Saturday, June 23, 2012

Interview with CBJ Forward Mark Letestu

Last night I had the pleasure of chatting with Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) forward Mark Letestu, who was signing autographs at the minor hockey registration in Elk Point, AB (our hometown). I asked him about a variety of topics and here's what he had to say:

Me: Did you watch the NHL Draft today?
Mark: I think I got to pick 6 or pick 5 - Toronto just selected Morgan Rielly - so I saw a little bit of it [before I had to leave to come here]. A few trades, pretty exciting, seemed to be a good atmosphere in Pittsburgh.

Me: What do you think of Columbus' selection (defenseman Ryan Murray)?
Mark: I think they got the guy they wanted. It sounded like Murray was somebody they were happy with. Obviously the new coach (Associate Coach Hartsburg) coached him in junior so they had some background on him and by all accounts the [CBJ management] seem to think he's ready and someone we can rely on for help, which is great.

Me: Do you feel like this season you'll get to play a bigger role since you're not a rookie or "the new guy"?
Mark: I don't know. I'm hoping for a bigger role. In the last little bit of last season I played a big role, I played a lot of minutes, so I'm hoping to stay in that role, but we weren't a winning team last year and I expect them to make a lot of changes, to shuffle things up, to get a winning combination, so if [I end up in] a smaller role or a bigger role, I'm happy to be a part of it anyway.

Me: What are your expectations for yourself and for the team this season?
Mark: I think it's obvious to say that we want to be better than last place. [I hope] we give ourselves a chance at the end to be in the playoffs. We finished strong and we'd like to continue that, and hopefully it gives us a chance at one of those 8 spots. For myself, I'd like to get a healthy year. It's been two years now that I've been hurt at some point. I'd like to play all 82 games.

Me: What are you focusing on this summer?
Mark: It seems the cliche is [to say] to get stronger and faster - you're always trying to do those things - but this year I've been trying to loosen up a little bit. The injury prevention is big now. You're always getting stronger or quicker throughout the season but you're just trying to prevent injuries and hopefully have a strong year.

Me: How has becoming a father changed your game?
Mark: I don't know if it has changed my game a lot but it definitely changes the way you approach things. Obviously it's another person relying on you and your success. It's something [my wife] and I have talked about - wanting [our son] to see me as a hockey player, to hopefully stay in the league long enough that he gets to understand what dad does and hopefully he gets to experience a little bit of hockey and maybe take it up on his own.

Me: What are your thoughts on the new CBJ coaching staff?
Mark: I don't know them personally. I haven't had an opportunity to talk to any of them. I think obviously with the draft and free agency coming up, the current players kind of come after all that, so from what I've seen, they seem to be more than qualified. Craig has head coaching experience in the NHL and Keith will fill in that penalty killing role and really help there. We struggled on that this year. As many coaches on the bench as possible, with a young group, as many people teaching - if you can pick up a think or two along the way, it's great. I'm happy they brought in as many guys as they did.

Me: Are you tired of switching jersey numbers?
Mark: I didn't want to switch this last time. Probably the toughest part is [remembering to sign the correct number and] not screwing up somebody's hockey card. This time 10 wasn't available. I would have liked to stay with 10. At the time I think I was given 6, 12 or 17 to choose from and 17 seemed like the right one. I won't change it [back to 10 if it were available] now - somebody has probably bought [a CBJ jersey with 17] so [I'll stick with it].

Me: I see Tim Hortons is popular in Columbus - are you a fan?
Mark: I'm not a huge fan. I'll have it if I have to. But it's kind of a friendly reminder of where you're from.

Me: Are you on Twitter?
Mark: I am but I'm not "out there". I'm kind of under the radar. I like to get my baseball and my hockey news [on Twitter] but I don't like being followed. It seems like a lot of guys put themselves out there for some criticism and at the end of the day sometimes after a bad game you don't need to hear any of that.

Me: What is the best part of coming to an event like this?
Mark: It's pretty cool to see all the kids and to help minor hockey. I've always been proud of being from Elk Point so any chance I get to come back and help out, whether it's at a small level like this, just minor hockey, or any kind of event the town needs, it's just really gratifying and it's happy. It's a perfect compliment to the career.

Thanks again Mark for your time! Hope we can chat again next summer.

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