When the Hurricanes acquired him from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline, Sami Vatanen likely never thought he’d have to wait this long to even get into a team practice.
He was injured at the time of the trade, and then, of course, the COVID-19 shutdown hit. Vatanen spoke with the media via Zoom Tuesday to discuss his path to this point.
On what the situation has been like for him: It’s been a little weird. I came here and I was ready to play but I wasn’t able to. It was unfortunate that the season got postponed. It’s been nice, though. I haven’t played with Finns in a long time. I played a little bit when I got into the league with [Teemu Selanne] and [Saku Koivu], but after that I haven’t played with any Finns. But it’s been nice to play with these two guys and see them every day.”
On how he spent the pause: We went back to New Jersey for a bit. We still had a house there, so we had to clean it up. We stayed there quite a long time. Luckily, I had a gym there in that place. I was able to go outside running and doing that kind of thing. Then we went back home for a month in Finland, so I was able to skate there a little bit and do all the workouts too.
On his impression of the team and blue line: I think we have a really good team here. These guys play really fast hockey. They want to forecheck hard and move their legs all the time. That’s their game. It was hard to play against them all the time when I played against this team, and it’s fun to see these guys and how hungry they are for winning.
On the opportunity to play in the postseason: Every time we play for something, you love winning in this game. That’s the main goal for every team that came back. They just want to win the cup. That’s the main thing. Of course, it’s a little weird to start skating when it’s 95 degrees outside and you start to skate and play in the playoffs. It feels a little weird but everybody’s got to do that and try to do their best to win.
On the value of getting on the ice: I haven’t skated that much since February when I got injured, so I haven’t really been able to skate after that. I skated a couple times back home. We came here pretty early, so we were getting to know the guys and getting in some skating before camp started.
On how he feels health wise: I feel pretty good after these first two days. Let’s see after a week. I felt pretty good so I’m happy about that.
On playing with fellow Finns: It was nice to come here and I got to spend some time with [Teravainen] and Aho. It’s been really nice. I played with Teemu and Saku when I first got in the league, and I haven’t played with anybody since. So it was something different. It’s been nice. I’ve been hanging out with them and doing things, so they’ve helped me a lot.
On if he’s ready to play: I’m ready to go. Health wise, I feel 100%. I have no worries about that. Of course, it takes a little time to get used to the game speed but we have a long time until we start to play, so I’ll be ready.
On the defense: I haven’t played since February, so I have to take those practices as hard as I can and try to get myself ready. We’ll see. We have a good group here and everybody’s pushing each other. It will be nice to see who’s going to play. It’s a good battle for everybody and I think everybody’s enjoying it.
On training camp benefitting him as a new player: You get used to the systems and everything pretty fast. When I got traded from Anaheim to New Jersey, it took a couple weeks, but I think you watch the games and you get to know the guys. It will usually go fast. But of course I was injured, so this was a really good break for me and I have a chance to start with a clean slate right now.
On playing in an empty arena: That’s going to be weird. You get used to playing with the fans, and it gives you some energy and everything like that. But everybody’s got to step up and try to create our own energy on the bench, doing that kind of stuff.
On Rod Brind’Amour: He’s been a good guy and he’s been helping a lot. So it’s been fun to see.