When the Hurricanes hit the ice for practice Wednesday, there was a new face with them, as newly-acquired defenseman Jani Hakanpaa joined the team. There was at least one familiar face on the ice for Hakanpaa, as he and Sebastian Aho played together in Finland.
Hakanpaa, Aho and Rod Brind’Amour spoke to the media after practice, here’s some highlights of what they had to say:
On Jani Hakanpaa and what he brings: The obvious. He’s a big dude out there. He’s got long reach, a good stick and that physical presence. I think that’s obvious. That is what he brings. You can see that element right away in practice today, that long reach, being able to kill rushes and that’s something that I think every team wants to have and I think it’s something that’s going to help us for sure.
On Hakanpaa playing against new teams: Everyone’s coaching almost the same. All the teams are basically playing very similar. Whether it’s a team he hasn’t seen or not, he’s definitely seen some sort of style of play or a pre scout that looks exactly the same. It’s hockey. It’s playing your game. So the biggest challenge is going to be figuring out exactly how we do it to the nuances of what we do, but overall, it’s not too much of a concern who you’re playing.
On the Canes not making many changes at the trade deadline: Am I happy with the group not changing too much? Yes. The answer is for sure. I think a little tweak is great, especially in an area that we think will definitely help us. That’s a big little thing. I’m happy that we didn’t mass overhaul anything, because that wouldn’t have helped us.
On the Canes’ focus on the stretch run: Comfortable, we can’t be that. There’s zero chance of that. That’s why I like what [Aho] said. Because the past, who cares. We don’t know what’s coming down the road. We know we’ve got 15 games, but we can’t focus on that. Let’s get back into focusing on tomorrow night. Let’s play a good game tomorrow night. The rest will take care of itself. If we do that right, then when these 15 games are up, we’ll be where we want to be. We’re not a big-picture team. We want to just focus on what’s right ahead.
On bringing in a new player during COVID times: We’ve all been dealing with that sort of element all year, whether it’s a new player or not, just bringing that you normally do as a team. There’s a lot of team bonding or team chemistry that happens away from the rink. Now, all of a sudden, that element doesn’t exist. The good news is, it’s the same for everyone. Everyone’s kind of missing that, I’m sure. But as far as how do you do it, you value the time you have here with them. Make sure they can get up to speed, be around the guys as best we can.
It helps to have a friend. With [Aho] being here, knowing him, he can reach out if he needs something via phone call or whatever. You’re not on an island. I think that’s the main thing, to make sure the new guys know they’re not alone. They may kind of feel like it, but just pick up the phone and we’ll figure something out. I think that’s basically all you can do.
On if the Canes are better equipped to handle in bringing in a new player: I really believe that, because the team bonding we’ve already experienced has already happened in a lot of ways. Last year, I think going through that bubble and the ups and downs of it, the majority is the same group, in a lot of ways, still here. That’s important as we move forward here at a crucial time of the year. Absorbing one body, we should be able to assimilate that into this group without too much chaos, I guess, is the way to put it.
On what he’s looking for from Hakanpaa: I want him to play the way he plays. If that’s (bringing sandpaper) what he does, then he better do that here. We got him here because of that. We don’t need him to do anything differently. We know what he’s about, and I think we’ll get to know him and maybe there’s other things to his game that we can say ‘Hey, you can do this.’ But he better bring what we know he brings. That’s why we got him.
On when he found out about the trade, and what he heard from Aho about the Canes: The day of the trade, we flew into San Jose in the morning. I was having a pre-game meal when I got the call from Bob Murray that they traded me here. After that, everything happened real quick. I got a bunch of phone calls and tried to set everything up for me to get here as fast as possible and to sort all the things out we needed to. I got some good help with that, and it got me here fast, so that was nice.
As far as it goes with Sebastian, I know him. We used to play together back home in Finland. He said a lot of good things about this team. He said it’s a really good group of guys, a hard-working team. It’s an honor for me to be here and be part of this great hockey club.
On what he feels like he can add: I think I’m just going to bring the tenacity of being hard to play against. Be really solid on the back end, get that physicality up. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and what I expect of myself in games. So I’m trying to bring that.
On playing with the Hurricanes’ defensemen: It’s going to be really nice. They have a really good D corps here. Last year in the playoffs, I actually watched a lot of the Hurricanes’ game just because of the D corps, so it’s going to be nice to get to play with them and then get to be around those guys every day and maybe I even learn something from them. Maybe I try to pick their brain to try and get something going my way to and learn from those great players. It’s going to be fun to get out there with those guys.
On going from a team at the bottom of the standings to a Cup Contender: It gives you that little boost when you get to a great team like this that has a good chance to go a long way. You want to make sure you come in hot off the bat, work hard and try to help the team right off the get go here. Just do anything to help the team win some hockey games down the stretch here. Obviously everybody is in this business to win, so to have that chance here, it’s unreal.
On getting a sense for how the team plays: You get the sense that these guys are working really hard together, working as a group of five out there all the time, trying to be aggressive and fast. So those are things that I picked up right off the bat, and I think that’s pretty accurate about this team. So I’m looking forward to getting some games under me.
On his role and adjustments for the Hurricanes’ system: System wise, I think it’s going to be a really aggressive system, just high-paced, get the puck going up ice. There’s a few adjustments in the D zone we went through this morning with the coaches that’s a little different here than what we were used to doing back in Anaheim. There’s a few different things I’ve got to work on there, but other than that, I don’t really talk about the role yet. I just try to come here, be myself, play the game I play, and I think that’s why I’m here. So just like I said, bring that physical part in there, be tenacious, work hard for the guy next to me, that’s what I expect from myself, and I think that’s what everybody expects from me too here.
On integrating during COVID times: I’ve never really been in this kind of situation before, but I think it’s different, for sure. You’re supposed to be on your own away from the rink, but I think we’re going to make it work, and at least you get to see the guys around the rink here and try to get to know them as fast as I can and make the transition as smooth as possible.
On Jani Hakanpaa: First off, he’s a team-first guy. He does everything for the team. He’s a hard-working, honest player. Big, strong, fast. He’s a great guy, so it’s good to have him here.
On the Hurricanes’ stretch run coming off two losses: We had a good meeting this morning about the last couple games and stuff like that. But that’s history now. There’s nothing we can do about it anymore. The way we look at it, we don’t watch the standings, we don’t watch what happened in the past, what’s going to happen in the future. We want to look to tomorrow night against Nashville and we want to win that game. That’s the main goal. We haven’t and we won’t look behind or past us.
On if he’s given Hakanpaa any pointers: Yeah, I told him a couple places. I’m sure whenever he needs, he can ask me and I’ll try to help him any way I can. I’m more than happy to help him.
On helping a new teammate in COVID times: Usually when we’re on the road, you can go have dinner outside and you can’t do that stuff right now. So obviously maybe that’s a little bit harder, but then again, we practice a lot, we spend a lot of time at the rink together, so I’m sure he’ll get into the team and everyone will welcome him in. Obviously I’ll do everything I can do to help him out.