This is a new feature I’m introducing, that I’m hoping will become semi-regular. Maybe a once-a-month type of thing. We’ll see how it goes.
Anyway, the first ever guest is a member of the Grand Rapids Griffins, was the youngest player in the AHL in his rookie year, and the Wings second pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Introducing, Tomas Tatar.
Tatar was drafted 60th overall by the Wings after he played a full season of men’s hockey in Slovakia, registering 15 points as a 17-year-old.
A small, offensively skilled forward with excellent puck control. Very good hands. Understands the offensive game well. A good skater with a decent shot. A reliable goal scorer. Good in one-on-one situations. Could work harder and improve his physique. - Eliteprospects
Here is my Q+A with Tatar. Enjoy!
RB: What was it like coming over from Slovakia as an 18-year-old to play in North America?
TT: It was kinda tough, you know? I didn’t really speak English at that time. The hockey style is kinda different back in Europe, and back in Slovakia you know? It was kinda tough to start the league here. I started the season kinda earlier because I started with Slovakian team that year. It was kind of a tough change. But I made it and I’m happy and I’m glad I did it that early.
RB: What was the biggest difference for you coming over to play in North America?
TT: The ice rink is kinda smaller than Europe and the game is way more physical, and I’m not sure if I wasn’t 100 per cent ready for the league. My weight wasn’t that high and I wasn’t that strong at that time, so it was really tough. It wasn’t that bad, but if I had known I was going to start in the AHL I would have been way more prepared.
RB: Do you think it was better for you to start in the AHL or would you have been better off to wait until you were 20?
TT: I’m not sure, because I already started playing with men since I was 17. I’m not sure if it would have been better for me to go back to juniors here. When I came here I was prepared to play with men.
RB: Playing against the men in Slovakia, was the quality of play better here or there?
TT: It’s pretty much same, I was just 17 years old and I wasn’t really that strong like the guys there so I had to learn to play with the stronger guys. When I came over here, I was kinda ready for that too, but I think the guys here are a little bit stronger than back home, because you know everyone wants to be playing in the NHL. The level there is pretty high so everyone has to be 100 per cent ready for that.
RB: What was your first culture shock in North America?
TT: The English. The language barrier was kind of a big thing for me at that time, because even if I get called up I didn’t really know what to do, how to get into Detroit, and all this stuff, you know? So I was kinda of afraid of what could happen to me, so that was the biggest difference for me.
RB: It seems like your English has improved a lot since you were a rookie. How did you work on it?
TT: You just pick it up because you have to.You watch TV, you listen to guys in the locker room, you just pick it up, the words. You try your best when they talk, you just can’t be shy, you can’t be afraid to say something even if you screw it up. You have to be confident. Guys will have to respect you’re still learning. When they laugh, you have to be fine with that. Sometimes they laugh when you screw up the words, so it’s normal.
RB: Can you tell me about a funny time when you screwed up the words?
TT: I have so many, I can’t pick just one. It still happens sometimes. The best thing is I have real good teammates here, so the guys correct me when I say something bad, so I can learn.
RB: Which of your teammates helped you the most?
TT: From the older guys who were with me for three years in Grand Rapids, Doug Janik. I think Brendan Smith, I sit second year beside him in the locker room.
RB: Do you live by yourself?
TT: I do, I’d like to maybe live with somebody else too, but I have lots of visitors come visit me too. Sometimes I still like to be by myself and get to relax, but there are parts of the season when I have teammates with me too.
RB: Does your family ever visit from Slovakia?
TT: I have two older brothers who visit me, last year and this year.
RB: What do you do in Grand Rapids for fun?
TT: The city is great, there’s lots of stuff to do here. We usually go to the cinema or just hang out with the guys. It’s a nice city, when somebody comes visit here you can show them the downtown because it’s pretty nice.
RB: How has your role developed with the Griffins?
TT: I’m really happy to be here because our coach Curt Fraser gave me a lot of opportunity to show my game here. I have a lot of ice time. When I first came over I was not as good in the games, right now I’m way more confident. I’m in a lot of important situations on the ice so I can make the game different.
RB: Do you have a different role in Detroit?
TT: There’s a different role in Detroit. The first three lines are really high skilled, so of course I have to start on the fourth line, and I respect that. When I get the chance to be there I’m usually with the fourth line guys, so my role is not to produce points or make some good plays, my role is hitting some people, bring some energy to the team and holding the puck. Get the puck out from the zone, this is my role in Detroit.
RB: Even if your role is not to score in Detroit, you know you are able to, and you scored in your first game.
TT: Yeah, it’s kinda nice. That’s an extra thing the coach can be happy about, but you gotta make sure you do what the coach asks you for. When you score that’s something extra and I think they’re really happy when you do the extra.
RB: Today is the third trade deadline you’ve gone through since the draft. Is it a nervous feeling?
TT: I’m following it a lot, probably this year the most. Last year, I wasn’t really paying attention. You never know, you’ve only played a few games in the NHL so Detroit might have to give up some prospects. There’s nothing going on right now compared to last year.
RB: Are you in communication with Holland about how you’re doing in Grand Rapids?
TT: Yeah, this is what I like about Detroit. They go to a lot of farm team games. When you play good and deserve to get called up, they know. You just gotta play good and I’m sure you’ll get rewarded for that.
RB: I’ve been told you heard that the fans call you ‘The Sauce’.
TT: I like fun, I’m good with that. I’m glad I have fans that try to connect with me in this way. I like it, I even laughed at that, it’s great.
RB: How did you hear about it?
TT: At training camp, when I walked out from the rink there were big signs that were like “Go Sauce!” so I really laughed about it.
RB: Could you describe your playing style?
TT: I think my style is I can make some plays for the other guys and when I have a chance I am able to score goals. I’m kind of a guy who makes some points and try to help the team through scoring or passing.
RB: Do you have a goal for when you want to play for the Wings?
TT: Everybody is hoping, every player’s dream is to get there as fast as he can. I hope it’s going to be soon, I try to work my best to do that. I can still be stronger, I can still be a faster skater, so I can work on that right now but I hope soon I’m going to make the team.
RB: Is there a player on the Wings you look up to or try to play like?
TT: There’s a lot of skilled guys, but when I look at Pavel Datsyuk he’s just unreal. The work he does is a different level. It’s nice to see those guys working out, see him on the ice, what he’s doing with his hockey stick is unreal.
RB: What’s your typical workout routine?
TT: We have here our strength coach Aaron Downey. He really helps us with that, been doing a lot of workouts with him. I have to give a lot of credit to that guy, because he try to get me better and stronger so I usually follow whatever he is doing or telling me to do.