Zibanejad Speaks: Bingo Assignment, Staying Positive

After playing his first game in Binghamton since January, Mika Zibanejad guested yesterday on TSN 1200's The Drive with Ian Mendes and Shawn Simpson.

If you would like to listen to the full interview, you can do so here, or by streaming the embedded audio below.

As always, my thoughts in bold.

On dealing with starting the season in the AHL as opposed to the NHL…

“I mean, obviously I got a taste of it last year and I was up pretty much all season and got to play in the playoffs and be in it for the whole run and honestly, when you get that taste, you want to be there all the time and be an NHLer. But, it’s just the way it works sometimes and I feel like I’m here and I’m working hard. I’m just making sure I do all the things they’ve been asking me to do, so I’ve just got to keep working.”

The root word 'work' appears seven more times throughout this interview. Get used to it.

On seeing this move to the AHL coming…

“No, I don’t necessarily think I was taking anything for granted or being too comfortable. I think in a way, being comfortable around with anything – the arena and the city – kind of gives me one less thing to think about. I don’t know if it took over too much or whatever… I felt like I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to and probably they wanted to, obviously. I know the contract situation I have, (being sent down) is a possibility so I can never really relax that way or get too comfortable. But I mean, now I just have to work my way back.”

For a player in Mika's situation who was sent down because: 1) he was outplayed by Jean-Gabriel Pageau; 2) the organization did not want to lose Stephane Da Costa to waivers; 3) to play more minutes and 4) because the organization prefers to save cash rather than carry a 23-man roster, he handled himself quite well. He showed the human element to the game and reinforced the perception that he has a great head on his shoulders. Rather than have to worry about this being a potential Nino Niederreiter- like situation here, you know it's only going to be a matter of time before Mika's recalled. He's too talented and too bright to be kept down. 

On at what point he knew going back down was on option…

“Well, I saw after the Islanders game that I had a meeting the next day and it was pretty much just all of the AHL guys and the guys who were going down, so I knew something was going on there. And I didn’t have anything… I mean, it’s a fine line too. I don’t really know how to describe it, but obviously you know it’s a possibility but you try not to think about it. You just try and look forward and just earn and try to win a spot in Ottawa. So I mean, it didn’t really cross my mind that way but it is what it is and I can’t go back to training camp or try and change anything or do anything. I just have to do what I can today and at tomorrow’s practice or the next game and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

After Zibanejad was assigned to Bingo, Luke Richardson said the organization had told him they wanted Mika to shoot the puck more. Which seemed somewhat odd, as through the preseason games Mika was tied for the second highest shots/gm rate in camp, at 3.25 per.

Regardless, he had 4 shots on Saturday night vs. Syracuse, one a bullet one-timer from the top of circle to the the back of the net.

On whether he looks at the opportunity to play top six minutes in Binghamton and sees it being beneficial…

“Yeah, I mean, I just try to see the positive with everything. Like you said, now I get a good opportunity to play a bit more and play in different types of situations or scenarios than I would maybe up in Ottawa. But obviously I am aiming for, and I feel like I have the potential to be a top six guy and a go-to guy. I think I can be more competitive and work on my game and just work hard every shift and do the little things. Every shift is not going to go excellent but it’s the little work that you have to do every shift and day in and day out when you’re coming into practice and the gym or whatever. I think it’s a good thing for me. I think that everything that happens to me is happening for a reason, so I think I could just benefit from everything.”

Have to wonder if a similar approach is taken with Pageau at some point in the future. As advanced as Pageau is defensively, it's not like he has nothing left to prove offensively in the AHL.

On taking the comments from MacLean and Murray and what he has to do moving forward…

“Uh, like I said, the biggest thing is to compete and compete hard and be hard on the puck. Play dominant and play big – use my size and not try to go and do something I’m not. Take charge and not wait for something to happen is the biggest thing when we talked. I agree with some points and some points obviously, you’re seeing things a bit differently but, it’s what they see and what they want to see that’s the most important right now. So, I’ve just got to keep working hard and keep competing.”

Dominate big man.

On being such a positive person and where it comes from and how much he needs to rely on it for this situation…

“Well, a) the people around me – my family and my girlfriend and her family – are happy people and positive people. I think the way I see things and the way my family sees things it’s like I said before, everything happens for a reason, I feel and I think. You’ve just got to look forward and the bad times are going to come, but you just have to battle through and something positive is going to come out of it. And b) obviously it’s going to be huge. Obviously the decision they made and the decision made, like I said, is not always a happy time obviously – to come down when you’ve been up. Being positive and having fun with the guys is really important too – to not show that you’re disappointed; to just show or try to be one of the group in the group of guys and not try to stick out by not caring or whatever and  be all grumpy or however you want to explain it. But I think the biggest thing is just to stay positive and stay happy and enjoy hockey because that’s obviously why we’re doing it. That’s the biggest part.”

On the organization wanting him to play with Mark Stone and how his injury will impact Mika…

“Yeah, I know. Actually, we had a great first shift there against Syracuse and then that happened. It’s not fun to see guys go down like that; especially when it’s your teammate and I think a good friend of mine. So it’s always sad, especially with the history he’s been having with injuries and all that and keeping him out. It’s too bad for him and also the team and organization not to get a full year out of him and get to play for a longer time before another injury comes. So, I think it always, to be honest, sucks when something like that happens but I’ve got to keep focus on my thing and just try to stay positive and help him in any way I can. But, obviously it’s not fun to see guys go down like that.”

It's weird to see Stone injured again, cause it's not like he's some undersized vulnerable young prospect. He looks 32 years old. Hopefully this doesn't submarine his season, really came on strong at the end of 2012/13.

On the perception of reality in Binghamton on knowing that one injury could mean he’s back up in Ottawa…

“I would say both yes and no to be honest. I can control what’s going on (in Ottawa) with the injuries. All I can control is to play my game and to play and take the best part of my game out and show it. As long as I play well and play like I should, the only goal I have is to obviously prove (management and the coaching staff) wrong (for sending me down) and play that good that they can’t keep me down here for that long. I think that’s the motivation for me as well, but I think skating around and thinking about ‘maybe someone gets injured today’ or check the injury list or whatever, it’s not going to do me any good. I need all the energy I can to play good and to just be a good pro and show that I can take the stuff they want me to work on and work with to do the best that I can and prove that I’m ready to come back.”

I'm not sure if he could have come off any better from this interview. There was no polish or PR spin, this was simply a young player speaking from the heart. It was refreshing and certainly one of the better interviews I've heard of late. 

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