Michael “The Gremlin” Grabner was beaming with excitement, talking about his first trip to the Olympics. He’s just a happy kid, because he didn’t even get sad when the topic changed to the Islanders. Quite aware of the dire straits in which the Isles find themselves, Grabs remains optimistic about the future and knows that hard work is in store.
Media: Are you heading out to Sochi with Thomas?
MG: Yeah, we are going together, and it will be nice. It’s his first Olympics, too.
Media: We’ll know those guys on the Austrian team who are in the NHL, but there might be some players whom we might be seeing for the first time. Can you mention some of those key Austrian Olympic players, who aren’t in the NHL?
MG: We have a couple of good, young players...I would say Thomas Hundertpfund and Raphael Herburger. They are guys who—when I went for the World Championships two years ago—were still even younger, but people noticed them. Hundertpfund is now playing in Sweden, and my buddy from Philly [Michael Raffl] came over here after they scouted him in Finland last year. A big-stage tournament like this, [people] will see younger players, their skill level, and how they can compete against some of the best players in the world.
Media: How do you feel about the reports coming back on the some of the conditions in the hotels?
MG: Well, Thomas and I talked to some of our players and they said our facility is fine. They said the hotel is fine and the food is good there. I don’t know who is saying that [about the conditions]; I heard some stuff isn’t ready yet, but the guys we talked to said the hotel, food, and practice facilities are fine. They haven’t had any problems, and once the games start, you just go with it and play the games.
Media: You got family going at all?
MG: No, I don’t. My parents and sister were just over here for a long time, six weeks. My mom just left a couple of days ago. My wife doesn’t want to go with a three-year-old son (Aiden); it’s too much trouble for her to go alone, so she’s going home to her family that she hasn’t seen in a while. I’m just gonna go solo, with Thomas, haha! His family has three kids, so his wife is staying home, too.
RK: Just a few some Islanders-related questions, if you don’t mind. The penalty kill has looked better recently; what’s changed?
MG: We are more confident, we changed a few things around, and it’s been working in our favor. With our speed, we pressure [our opponents] a lot more now and don’t give them as much time and space to make plays. It rushes their power play a bit. We have had a lot of success up-ice trying to forecheck them on their breakouts, which makes it harder for them to get in the zone.
RK: Can you be more specific about anything else that has changed?
MG: Yeah, it’s nothing like a secret, haha! At the beginning of this year, we had a different forecheck, which we hadn’t done before, and it gave us some problems. So, we went back to the forecheck that we had had the year before, which was a little simpler, and [at the same time] it makes it harder for the other team to get in our zone.
RK: How do you sustain your endurance during 60 minutes of a game, so that you can still have the energy for a breakaway even towards the end of a game?
MG: (With a huge, silly grin on his face) I don’t know, I suppose it goes back to summer training and stuff you do off the ice. It’s tough, and some games are harder than others. But, I think everyone in this room and in the NHL is in good shape from their training in the summers to be able to do that. It’s hard work, but you gotta do it and put in the hours during the off-season.
RK: You’re a fast skater who can make plays skating at a high speeds. What’s the frustration factor for you if you’re able to get up to the net, but maybe the opponent won’t let you get a shot, and yet there’s no teammate around for you to pass to? (Is it frustrating to be faster than everyone else on your team and feel like no one else can keep up with you?)
MG: (Giggling) For me, I gotta work on my scoring! On a breakaway, you’re not looking to pass, anyway. I haven’t had as much success this year as I had last year or the year before in scoring. You’re not trying to make any pretty plays [on a breakaway] anyway; you’re just trying to get your chance and hopefully score the goal.
RK: Last season, you guys raised your level of play in the final stretch. Does that seem doable this season?
MG: We’ve been playing better hockey as of late, and getting more results and points. But it’s tough to claw your way out of the hole when you dig yourself a hole like we did, early on. We’re definitely going to keep trying and everyone is still optimistic here. We still have a chance if we keep playing like we are. We’re going to take it one game at a time and see what happens.