The day finally arrived when I was able to say both, “bonjour” and “namaste” to an NHL player!
RK: Here’s a question I’ve already asked a few, specific guys because I would like to hear what each of you has to say on this topic: Some guys are considered specialized players, who are good at winning face-offs, or have defensive skills, others are said to have good stick-handling skills, or can score, yet others are veteran leaders in the locker room. You are in a rare category called “versatile.” Talk about how you sharpened ALL of these skills.
MM: As far as getting good at my face-offs, once I realized my position [as center] and how my game fits on a team, then I was able to take on more of an onus, and take more ownership of my responsibilities and start concentrating on them. When you talk about “the role of a player,” you want to focus on those aspects that you have to take on. Learning [different aspects of the game] can be very important if you also want to be a penalty killer and a defensive type of player. Once I realized what my role would be, which is to be a player [who is effective everywhere on the ice], that’s what I focused on.
RK: How do you, as a center, contribute on defense?
MM: There is a lot of support that takes place all over the ice. We [as centermen] are asked to support D-men down low and support our wingers on forechecks. There is a lot of skating, and you have to work smarter and harder [than you think you need to].
RK: Name some other NHL players whom you would consider “versatile?”
MM: Ooooooh (in his Canadian accent), there are a boat load! Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks is versatile. (Hansen is a Dane, who has been with the Canucks franchise since 2006, and on September 29, 2013, he signed a four-year deal with them). Brendan Morrow is versatile, too. Looking across the board, the guys that are getting “paid” these days are the ones that are [the most versatile], like a Jonathan Toews, who is looked to for his offensive abilities, but is also out there in [Chicago’s] key defensive situations. Those types of guys are becoming more and more prevalent in the game, and are being used on both sides of the puck."
RK: As one of the few players of color in the history of the NHL, and only the 2nd player of Indian heritage (Robin Bawa, being the 1st), how would you, as a role model, encourage young Indian kids who are interested in playing ice hockey?
MM: I was fortunate to grow up in Mississauga, Ontario, and never really understood racism, colors, and division. There was every race, creed, and religion around. For me, I never thought of being any different from any other kid. My advice to kids of Indian descent who want to get into the game of hockey is that you have to fall in love with the sport and you don’t have to think of yourself as different. That’s the beauty of sports, that once you put on that gear, you’re looked at as just another hockey player. You’re not that Indian kid, or that Asian kid, or that White kid; you’re just a player and that’s why I love the game of hockey.
RK: Typical family reunion with Steve Nash. Do you play basketball/hockey and do you guys go easy on each other?
MM: Haha, if anything, when we get together with the kids, it tends to be soccer. His family is quite big into soccer and that was my family’s first sport while growing up. So any time the kids are altogether and we’re on a field, it usually breaks out into some sort of soccer game.