do you think that the Sharks will roll seven defensemen when Wallin returns as they did towards the end of the year? If not, who in your opinion should sit?
It's hard to say right now. Coach McLellan will weigh what happens in practice and see how Wallin is skating. If he's skating at a high level and is pain free, maybe they decide to sit Demers, I don't know.
Frankly, I don't mind them playing with seven defensemen, because Demers adds a little bit on that power play. The thing I like about that (seven man) defense is that they can be a bit more aggressive keeping pucks in. The Sharks don't really play that style. In fact I hardly ever, rarely, see the team pinch.
I think it's just a wait and see at this point with Wallin's health.
The Sharks have had some issues with zone entry as of late, especially on the power play. If you were the coach, how would you rectify this problem?
The power play was motoring for a lot of the year, but has since tailed off. When you talk about their break, I don't really mind their style, but it emphasizes patience.
Like we talked about, the Sharks have to raise their level of execution but at the same time be confident with the puck. You take a look at the guys bringing the puck up, the Thornton's and the Marleau's, and again it's about stressing the confidence. They have to get that swagger back. If you are Joe Thornton, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, "Hey, I'm the best passer in the game." They have to build up that muscle in their mind so that when things get tough they can rely on themselves to make things happen with the puck.
I wouldn't change too much. It's just the confidence and cleaner execution that I would stress.
How do you think the Sharks match up against the Red Wings?
Well, you know the Sharks haven't had much success this year against the Red Wings. But, I think that they have to go back to that word that they have used throughout this playoff year: "overcome". They need to overcome their demons in this series, the demons of losing to Detroit. I think they have to realize the fact that in order to go and win the Stanley Cup, you are going to have to beat good teams. Period. And you have to have the right group of guys in the locker room who know already that they are going to beat the Detroit Red Wings. If you don't, then you aren't going to win the cup anyways.
I think that the Sharks are going to have to change up their style a little bit because the Red Wings play such a control style game. San Jose can play that game. Thornton, Marleau and Heatley can be very effective in that matchup.
Would I rather play Phoenix? Yeah, but who cares. Go overcome the fears of beating Detroit. Beat them, and then head into the Western Conference Finals with confidence.
This entire interview, you've been talking about confidence, execution, the game between the ears. In your experience as a Stanley Cup winner, what are the most important aspects of an extended playoff run?
Obviously losing two Stanley Cups, and then winning one, there were common denominators within that group of players. One of those common denominators was unselfishness, a willingness to devote yourself to the group. I think the Sharks have that.
I know it's cliché, but you need players who aren't worried about themselves or the stat sheet, but instead about the team, no matter what their role is. You have to have a group of guys that don't have the egos. You can't have egos in that room. When you walk through the door, you are all the same, no matter if you play five minutes or twenty-five minutes a night. Every one is just as important as the next guy because it's going to take every guy to win.
It also takes guys who lead the way, who lead by example when you're down and you need results. It's not about words. It's about being able to skate the puck out of your own end, out of trouble, after you've been out there for fourty-five seconds to a minute.
In 2006, we had those guys. We had a lot of those players who led by example, and I'd like to think that I was one of them. I tried to emulate that. I tried to play like that. I wanted to be under pressure, and I wanted to be someone who could lead by example. That's a confidence that the whole team feeds off of.
What's one thing that you remember about winning the cup in 2006, one thing that you always look back to when you remember that victory?
It's not just one moment, and it's not just after the win. I remember the experiences throughout the whole year.
I remember a practice, halfway through the year, and it was a moment I'll never forget. It was a practice that was just so fast: every pass was on the tape, and every guy was so in tune. We were all playing at another level. I remember having a smile on my face and thinking, "This is special." Not only were we the players feeling it, but the coaching staff was too. Peter Laviolette pulled us in after the practice and said, "You guys are practicing like you are on a mission right now. If we keep practicing like this for the rest of the year, there isn't a team out there that is going to be able to touch us. We're going to win the Stanley Cup."
As far as the actual moment? Rod Brind'amour picking it up, a guy who was the hardest working player I have ever played with... I was just so proud watching him hold the cup after he was a leader for us the whole time I was in Carolina. A guy like Glen Wesley getting it next, someone who had played in the league for so long, watching him kiss it, and then having him look for me. That's something I'll never forget.
And of course, Roddy Brind'amour pouring the first drink out of the cup down my throat-- just sitting in there with the twenty-five guys you went to war with and being able to have a beer and reflect on what you have accomplished. There just isn't a better feeling.
Speaking of the Cup run, your playoff beard was epic. Is there a reason that you didn't grow one this year?
I don't know. I just got to that stage where it was my first year out, I don't know most of these players... I mean I've been covering them for a year but I haven't played with most of them. Of course I pull for them and I'm supportive, I know how it feels to have a bad night because I've been through it myself.
Maybe if I knew these guys better I'd grow the beard, but I think I'll wait till next year. Maybe next year (laughs).
We ran a piece on April Fools Day, about you signing with the Sharks for the playoff push. Since this is your first year away from the league, do you miss playing?
I don't know if I miss the regular season, but yeah, I miss the playoffs. Like I said before, I really cherished those moments. I didn't fear those situations but instead tried to live in the moment. I think you excel when you live in the moment.
Do you enjoy broadcasting and can you see yourself doing this long term?
I'm having fun doing what I'm doing. Can I see myself doing this a long time? I don't know. I'm having fun telling people about hockey and teaching them about the game here in the Bay Area and I hope people are enjoying what I'm doing.
We read your articles in Vanity Fair too, over the Olympics. Those were pretty impressive as well.
I appreciate that. I wrote one for Comcast too before the playoffs started.
Is there a coaching stint in your future?
Not right now, but I am putting my feelers out for the National and Olympic programs. I'm just such a believer in the Olympic movement in the US. I don't think I would want to coach professional players; I wish there was an NCAA Division I team out here. I'd love to get involved with that somehow.
We'll see with coaching. I have a lot of things in my mind that I believe in, important ingredients for winning teams. I'd love to pass that on to another generation of players.
Lastly, coming back to the Sharks here, who is your breakout player for the second round? We saw Pavelski, Setoguchi and Clowe earn their stripes in round one-- who do you think comes out in round two?
I think Dany Heatley is going to be a breakout player against Detroit. Heatley and Joe Thornton. I think it's Thornton's time to shine. He has to start living in the moment without the fear of failure. As long as he doesn't think about the past or the future and just plays in the now, he's going to be great.
And if he's great, Dany Heatley is going to score a lot of goals.