André Burakovsky is back home in Malmö, Sweden. Recently he sat down and had a lengthy chat with local blogger Johan Svensson, a.k.a. MrMadHawk. The video was first published in Kvällsposten. My translation of part l of the conversation is below.
You have been home for a few weeks now. What have you been doing since you got back home?
Nothing special. After I had been home for three or four days I felt like I wanted to get going and start training with my trainer Jonas Morin. This will be the third year I’m working with him now, we work great together. I wanted to get going right away since I already had some days off back in Washington. Until now, we have been doing two sessions a day. We haven’t increased the hours but the intensity level and toughness. That’s about it, other than training, I have been playing some golf with friends and been hanging out with them and my family.
Tell me about going over and playing for the Erie Otters.
It was a tough to decide if I should play one more year in Malmö or go for a new challenge in Canada. It was a lot of back and forth but in conjunction with Washington we decided that it would be good for me to learn the Canadian/American way of playing. If I learned that I could make it to the NHL faster. It was a tough decision but I think it was the right one if you look at how fast I got to be playing in the NHL.
I got over to Erie and thought things felt good during the training camp, but even in the first few games I thought it was hard to fully get the hang of the new type of play. I didn’t think I played well at all during the first two games. I felt right away, what am I doing here?
I want to go back home.
I talked to my agent and we agreed that I should just go on and that it’s tough in the beginning. In my third game things felt better and I scored my first goal, and in the fourth game I had five points. Overall I thought the season went great and I had some luck with the points. I had many points and learned the game quickly.
I took that with me into the next season and I played well at Washington’s camp, too. I did well there and had something like eight points in the three games at camp, and when the real camp got going I thought that went real well too.
The pre-season games with Washington were more of the same, things just kept on rolling. I had points in two of them, I think. I talked a lot to the coach and he told me that I had a shot at making the team. That gave me another spark, like, shit I’m close. I just left everything out there and went for it.
I got to play in the first game and and had some luck and scored in my second shift of the game. It was damn fun and to get to play in the first game too. To be part of the player introduction, that’s something I have never done before and it was the biggest experience of my life, to have 20,000 people standing up and roaring. It was very cool.
How was it to play with Connor McDavid?
He is an amazing hockey player. Every time we are out on a road trip everyone knows who he is.
When we go to a restaurant, the owner always knows who he is and wants his autograph. Even despite being that young, he is huge in Canada.
We played together for half the season and we played good together. Things in Erie worked like this: the top players were me, Connor McDavid, Connor Brown and Dane Fox. At first he wanted to play McDavid, Brown and Fox together because he felt that I could manage on my own, that I didn’t really need a super star to play with.
They played well for awhile but when things stopped working, me and McDavid were put together and we played really well. I think we had two points almost every game. We continued that way almost all the way to the playoffs but then things got changed around some.
It’s really fun to play with him and we are great friends today, we talk a lot and I think that we learned a lot from each other. We pushed each other, we stayed on after practices. We know that we were the top players on the team and we always tried to be better than the other guy, but in a positive way since we also tried to help each other. We stayed after practice and tried to improve our shot and our technique. We pushed each other and I thought it was good for us both to be in the same culture.
Do you think that after your career is over you will say that McDavid is the best player you have played with?
I really hope so. He’s an amazing player, humble and a good person. He was one of my best friends in Erie that I hung out with in my spare time too. I hope that he will become that best hockey player in the world one day. Of course the goal is that I will become that but I really hope that he goes all the way.
You had what most be described as a magical debut with Washington.
I could hardly believe it was true that I was about to play my first NHL game. It’s been a dream of mine since I learned how to walk. Once I got there and I was nervous. I couldn’t relax and was shaking a bit in locker room before the game and in warmups. But once the puck was dropped I think things felt good.
In my first shift I took the puck from an opponent in the corner in our D-zone. Eller was on me, I played past him, got tripped and drew a penalty. I passed to Marcus Johansson or Troy Brouwer and got the puck back again and I shot the puck on goal. He made the save but it was a real good start.
After the game my dad told me that after that shift, I knew you were feeling it. In my second shift, I was chasing Subban behind the net, I stressed him out a bit and he just got rid of the puck and it hit Brouwer’s stick, he got the puck to me and I one-timed it and it goes in. I didn’t know what to do with myself, or what really happened. It’s one of the greatest things I ever experienced to score my first NHL goal.
It was just a few years ago you got moved up from the junior team to the men’s team in Sweden, and now you are talking about taking the puck from Subban.
I remember the coach of the men’s team calling me while I was with the under 20 team, and I couldn’t believe that when it happened either. Shit, I’m getting to play with the A-team! But now it has gone so little time, maybe two years since that time. Time has just been flying by and things have been moving up for me all the time and I hope it continues that way.
But things didn’t go smoothly for you all the time, you were sent down to the AHL. Did they have a clear plan for you through all that?
Yes, absolutely. I had great communication with the coach, Barry Trotz. He told me that for the first year as a rookie it’s all about learning. He’s been working in the league for many years, so for me it was all about listening to him.
He’s a really wise man that is always right. He often told me to focus on learning when I wasn’t dressed for the game. That I should see it as an opportunity to study Bäckström and observe the way he played. And that I would see things in another perspective from the stands than from the bench, to see things from above. And I really did learn a lot from that.
The first 10-15 games went great for me and he often told me that during the first games in the NHL you are so jacked up, going on adrenaline and are just so happy to be there. But then when you realize that you are trying to take someone else’s spot, and wanting to be there all the time, it’s then things might slow down.
And that did happen to me to some degree, after the first 10-15 games, things did start to go downhill. I didn’t recognize myself, I wasn’t as quick on my skates as I usually am. I lost the puck and my puck technique was off. I messed up at the wrong spots on the ice, at places where you are not allowed to do that, and we got punished for it.
But throughout all that I still had a good communication with Trotz. He told me those things were normal for a first year player and that I should focus on how you are supposed to play and try to fix your mistakes. After I haven’t played for five games, he told me that I would be sent down to Hershey to get some playing time.
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