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Anything that helps the team always comes first

Interview 16.10.2015.
Anything that helps the team always comes first

Google can tell you pretty much everything, if you dig deep enough. Facts and figures, the good and the bad, anegdotes shared and stories that made headlines. One can find out all about the 6th overall 2005 NHL Entry Draft pick, his Junior records, NHL stats, struggles with injuries, eventual break from hockey and the return to the game in the KHL.

Except, it can rearly transfer the little things in life that usually make the difference, the easygoing nature, the smile when he discusses the team, the spark in his eyes when he talks about why he loves hockey or the intensity with which he approaches the game. Gilbert Brule joined  Medvescak Zagreb this summer after his first season in the KHL as part of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg team.

The Motorists are opening a seven game homestand in Zagreb, a perfect time for a talk with their former centre.

How did you decide to come and play for Medvescak?

A few factors. I knew the team was getting a new coach, a Canadian coach and as a Canadian that was easier to relate to as far as hockey goes. Last year in Avtomobilist the coach was Russian and didn't speak English, so most of the time it was difficult to understand for example, the point of some drills. I really had to watch and focus and I would just go to the back of the line and watch other guys do it, so I could take part in it. That's not an issue here, we have a lot of North Americans and European guys who mostly speak English. So it's a lot easier to communicate, not only in the locker room, but on the ice too.

Your impressions on the team now that you're fully engrossed in the season?

We did pretty good. I like the guys on our team. We're a pretty close group and work pretty well together. When we play as a team, I think we're a very good hockey club. I enjoy the way our team plays, our hard-fought style. That's a great motto for our team to have: We play hard, we play fast. It's tough to play against a team that's always in your face.

It's pretty obvious you like to play a physical game.

Yes, I like to use my body in the game, but it comes with a price. I have to take care of it, so I'm always on the massage table after games. I like to use speed to my advatage, so I like to get the puck as quickly as possible and just go, let's say through the middle. It's tough in this league if you don't take the pass because the ice is big and others can just shoot it away and there's no way you're reaching it first.

After some search, your line with Patrick Bjorkstrand and Jesse Saarinen  seems to have established itself as a constant.

In the first month every coach is trying to find the right lines, the right chemistry. That can be a bit tough because you're always on the ice with someone new, but eventually you find rhythm with some guys and I think Jesse, Bjorki and me found it - we control the puck, we're finding each other on the ice. Our defensive-zone play is getting better, though it could still improve. Jesse and Bjorki have a great shot, so I'm just trying to find them some space and create traffic. We need to focus on controlling the puck in the offensive zone and getting more shots at the net.

And as a team, where are the biggest opportunities to grow?

We need to shoot more, plain and simple. Get more goals throughout the line-up. We have a good team and there's no reason to have only two scoring lines.

Would you prefer a big hit or a big goal in a game?

A big goal, anytime. If you have a big goal it usually means your team's winning or you just tied it up, so anything that helps the team always comes first. Of course physical play at any point of the game brings some energy, so that's good too.

Last season was your first in the KHL, what was the biggest difference you felt in comparison to the North American game?

The size of the ice, of course is the biggest difference. There's more room here and I think that speaks to my game a little more. Skating is one of my skills, I'm fast enough to jump on loose pucks. And it's nice to have that extra moment, you're not so confined. In the NHL there are a lot of big guys who can be pretty rough on your body. It's just a different style of play.

Video source: www.khl.ru

How would you rate your season with Avtomobilist?

It was a tough season for me. An injury at the beginning and at the end when I needed hernia surgery. The club wanted me too keep playing, but it was too painful to even skate. It was a tough situation. I had my operation, recovered completely and my body is feeling very good now. I'm learning to take better care of it, so during the summer I worked on strengthening the areas that get worn down during the hockey season.

Who do you work with in the off-season?

I've been working with a couple of trainers for years now. I work on ice and on an ice-skating treadmill which helps my skating, and I work with Shaun Karp. He's a great guy and a great motivator to keep you getting better. As I'm getting older I'm learning more about my body and its needs according to the schedule, so even if don't feel like it, on off days, I'll go and do what I have to.

You train and stay in Vancouver during the summer?

I spend most of my summers in Vancouver, except for the odd holiday if I want to get away. I love going outside, being in nature, so camping and hiking is always nice. In BC there are so many beautiful places to go to. I'm a pretty good shooter, so once in a while I go with my friends to the woods and we shoot at watermelons and stuff like that just for fun.

So, you're an outdoorsman?

Definitely. I enjoy being in the mountains and I love to snowboard. Two seasons ago, before I went to Russia I took some time off from hockey and I was able to go snowboarding every day. I loved that because I really needed a break. Don't get me wrong, I love hockey, but at that point of time I just needed to give myself a break.

What do you love most about hockey that made you come back?

There are so many things I love about hockey. You get to come together with a new group of guys and bond as a team. You get to meet new people, make new friendships, learn about other cultures, music. We have a very muliticultural team with 11 different nationalities and that's a lot to learn from – the way they live, how they play, what they do to get out there. Plus there's traveling around Russia and Europe. To do all that for a living is pretty awesome. Of course, it all depends on what one prefers, but just like with everything in life there are ups and downs, highs and lows, you just have to love what you do.

Out of all the coaches, who had the biggest influence on your game?

I'd have to say my dad. He had a very big influence on my life in a lot of ways. He was always there teaching me and pushing me to try. He's a smart guy and he loves hockey, he taught me a lot of stickhandling moves, shooting. When I was little he put a challenge in front of me: if I shot the puck that many times, we'd go to Disneyland. So in our backyard I was shooting pucks every day. I had tin cans posted in the corners and it was fun. Also, we went to Disneyland.

What's your favourite hockey memory?

Getting drafted in the NHL was something special. It was hectic and crazy with all the media attention, I've never experienced anything like it. Playing my first NHL game was really special. I was playing with guys I looked up to growing up. I ended up playing with Sergei Fedorov one year and he was the guy whose poster I had up on my wall when I was a kid. That was pretty awesome and he turned out to be a great guy.

When I was in Juniors we went on to win the WHL Championship. That year we had a great group of guys and we had a lot of fun winning it. We lost only two games in the playoffs, sweeping the final two rounds. It was a pretty big accomplishment for all of us.

The thing with hockey is that memories never really end. You keep making new ones. Like me coming here and getting to know a new culture, language, people, coaches, making new friends. It's all part of hockey and we're lucky to be playing it and having those opportunities. Couldn't ask for anything more.

What do you do to unwind and just relax?

I love playing my guitar. When we’re on the road, I really miss it and when we get back I can play it for hours, like this time around. I like to write my own songs and during summers I play in a band with my friends.

Actually I’m not the only one playing guitar in the locker room, Geoff Kinrade and Danny Taylor play too. It would be fun to play together at some point. I did that last year in Avtomobilist and it was cool.

And one last question. How do you like Zagreb so far?

It has been great so far. From what I've seen, it's a nice city to live in. I even went to my first ballet here, in the National Theatre. I've never been before, so it was something new and interesting.