Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blake Comeau: Confident & Ready

It was the day before the home opener and the rink at IceWorks was empty. On the last day of training camp, after a few days of double sessions, the Islanders ended their on ice work a little early.

It was very quiet in the building as I waited for Blake Comeau to come speak to me for a few minutes. Trevor Gillies passed me on his way to the work-out room. Scotty Allen stopped to chat for two minutes and then I waited again in silence staring at the huge photos and thinking about the start of another season.

He walked out of the locker room into the cold in his bare feet. Blake Comeau is starting his fifth season with the New York Islanders. The 24-year-old was drafted 47th overall in 2004 and is on the second year of his latest two year deal. He has grown up on the Islanders and this season faces his biggest challenge: proving himself.

I asked Blake what he felt would be different about this season for him. “Well for me personally, I’m hoping to be a contributor in all 82 games and get off to a better start than I’ve had the last couple of years. I’m excited about the team. We’ve got some new acquisitions that I’m excited about on the back end. I feel like everyone is a year older than last year. So, I think that makes a big difference with everyone being a little more mature and being more confident.”

Besides the obvious increase in maturity level, this summer was the first time Blake used a personal trainer. “I came into camp and felt like I leaned out but I kept my weight up. I thought I tested really well.”

In April, Comeau’s season ended prematurely when he broke his foot. The 2009-2010 season was Comeau’s best, even with some injuries. He played 61 games and had 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points and a plus/minus rating of -2. A vast improvement over his 53 games in 2008 -2009 when he was a -17 with only 7 goals and 18 assists. Scott Gordon has had Comeau practicing on a top line with John Tavares. During a video interview, NHL analyst Billy Jaffe said that a to the success of John Tavares was to find a puck carrying winger. So I asked Blake if HE was that winger JT will rely on this season.

“I hope so. And I think PA (Parenteau) as well is a puck possession guy who is a great play maker. Obviously, Johnny is the kind of player that can do it all. He can make plays. He can shoot the puck and he’s got really great vision. So hopefully we can get some chemistry straight off the bat. I feel like we played together in the pre-season and we started to get some chemistry together. So we’ve just got to keep going. I think the longer we play together, the better we’ll get.”

Even with a few NHL seasons behind him, Blake is still young. I asked him if he had any words of wisdom for someone as young as Nino. “I can remember my first game. I was pretty nervous. I think that’s the biggest thing. You just try to get your nerves out of the way after the first shift, which I’m sure will be happen. But everyone’s here for a reason whether you’re 20-years-old or 40-years-old. Everyone has a role on the team. That’s the biggest thing. Every guy wants to get out there and play with confidence.”

Speaking of “confidence,” it was announced that Rick DiPietro will be the starting goalie for tomorrow night’s home opener. WHAT.A.SURPRISE.

When I asked Blake how he felt about Rick being in net for the home opener, I must have been speaking too fast. He thought I said Rhett and looked at me puzzled. “Rhett?” he asked. “Rick.” I said. He finally broke out of player doing an interview mold and a broad smile graced his face. “Oh! Rick.”

Oh, how soon they forget! We both got a good laugh. “Oh, I’m excited. Ricky’s been one of the good guys when I first came up. He makes everyone feel welcome. I’m happy for the guy. He’s worked so hard the last couple of years. He looks good and everyone’s excited. He’s one of the leaders on the team. He’s going to be huge for us this year.”

With Rick in net, the Isles will face the Dallas Stars to open the season. The Stars are a team they do not face often. I wondered if a lack of familiarity had anything to do with how they would face them. “I think that maybe when you play other teams in the other conference, you’re not as familiar with some of the other players. But I think for the first game of the season, every team has some different personnel. We’re not too worried about WHO they have out on the ice. We’re trying to get off to a good start.”

Yes, get off to a good start and then try to keep it going.

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