ONTARIO, CA — While the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association continue to waste everyone’s time with ridiculous, embarrassing posturing and bickering, players have gone overseas to play in European leagues and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), while others have managed to sign on with minor league teams in North America.
“[Forward] Brody and [defenseman] Brock Sheahan, and [left wing] Everett Sheen—they’re all from Lethbridge, [Alberta], and we skate and workout together in the summertime, so I know all those guys from before,” Setoguchi told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview.
Setoguchi, 25, goes back much farther with Reign left wing Colton Yellow Horn, a native of Brocket, Alberta.
“When we were in PeeWee AA (players are 11-12 years old), my family [took] legal guardianship of Colton,” said Setoguchi. “He lived with me for a year, and we played together when we were kids. That was fun for us.”
In addition to his friends from nearby towns in Alberta, Setoguchi played junior hockey with Reign wingers Chris Cloud and Derek Couture while they were with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. Setoguchi also played against Reign forwards Jason Beeman and C.J. Stretch in the WHL.
“It was just natural to come here, with friends you know, and [head] Coach [Jason Christie] said to come and play, and it’s been fun ever since,” added Setoguchi, who has scored three goals and has added six assists for nine points, with a +7 plus/minus rating, and two penalty minutes in six games this season.
The 6-0, 195-pound right wing, who signed with the Reign on November 6, 2012, is working on his game, timing, and conditioning, while waiting for the NHL to get back on the ice.
“It’s nice to get on the ice, and the fact that we’ve got just three lines, conditioning-wise, gives you a lot less time to recover, and it helps you get in shape faster,” he noted. “The game isn’t easier. It’s pretty congested out there. Guys are running around, and you have to think fast.”
“It’s nice to get back into those situations where you have to make the right play, and be in the right position, as opposed to just practicing with some of your friends,” he added.
Last season with the Wild, Setoguchi scored 19 goals and added 17 assists for 36 points with a -17 plus/minus rating and 28 penalty minutes in 69 regular season games.
In 336 regular season games in the NHL with the Wild and the San Jose Sharks, Setoguchi has scored 103 goals and has tallied 92 assists for 195 points, with a +3 rating and 117 penalty minutes.
In other words, Setoguchi is now an NHL veteran, and he has valuable experience that can help younger players working to advance their careers.
“There’s been situations where I’ve seen guys do little things [that may not be good for their development], so I give them pointers, here and there,” he stressed. “A couple of guys have asked about shooting one-timers, little plays where you pick the puck up, stuff like that.”
“That’s why I said I wanted to come,” he added. “I can help some of the guys, play with my friends, get back in shape, and get back to those game situations, so that when we get started again, I’ll be ready to go.”
Despite the fact that he will be just 26 years old on New Year’s Day, Setoguchi already has six years of experience at the NHL level.
“When I was young, it was interesting to see how a guy prepared, what he did to get ready for a game, and the little things he did,” said Setoguchi. “That’s the difference between the leagues—the little things. A lot of guys can skate. It’s doing the little things, like being in the right position, winning your battles, and being tough along the wall. That’s the difference.”
“Even in Minnesota last year, we had a young team, and I probably had the third-most playoff games [under his belt] on our team, and I’ve played on some good teams where we’ve been in the playoffs, so I’ve been in those situations,” added Setoguchi.
As they have with Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford, who is also playing for the Reign, the younger players are learning from their teammates who have played at the NHL level, including veteran defenseman Paul Mara.
“When you look at a guy like Paul Mara, who has been in the [NHL] for years, you can only watch and get better from his presence,” said Couture, the Reign’s team captain. “Our whole defensive corps is going to get better with him out there.”
“Then you have Setoguchi and Clifford,” added Couture, 28. “Setoguchi is more established in the NHL, but both of those guys—the way they prepare for games, the way they practice—I hope the young guys watch them [carefully and learn from them].”
Even though he is focused on his role and responsibilities with the Reign, like NHL players everywhere, Setoguchi is keeping a close eye on the contract negotiations between NHL owners and the NHLPA.
“It’s a negotiation, and things aren’t always going to go smoothly,” he said of the past week’s developments. “I like to think of it as the calm before the storm, then things heat up, and cool down again.”
Setoguchi indicated that he remains optimistic, despite the fact that, as of this writing, the two sides appear to be farther apart than they have ever been, and with no talks on the horizon.
“I can’t see the season being lost,” he emphasized. “Usually, deals get done when things get nasty, if that makes any sense. Both sides—there’s threats here, there’s threats there, but then, they hash it out, and get it done.”
“But I can’t really worry about that. I stay up on what’s going on, but while I’m here, it’s about playing games, and being ready when [the NHL] starts up again.”
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