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(Originally published on HockeyAdventure.com)
When Michal Rozsival broke into the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999-00, he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a bona fide number one blueliner. But at age 29, the 6-2, 210-pound Czech has come into his own. Logging a team-high average of more than 24 minutes nightly with the New York Rangers, Roszival is performing with skill and poise in all situations. Considering he earns $2.3 million this year and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, he’s set himself up nicely for his next contract. Almost at the halfway mark of the season, he’s tied with Montreal’s Andrei Markov and Washington’s Mike Green for the league lead in goals among defensemen (10). Rozsival had 10 points in his last 10 games (for a total of 25 on the year) heading into a confrontation with the Vancouver Canucks on January 3 at GM Place, but that came to an end as superstar netminder Roberto Luongo clamped down for a 3-0 shutout. HockeyAdventure.com caught up with Rozsival afterwards.
HockeyAdventure.com: Clearly it wasn’t the result you were looking for tonight. You outshot the Canucks and outchanced them, but just couldn’t come up with the goals.
Michal Rozsival: Yeah. I think we played a pretty good game. The big difference was our power play. We had some opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize. We also took too many unnecessary penalties ourselves at crucial times in the game, especially in the third period. We were down 1-0 and trying to get back in it, but the penalties we had took lots of energy out of us and we didn’t have enough for the final push.
HockeyAdventure.com: When you look at this season overall, it seems like except for one stretch in November, you guys have struggled with consistency. What’s been the problem?
Michal Rozsival: I don’t know. It’s tough to say. We’ve really been working hard. Everybody’s been working hard. It’s not like we don’t try. We’ve been in close games. Sometimes we just haven’t been able to finish them off like last year, when that was our strength, coming out on top in those close ones. If I knew the answer for it, it would be easy to fix. We just have to focus on what we need to do as a team, get it back on track, and perform at a high level.
HockeyAdventure.com: Speaking of a high level, you’re on pace for your best offensive year this season. What’s gone right for you?
Michal Rozsival: I’ve been feeling good. I trained really hard over the summer. Also, this season, I’ve focused on trying to shoot the puck more. I’ve been successful in getting it through to the net too. In the past, sometimes I’d try to shoot but it would get blocked. But the last couple of years, it’s been getting through. And of course, getting to play with guys like Jaromir Jagr pretty much the last three years really helped me out. He’s one of the best in the league, and it makes it easy for me to play. It’s given me more confidence.
HockeyAdventure.com: How do you feel about being paired with a rookie like Marc Staal?
Michal Rozsival: “Staalsie” is a great player. It’s really amazing the way he’s playing this year. He’s done a really good job. You can really see that he’s got something special. He’s going to be the future of this organization. He just has to keep working hard.
HockeyAdventure.com: What kind of defenseman do you see him evolving into? He really made a reputation for himself as a shutdown guy at the last two World Juniors.
Michal Rozsival: I see a potential for a little bit of everything in him. He can play tough in the D-zone, but he can also skate the puck up the ice and make some good defensive plays. He’s going to be a great overall player.
HockeyAdventure.com: Has he given you any tips on how to stop his brothers Eric and Jordan?
Michal Rozsival [laughs]: I asked him, but he never really responded!
HockeyAdventure.com: You’ve been a teammate of Jagr’s for years. How has he changed since you first met him in Pittsburgh?
Michal Rozsival: I think he might be a little more team-oriented now than he was when he was younger. He was more quiet before. The last few years, he has been a really great team guy, really great in the locker room, a great leader, trying to help everybody out. It’s really amazing. He’s trying to help out the young guys in practices and give them his tips about how to beat guys one-on-one or shoot the puck. I think he’s matured a lot.
HockeyAdventure.com: How about Sean Avery? He comes in here and he’s got people in the crowd holding up signs like “Canucks Rule, Avery’s a Tool.” How do you guys feel about the negative reaction he gets everywhere he goes?
Michal Rozsival: It’s just Sean. It’s his reputation. Everywhere he goes, people think he puts on a big show or tries to do something stupid. But the other thing is that he’s a really good hockey player. He has proven himself. He can play good hockey. That’s what he wants to prove to people. He wants to show people that he doesn’t just skate around and stir up [stuff].
HockeyAdventure.com: A lot of people were shocked that the Rangers were able to scoop up both Scott Gomez and Chris Drury on the first day of free agency. What kind of impact has it had on the dressing room?
Michal Rozsival: Those guys have been great additions to our team. “Gomer” has been our best player. Wherever he plays, he’s really making the people around him better. He’s a great leader too. Just the way he plays, he’s a guy that if you give him the puck and get open, he’s going to find you. It’s something we really needed. “Dru” is the same thing. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s not afraid to go to the front of the net and get in the greasy areas, another thing we really needed.
HockeyAdventure.com: You’ve been in New York for three seasons now. What’s the best part about being in the Big Apple?
Michal Rozsival: I think it’s the hockey! If you’re successful in New York, it’s a great place to be. As far as living there, you’ve got everything in New York. The people of New York and our fans are really great.
HockeyAdventure.com: What did you think of the Winter Classic with Pittsburgh and Buffalo?
Michal Rozsival: You know what? We’ve been on the road and I didn’t really get to see it. I think we were traveling when the game was on. But I saw highlights. It looked pretty interesting. Especially in the final shootout, when there was an inch of snow on the ice. I was just thinking, I wouldn’t want to be in that position! I’d probably lose the puck. Anyway, it’s great for the sport of hockey to have an event like that. It’s something a little different. It’s good exposure.
HockeyAdventure.com: So how about you guys next season versus the Islanders at Yankee Stadium? Would you be up for that?
Michal Rozsival: Why not? Yeah, that would be fun!
HockeyAdventure.com: On the international side, you haven’t had many opportunities to play for the Czech Republic. Are you hoping that maybe with the way you’re playing now, you can carry it forward and be here in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics?
Michal Rozsival: I hope so, yeah. That would be great. It’s going to be a big event. I’m going to do my best. It’ll be my final shot, anyway. In the past, earlier in my career, I wasn’t invited to international tournaments. Then later I was invited, but I got hurt. So hopefully this time, for the Olympics, I would take it any day. Not as much for the World Championships, because for those, it usually means you haven’t made the playoffs in the NHL.
HockeyAdventure.com: What are your goals for the New Year?
Michal Rozsival: Hopefully we can get this team back on track, like I said, and get enough points to make the playoffs. All we have to do is do some damage in the playoffs. It’s every hockey player’s big dream to win a Stanley Cup. That would be a good New Year’s resolution.