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Chat Transcript: Zach Boychuk

November 10, 2009

Drafted 14th overall by the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes in 2008, Albany River Rats rookie forward Zach Boychuk stepped into the AHL Chat Room to answer fans' questions on Monday, Nov. 9.

How difficult has the transition been from juniors to the American Hockey League, and what are some of the noticeable differences? - Rod from Princeton, N.J.
It’s a lot different, especially just looking at the players. Guys are a lot older and a lot stronger, and you’re not playing against 15- and 16-year-old guys anymore. You’re playing against grown men. I’m one of the youngest guys in the AHL right now, so that’s something that I’ve really had to adjust to. Playing against guys that are between 25 and 30, they’re stronger, they’re bigger, and everybody’s a little bit quicker, so it’s a little bit tough, but you have to use the skills you have. Like I’ve got my speed, but I’m definitely learning and look forward to improving during the year.

You can definitely tell that the guys you’re playing against are on you faster, you don’t have as much time. So I think that’s one big adjustment that I’ve had to make – when you have the puck, you have to move it quicker. But it also helps when you’re playing with other guys that are similar to your capability. You’re playing with guys that are faster, which is going to make you play better as well. So there are good sides and bad sides to both situations.

How was your experience while on recall to the Hurricanes last week? Do you feel you learned a lot about what it takes to stay in the NHL? - Peg from Raleigh, N.C.
Yeah, with both my experiences at the NHL level – last year I got to play two games and learned a lot – but even more this year with it being my first pro season. It was disappointing at training camp to get sent down, but it put the fire in my belly that I wanted to get called back up. I was lucky enough that were a couple injuries and some opportunities opened up for me to go up, and the two games this year were unbelievable. I got to play on a line with Matt Cullen and Erik Cole, and it was a great experience just to play with guys of that caliber. It just makes you a better player, and it was a very exciting time for me. It’s tough that the ‘Canes are on a little bit of a spiral right now, they’re losing a bit, but I tried to go in there and do the best I could to help the team with some youthful energy and some jump. It was definitely a good first two games and a good taste at the beginning of the season.

A couple days ago I got sent back down on the plane ride home. The coach, Paul Maurice, brought me up to the front and told me a few things. He said I played very well, I really instilled confidence in him that he can put me out in a lot of different situations now, whereas he hadn’t really seen me much before so he didn’t know where he could play me. Now he feels he can put me out in defensive situations, put me out in the last minute or two to try and get a goal. He really wanted me to work on getting pucks to the net. In junior hockey, you make the extra move, try and stickhandle a little more, where in the NHL it’s more about the shooting mentality – get pucks to the net, crash the net for rebounds, and that’s the way you create offense. So that’s one thing that I really took when I got sent down a couple days ago.

What is the biggest difference you notice with the fans playing in Albany as opposed to playing in Carolina? - Keri from New York
The fans here in Albany are great. They’re really passionate, the Booster Club is really nice to us, giving us stuff, supporting us, and hanging around after the games. I think that’s great.

The Carolina fans, those fans are crazy – they’re always yelling even if they don’t even know what they’re yelling at. They’re excited to be watching and cheering us on. I remember my first few shifts there were a few signs out there for me. I think I saw a Chuck Norris sign, playing on my last name, so I thought that was pretty funny. I had a really big shift when I had a breakaway on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and after the breakaway I could hear fans cheering my name and getting excited about how good my shift was. So I really like their excitement and their support even though we were going through a tough time with a few losses, they were still behind us and still have confidence in us.

At what age did you start playing hockey, and what is your most memorable moment in hockey to this point? - Bill from Toronto, Ont.
I started skating when I was about two years old and always had a stick in my hand as a young guy from what my parents tell me. I started playing organized hockey when I was about six. In between two and six, I was enrolled in power skating. My parents, and especially my dad, really believed that you had to learn how to skate before you could start playing the game. So it was really key to go into power skating.

As for my most memorable moment, it would have to be one of the two World Juniors – I think the World Juniors at home, winning the gold medal in Ottawa, was probably the biggest for me. I was an impact player on that team, playing on a great line, and it was nice to win it on home soil.

Is there a particular player whom you watched growing up that you try to mirror your style of play after, and why? - Bradley from Springfield, Mass.
Yeah there have been a few different players. I think you can look at the great players like Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby – I think those are two guys especially that I try to model my game after, just how dominant they are. They’re great passers and great scorers. Nowadays, I kind of look toward a guy like Zach Parise, who also played here in Albany for a little while. I think he’s starting to be more the type of guy that I want to play like when I eventually get to the NHL.

How dangerous of a team are the Hershey Bears compared to any other team you’ve seen so far? - Tyler from Lancaster, Penn.
We played once and they didn’t have all their big guns there at the time – I think they had a couple guys called up and a couple guys out with injuries. But you can tell they’re a very well-coached team, and compared to the other teams, I think this year in the AHL the parity is very close. There are a lot of teams that are very strong, and any team can win on any given night. It’s tough to compare Hershey and other teams just because I haven’t seen a whole lot, but Hershey is coached very well, they play a really tough system, and we weren’t able to create much offense against them. So I think they’re going to have another good year this year.

Where has been your favorite place to play an away game, and why? - Courtney from Connecticut
I’d have to say Hershey. We played them on Halloween night, and their fans were just nuts. You could hear them the whole night on the bench – they’d be chirping at us and cheering their own team on. And there were quite a few fans in the building, so I would say Hershey has been the best.

Will you be growing a moustache like other members of the team? - Jim from Rotterdam, N.Y.
If I could, I would – that’s all I have to say. I gave it my best effort. I’m trying to do it, but you can’t really see it. The effort’s there, I guess.

What do you like most about the city of Albany from the time you have spent there thus far? - Lauren from Enfield, Conn.
Well I like the area that we’re living in. We’re living in Delmar, seems like a nice little area with some good markets and grocery stores that we’ve been at. We’ve also been out to a golf course – it’s a big thing that I like to do, especially in the summer – but we’ve been to go out, it’s called Orchards Creek, I believe. So I’ve really enjoyed that.

Recognizing that you weren’t with the team for most of last year, is there a player or player(s) that you think has evolved or changed the most this season for the River Rats? - Sarah from New York
Yeah, there are probably a few guys. A lot of guys have improved over the summer, especially. I only played two games last year, so I didn’t get to see the guys too much. But I think one player I’ve really noticed has been Jerome Samson. He’s had a great start to the season – I’ve been playing on a line with him quite a bit, and he seems a lot stronger and a lot quicker, so he’s been doing really well on the ice and that’s good to see. So I definitely think Jerome.

Do you have any superstitions or pre-game rituals? - Sean from Greenfield, Mass.
Yeah, I guess I have a routine throughout the day. Everybody tries to keep it the same so you’re not changing your routine around whenever you feel good. For me, I eat my pre-game meal around 12pm, have a two-hour nap from about 1-3pm, then usually have a snack, go to the rink about two to two and a half hours before the game. One thing for me is I always have a shower before the game. It makes me feel refreshed, and it’s definitely different than what most guys do, but I like to have a nice cold shower to wake me up and make me feel fresh. Another thing I like to do is tape my stick in between every period.

What advice would you give to a young hockey player who eventually wants to play professionally like you? - Jennifer from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Well I think for a young guy, you just have to enjoy it. My parents never really pushed me, never really made me go to the rink, or play road hockey, or play summer hockey. I wanted to do all of those things, and it’s just the love of the game. It’s the thing you love to do most – some guys get caught up in video games or other hobbies. For me, it was all about hockey and I practiced it as much as I could, and that was fun. There are some players who are forced into practicing even though they don’t want to, and that’s where things go wrong. I think it’s all about you, it’s all about your love for the game, and how much you want to do to make yourself better.

What do you like to do in your free time, when you’re not playing hockey? - Kevin from Boston, Mass.
Golf’s a big one. I don’t know if the season here is going to be much longer, but I’ve been up a few times and usually do so in the summer. Now that I’m out of junior hockey, I’ve been really getting into cooking my own meals, doing my own laundry, and doing a lot of the things that you kind of took for granted as a junior hockey. You get to be pretty busy paying your bills and doing all that type of stuff. It’s been pretty interesting, and I’ve definitely been improving as a person over the beginning of my first pro season.