You started the 2007-08 season in Hershey, but didn't get a lot of ice time. What was your mindset when you were sent down to South Carolina?
"I knew going into the season that Hershey had a good team, so ice time was going to be limited. I was a healthy scratch a couple of times, so it was frustrating because I wanted to be more than a fourth line guy getting more than a shift or two a period. When they sent me down I wasn't happy, but I knew I had to be a professional about it and work on my game."
Do you think playing in South Carolina helped you get your confidence back?
"No doubt. Mentally I wasn't where I needed to be to compete in Hershey and I needed to go down to South Carolina, start handling the puck again and get my confidence back. I think the biggest thing for me was to go down to South Carolina and start having fun playing the game again. I was enjoying shooting, scoring goals and taking guys on one-on-one and that's something I wasn't doing when I was in Hershey."
When you first got sent down, did they tell you how long you'd be in South Carolina?
"When they send you down, they usually give you a number -- like two weeks for six games or a month. It just depends. But that can change. I remember my first game was in Charlotte and I scored a goal. Then the next game we played Mississippi and I had something like five points. I remember thinking that I was going to get back up to Hershey quicker than I expected. But then time went by and Hershey called and said I was going to be down here a little longer. But when I got back to Hershey, I was really energized and I was ready to prove that I belonged at this level. I played with so much more confidence when I got back and then I just never looked back."
You end up returning to South Carolina for the playoffs and going all the way to the ECHL Eastern Conference finals. Talk about that experience.
"Hershey got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round and there was a handful of guys from Hershey that were going down to South Carolina, so I looked at it as another chance to get some playoff experience and play some hockey with my friends. It was so much fun being down there that time of year. On your days off you could go to the beach or play some golf. And Charleston is such a great city. I almost didn't want to go back home after the season was over."
Travis Morin is another guy you played with down in South Carolina who made his NHL debut this season. I don't think a lot of people thought he'd make it to the NHL after two seasons in the ECHL.
"Travis has a great skill set and I knew once he got an opportunity with the right team he'd get a chance. There was just so much depth in Hershey that Travis never got his chance. He went to Texas and got it and took advantage of that. I was really happy for him because he worked so hard on his game."
The Hershey lineup seems to be filled with ex-Stingrays players. Has the ECHL truly become a developmental league?
"I think so. You look at the teams that are successful in the NHL and one of the reasons is they've got tremendous depth in their organizations. Look at Washington, Detroit and Vancouver. Most of their rosters are homegrown players. If you're building your team through the draft, they all can't be in the NHL or AHL. Some of them are going to have to play in the ECHL. It's a good league. Just because you start your career in the ECHL doesn't mean that where it's going to end."
Current South Carolina head coach Cail MacLean was the captain of that Stingrays team you played on. What do you remember about him?
"He's a Nova Scotia boy like me, so I knew I was going to like him right away. Cail was a great leader. He was a true professional. He was the most responsible guy on the ice I think I've ever been around. I was in the locker room when he gave a little speech about this probably being the final season of his career and I know it ripped everyone's heart out. I was thrilled that he became the head coach down there. He's the kind of guy that's going to do a great job of developing young players. Any organization would be lucky to have him."
You've won two Calder Cup titles and scored 30 goals in a season in the AHL. Is there anything else you need to prove at the AHL level?
"I'm the kind of guy that believes you're never done proving yourself. If you score 30 goals, you want to do it again and then score 40 goals. If you win a championship, you want to do it again. You're never satisfied."
Are you a little frustrated that you have not gotten more of a look at the NHL level?
"I've played 11 games in the NHL over the last three years and everyone has been great. Obviously, I'd love to stick around a little bit longer. I played nine games this year and that was great. I can still remember playing that first game two years ago. It's such a wide range of emotions. You're almost relieved that you've finally made it, but at the same time it's a dream come true. Getting that call to go up to the NHL never gets old."
Talk about your first NHL goal.
"Obviously, that was a pretty special night for me. I jumped off the bench and the puck was in the offensive zone. Marcus Johansson had the puck and I got behind their forwards and he put it right on my tape. I redirected into the net. I must have scored 1,000 goals like that during my life. It was such a rush for me. It was another thing I could cross off my list."
You kissed Marcus Johansson when you got back to the bench and you were interviewed on national TV during the intermission. You were an instant celebrity.
"I guess that's what happens when you kiss your linemate (laughing). I got a lot of air time for a rookie. I must have had 80 text messages and about 50 missed calls after the game. I think everyone I knew or had every played with got in touch with me."
You got a text message from Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby after you scored your first goal?
"I did. I've known Sid for a long time. He and I worked out together in the summer. A lot of people think he's the enemy around here, but he's a great guy."
You guys took part in HBO's 24/7 series leading up to the Winter Classic against Pittsburgh. What was that experience like?
"I thought HBO did an unbelievable job. They did a great job of covering our every movement without really intruding on your privacy. I thought they did a great job of capturing what it's like to play in the NHL and be a part of a great event like the Winter Classic. I've got such a response from people around the league. It was great exposure for the game."