Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Q & A with Niagara's Mark Visentin

Recently, Niagara goaltender Mark Visentin took time out of his incredibly hectic schedule to answer some of my questions. He's in Toronto this week for the NHL combine testing thanks in part to being rated as the 4th best goaltender available in North America for the 2010 Draft by NHL Central Scouting. Few draft eligible players worked as hard as Visentin to improve this season and his passion for the game comes through in the interview.

Also be sure to check out the companion piece I have written for School Your Pool.

Visentin the Workhorse.


Brock Otten - You played minor midget with Stephen Silas and Michael Sgarbossa on the Halton Hurricanes. Do you still keep in touch with them?

Mark Visentin - It has been very neat seeing both Stephen and Michael become such great hockey players. We still keep in touch every so often throughout the season, but fortunately, all three of us workout at the same facility in the summer which allows us to keep up to date with each other. Both have had great OHL careers thus far and I wish them both the best in the near future.

BO - What was it like to be the 3rd goalie taken in the 2008 Priority Draft? Were you expecting to go that high?

MV - My goal at the beginning of the year was to be the first goalie taken and obviously that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t say I was upset going third as a goaltender. But, it was a goal that I set, and I failed. I used it as a motivation tool to work even harder to improve my game in all aspects. Once I was drafted, I didn’t really pay attention to who went ahead of me. My main focus was to attend training camp in August and make the Niagara IceDogs roster.

BO - Obviously it was a huge accomplishment to make the IceDogs for the 2008-09 season, as not many goaltenders make the jump right from minor midget, but would you agree that you had a bit of a tough time adjusting to the OHL game? What were the biggest adjustments? Rigorous schedule? Faster play? Harder and more accurate shooters?

MV - I will admit that I struggled my first year playing in junior. I think the mental part of the game caught up to me. Adjusting to three, twenty minute periods took time, but the pace of play just seemed ridiculously faster. During the first half of the season, I was given the chance to play and take the starting position. I wasn’t able to take over the starting role mainly because I was inconsistent. It was tough and very frustrating since I have high expectations for myself. Fortunately, I have a great goalie coach (Ben Vanderklok) who pushed my limits every day in practice. That is where I really made strides during the year.

BO - What did you do to train for the upcoming season, knowing that the starting goaltender position was yours for the taking?

MV - I took my off season very seriously. My focus was to become a lot stronger and improve my technique. Like most hockey players, I trained Monday to Friday and skated four times a week to achieve my goals. I really tried to change my attitude going into training camp as well. I knew that veteran goalie Jeremy Smith wouldn’t be back and I truly believed that I could take the starting position. Once training camp came, I took it day by day and my goal was to outwork, and out perform whoever I faced in the other end. I only thought about succeeding personally, rather then getting distracted by my opposition.

BO - This season went considerably better for you and your game has improved by leaps and bounds, what was been the biggest reason for that? Was it the offseason training, or just increased confidence in your second season?

MV - I think there were a lot of factors that helped my game improve throughout the year. The new coaching staff that the team brought in at training camp really believed in my abilities which helped build my confidence. Having a couple strong exhibition games helped me to have a strong start to the regular season. It was still tough though, our team went through a lot of ups and downs during the first half of the season. We lost a lot of one goal games that in my mind, we should have won. I take a lot of responsibility for my actions and during the beginning of the season, a lot of the games I let in weak, or average goals that I would normally save. The way I look at it, those goals against turned out to cost our team losing two points every game. I didn’t let it get to me, the off season training improved my strength and endurance which allowed me to recover quicker after each game and still be energized to play the next night. I worked hard in practice to get rid of bad habits and improve my consistency. The coaches stressed intensity and hard work in practice and all the players bought in to the system being presented. They also created a positive atmosphere that really helped us succeed during the second half of the season.

BO - You're known around the league for having among the best work ethic of any goaltender in the OHL? Do you take pride in how hard you work on improving your game, and how well you prepare for each game?

MV - Yes, I take great pride in having a good work ethic. In order for one to improve, hard work is necessary and it’s sad when you see talent slip away because someone isn’t committed. My goalie coach stresses that if you can’t go one hundred percent every day in practice, then you don’t deserve to play the game. I use hard work not only to improve my skills, but to cope with things such as getting out of a slump. When preparing for each game, I like to do my usual routine which consists of doing a thorough warm up and hand eye coordination work. I do my routine before every game and every practice to be consistent.

BO - Can you take me through your pre-game ritual? Any crazy superstitions?

MV - I wouldn’t say I have any crazy superstitions. I put on all my equipment right to left, that’s about it. In my opinion, playing consistent is very important and I do things the same every time to maintain that. When I get to the rink, I will change, tape my sticks, and then go right into my warm up before we have our team meeting. Our coaches always schedule our team meetings at the same time before every game to help the players create an adequate routine that won’t be interrupted. There will always be the road trips where something will happen and we arrive late. That is where a player needs to be mentally tough and accept that his or her normal routine will be altered for that game. If you let your pre game routine effect your game, then you need to improve mental toughness!

BO - You were fortunate enough to get an invite to play in the Top Prospects Game, what was that whole experience like? Was it nerve racking? Fun?

MV - It was a fun week but very nerve racking at times. The skills competition was a lot of fun the day before the actual game which I think got rid of most of my nerves. My goal was to prove that I can match, if not beat the higher ranked goalies and I thought I did a good job. The whole week went by quick. After the game, it was right into the car and time to prepare for a big game versus Mississauga the next evening. Our team ended up having a great weekend going 2-1 and we played a solid game against Windsor despite losing.

BO - In my opinion, you were the best goaltender in the game, and considering you were playing with a guy like Calvin Pickard (who is slated to go as high as the first round in June), that's a big
accomplishment. Were you happy with your performance?

MV - Like I said, my goal was to go into the event and be the best goalie there. In my opinion, I thought all the goalies played well and considering the calibre of players, the score was rather low. The score speaks for how well the goalies performed. It was healthy competition the entire week and I thought all goalies did their job. Unfortunately we lost, hopefully Bobby can comeback and win next year!

BO - What are some of the things that you need to continue to work on moving forward? What would you say your strengths are currently?

MV - I need to work on improving my overall strength and speed. As a player progresses and jumps to a higher league, the play is a lot quicker and players are a lot stronger. Another skill I would like to improve is the ability to read and anticipate the play. If a goalie is aware of where everyone is on the ice, then there won’t be any “surprise” plays. Thus, the goalie will be ready to make a move quicker when the puck is moved.

BO - It seems more and more likely you could be one of the top North American goaltenders taken. Do you have a goal of where to be drafted, or are you going to be satisfied with being taken in any of the rounds?

MV - I don’t have a goal as of where to be taken. I just hope I go as high as possible. If I get drafted, then my immediate goal is to work as hard as I can and make the roster as soon as possible.

BO - Who would be the toughest to stop on a breakaway or in the shootout?

MV - Definitely Cody Hodgson. I only had to face him once in a shootout this year and I stopped him, but he lost control of the puck which helped out a bit. He's a tough player to defend.

BO - Last question, do you have a favourite netminder in the NHL, a guy you look up to?

MV - I like the way Tuukka Rask plays the game. He is a very athletic goaltender and he is patient on his feet. He’s also very young and the way he carried his team throughout the regular season and playoffs was very impressive.

BO - Thanks a lot for this Mark. I wish you great success moving forward to the Draft in June!

Definitely a well spoken young man and someone who has earned the success he's achieved so far. My guess are the interviews at the combine only increase his draft ranking.

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