Image: Vancouver Canucks
Late last week I was able to speak to a pair of former first-round picks by the Vancouver Canucks, Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce. I wanted to avoid the cliches of the usual hockey conversation, opting to try and get a peak into the mindsets of these developing forwards and what makes them tick.
Given the length of the conversation and variety of topics covered, it will be split into two separate posts with part one having a heavy slant towards their developmental years, in junior and Utica alike; part two will be focused on NHL development and their bright futures.
The Utica Comets playoff run last season, how was the experience for you personally? What was the city of Utica like? how does that help your career going forward?
Hunter Shinkaruk: “It was great, it was a definitely a long run. The city of Utica was electric and the crowd was pretty crazy, it was a great experience to go through. But obviously with the way it ended, it was tough.
It was great, in junior, I had never really gone that far. You get to see first hand what it takes to win, and how much it effort it takes all year. It was definitely a good thing to learn in my first year in [pro] and I think that experience is going to help me for the rest of my career”
Brendan Gaunce: “Definitely something I hadn’t experienced before with the support of the community. We obviously wanted to win it for them, but it didn’t happen.
The switch to pro hockey, I think we can both attest to it, that it was definitely a tough switch for us. In the playoffs, you kind of see the guys dig even deeper and that is something that you don’t even notice in junior hockey in the playoffs. The game gets way faster and [higher] compete level. It’s something great for us to learn in our first year, and we hope we can back there as soon as possible.”
Last year – you guys were more depth parts of the team, but have now been thrust with carrying the offensive load, what is that like? Does that first year of professional hockey with less stress help?
Hunter Shinkaruk: “For myself, it’s been great. It’s more of what I was used to in junior hockey, was having a bigger role. It’s exciting when you need to be one of the better players on the ice every night and you have that pressure on yourself. That’s where I feel more comfortable. It’s been great to help out our team this year in a more major way. Last year it was good for to understand and learn that style of game, but it’s been fun this year.”
Brendan Gaunce: “Last year, in junior for both of us, we were playing a top line role and trying to help the team win in different ways then we had to last year. But you learn as a player that it takes more then a top 6 forward to win a championship and we were the players trying to help our top 6 players to win games. That is a neat thing to see from a different perspective. It’s something you can take away with you for the rest of your career.”
Hunter Shinkaruk: “It’s definitely about doing the little things, but obviously with the talk we had with Greener (Coach Travis Green) to start the year, we were going to be a lot bigger pieces to the puzzle this year. So far, I think it’s been good for us. We’ve had some success which is nice for us as we’ve been looked on our team to do that. For me anyways, I gotta keep working hard and keep becoming a better player but it’s been a good start so far.”
Brendan Gaunce: “As young players you want to morph into a more complete player. For me I know, and probably for Hunter as well, one thing we wanted to improve on was our offensive output. It’s something, that as a player, you want to be able to do and want to be relied on to do. For us this year, it’s another element is to be able to score the big goal you need or be in on the big goal you need. As a player, that is something you can gain confidence from and that’s something to I think we both gained this year.”
Image: Utica Comets / Facebook
“It was great, I’ve trained with the same trainer for quite awhile now, I think for about 4 years. This summer, I just wanted to be with him as much as I could and obviously with him training Crosby, he’s with him for most of the summer, it was a great experience for me to learn from a lot of the best players in the world. Anytime you are lucky enough to get an opportunity to do something like that, it’s something that you have to use. “
“For me, it’s just about becoming a better player every time I am on the ice. It is exciting to have a good start so far. I have numbers that I set out for myself at the start of the year that are my goals but I keep those to me. At the end of the day, if I can help the team win every single game, that’s what I am trying to do. If I can keep having success, then that’s good with me.”
When you were drafted, there was some concern about your foot speed. There has been an obvious improvement recently, what did you do?
“Personally, I know I needed to work on somethings going into pro hockey. Obviously, speed of the game was one thing I wanted to work on. I don’t think I changed much of the last four years, as I had a guideline from when training in the summer that I wanted to get better every year. It’s still something I want to improve on. It’s definitely something that has been implemented into my summer training that I don’t forget about.”
With all the injuries, you have been playing centre, for the first time in a long time, how has that been?
“It’s definitely been different for me. To come into pro hockey as a winger and you are transfixed into that position as a player, so that you are focusing on the things you need to do to succeed as a winger. For me to go back to centre in pro hockey, you have to worry about different little things. I’ve enjoyed playing centre again, just because I know I can play it again and it’s something be able to do down the road. Switch from centre to left wing. It’s something that I am looking at as a positive because they believe I can play it still and I believe I can too, I just want to show people that I can.”
Both players have a fantastic mindset that working on the little things and improving a little every day will help them reach their goal. In part two, we talk about their first NHL action, what their thoughts are on some of the rumours about Canucks management wanting to ‘over-ripen’ some of their prospects and what are their mindset heading into the NHL trading deadline.
But the most important question is, asking Shinkaruk how many times he gets recognized as a certain reality TV star.