Tampa Bay Lightning's Brett Connolly: "Hopefully, we can make our country pround" at world junior
In a bit of a surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning released rookie right wing Brett Connolly to play for Canada in the world junior championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton. But the Lightning believes the tournament can boost Connolly's development. Connolly's minutes had decreased recently and he had zero points in his past 10 games. Connolly acknowledges he needs to keep improving but said his main focus at the tournament will be to win gold for Canada, especially after playing last year and losing to Russia in the gold-medal game.
What were your emotions when you found out you were going to the world championship?
Well, I was actually pretty excited. It’s an exciting time. I’m fortunate enough to get a second chance to win a gold medal for my country. I’m looking forward to paying a bigger role this year and being a leader. And hope to get a gold medal. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
How will the event help your NHL game?
I’m going to play a lot of minutes. I’m going to play in every situation, and for me to play against the best players in the world in a pressure-filled environment, it’s going to be good for me. I’m looking forward to performing ad helping the team win. That the main goal, be there and be a leader and help the team win a gold medal. When you put that Maple Leaf on and play for your country, it’s an honor, so I’m very excited to get down there.
What will the atmosphere be like?
Last year was in Buffalo, pretty much a ton of Canadian fans. It’s something you can’t really describe. The passion Canadians have for hockey, it’s like nothing else. They really take the world junior tournament to a whole new level. This year being in Calgary and Edmonton, I expect nothing less, and it will be even crazier. Realistically, I don’t know how much crazier it could get than Buffalo, but it will be something else. It will be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can make our country proud.
Your ice time and production had slipped for the Lightning. How much do you think that factored into the Lightning’s decision?
I’m not sure. It’s a performance league. I had a little stretch where the defensive side of my game wasn’t where it was at the start of the season. For me, just proving to the coaching staff that I’m reliable defensively, that’s part of the reason why events went down. But for me I work on my game every day and I’m looking to get better every day. I have a lot of confidence in myself, but again Mr. (Steve) Yzerman (the Lightning GM) thinks that’s good for me to go and develop a little more and get some confidence to come back. That will be good for me.
But your main focus will be on the world juniors, correct?
Yeah, you’ve got to be in the moment. If my mind is anywhere else than Team Canada, it will only make me think more. I have to focus on Team Canada and help the team win, and come January 7 I’ll switch my focus to the Lightning. Just live in the moment and go day by day and try to get the gold medal here. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Other stuff from this morning: As expected Mathieu Garon gets his third straight start in net. ... C Nate Thompson is back after missing one game with an upper-body injury. ... Coach Guy Boucher echoed what GM Steve Yzerman said Friday that right wing Steve Downie likely will be fined for his part in Thursday's fracas with the Rangers' Artem Anisimov. ... Before Thursday's game, Downie had just one minor penalty in his previous 10 games. "We're getting to him," Boucher said. "He's trying to keep himself on the ice. He's trying to stay focused. One of the things we stress here is total focus. It means nothing can bother us, whether the refs are not calling anything, whether things are turning our way, things can't bother us. We act when we have to and we restrain when we have to, and I think Downs has bought into that. Obviously, it's always a fight for him to make sure he's in line with that, but he's been really good about it." ... Defenseman Pavel Kubina, on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, is technically eligible to play Monday against the Devils, but Boucher said he wants to evaluate Kubina's conditioning after his tie off. Bruno Gervais also has played relatively well as a No. 6, so perhaps there are decisions to be made. ... For what it's worth, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette made noises to Philadelphia reporters that we may be in for a repeat of the stall tactics he used Nov. 9 at Tampa. Tough to believe after losing 2-1 in overtime the last time he tried that stunt Laviolette would do it again. If he does, will be interesting to see the reaction of Flyers fans and the referees.