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BSN Interview: For Avalanche's Zach Redmond, Hard Work is Paying Off

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June 15, 2015


Before I’ve shared ten words with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Zach Redmond, I can tell he’s a patient, laid-back guy. Between the time delay–almost a full second–and the intriguing time zone challenge of finding a middle ground between Michigan and New Zealand, this interview could have been off to an awkward start. There are technical difficulties and hurriedly-thumbed phone emails. But Redmond just laughs it all off. After a year of working hard, he is enjoying his chance to relax.

Redmond came to the Avalanche as a free agent, signed in the summer of 2014. Prior to that, he’d been a reliable call-up for the Winnipeg Jets. Though he played 18 games for the Jets, the depth of their defense pool meant that it would be difficult to break through into a full-time NHL role.

“I had the opportunity to search the market after my contract ended in Winnipeg. My age, games played, the length of the contract, it all kind of came together,” Redmond says about the circumstances that led to him signing with Colorado.

“After that third year in Winnipeg I was unrestricted so I was able to check other places out. I loved my time in Winnipeg but it was pretty jammed up on the blue line and I had the chance to go to Colorado. It seemed like a better opportunity and a better fit. The goal was to play the full year in the NHL and that’s what happened, so I guess everything worked out pretty well. You’ve got to catch your break sometimes in hockey and everything opened up at the right time from that standpoint.”

He credits his agent’s hard work and the fortuitous timing of his free agency, but Redmond himself has a reputation as a workhorse of a defenseman who doesn’t let setbacks get in his way. After suffering a life-threatening injury at Jets practice in 2013, he battled back against the initial prognosis of a year’s recovery and was skating again less than two months later. Prior to that, he suffered a transient ischemic attack—a type of stroke—as a teenager which forced him to re-learn how to talk and walk, let alone play hockey.

In Colorado, he also stepped up in a big way after injuries to both Brad Stuart and Erik Johnson in the 2014-15 season. By the end of the year, he was averaging over seventeen minutes of ice time per game, sometimes against some of the highest level talent in the NHL. When he discusses the challenges faced both by himself and his team, he has a way of phrasing things that turns them into opportunities.

When asked if he needed time to adjust to the differences between playing for a team like Winnipeg versus Colorado and playing a full-time rather than a call-up role, he said, “For me it wasn’t so much a difference from Winnipeg to Colorado. It was just getting the first full season in and figuring out what the league is all about.”

“The opportunity to be there the whole year–you can go up and down and you play well when you’re up because you’re excited and ready to go for those stretch of games, but it’s a different ballgame when you’re up the whole year, dealing with the daily grind and the ebbs and flows of the season.”

One of the benefits of the ‘daily grind’ is getting to train and develop with the same players for an entire year:

“For me, it was definitely tough the first couple call-ups as it is for everybody but by the third year [in Winnipeg] I’d been up for a full year altogether, more or less. So I knew the guys on either team.” But now that he’s experienced both, he says, “It is nice just going in this year and developing with the whole group all year. You’re a part of it. You go through things together. It’s cool, and it’s definitely beneficial to be with one team all year.”

When playing in St. John’s, the Ice Caps were so geographically distant from other AHL teams that they often had a schedule where they’d play two weeks at home, two weeks on the road. The full-time NHL schedule in Denver was a big point of difference:

“The NHL schedule is pretty rigorous, it’s like game, game, off-day, practice the next day, so you’ll have an off-day but for the most part you’re just recovering and getting ready for the following day. You never really get a stretch where you can just take it easy,” Redmond says. He enjoyed the longer home stretches back at St. John’s and how they allowed the players to really get a feel for the city, although he’s been enjoying Denver when he can, too.

Were there moments when he found himself a little star struck, playing under names like Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic?

“They’ve had the careers they’ve had for a reason. It’s always easy to relate to those guys because they’ve usually been in most situations,” he says. “I think that’s why you see a lot of players hired as coaches: they can understand what a player’s going through. They understand when a team’s down and what they need to do in order to get the team going again. They can relate back to their playing career. Obviously playing under names like Roy and Sakic is incredible, because they’re not just names, they’re Hall of Famers.”

Redmond admits that lingered in the back of his mind at first, but in the end, Roy is his coach and it’s his job to listen to what his coach is telling him, then translate it onto the ice.

“After the brief period of ‘wow I’m playing for Patrick Roy’ you transition into right: he’s your coach and you give him respect and try to follow his advice.” As far as the ‘wow’ moments, he points out, “If I wanted I could continue and even point out some of the players on the team. Guys like Iginla and Briere and Tanguay. It’s pretty crazy for the first little while, but after a little bit, he’s your coach and they’re your teammates and it’s another hockey season.”

That season saw the Avalanche off to a notoriously slow start, but as time progressed and the team found chemistry and cohesion, this year wasn’t without its memorable moments.

“Once we got over the hump–after that very average stretch–and really started coming together as a team, it was a different feel in the locker room. It was great watching our forwards find such success.”

And one game in November was particularly noteworthy for Redmond, who scored twice against the Carolina Hurricanes, including the game-winning goal.

“That came at a key time for me because I’d been out for a bit, then given a chance a couple weeks in,” he says. “Having success like that while trying to earn your keep is a great feeling–and it’s always a good feeling to get the game-winner.”

On the topic of players getting their chance, nobody on the Avalanche roster got a chance to shine quite like young goaltender Calvin Pickard, who played sixteen games for the Avalanche this year after injuries to both Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra.

“He’s awesome,” Redmond says of Pickard. “I can relate to a guy coming from the minors and getting a chance, he’s one of the guys that you meet and instantly want him to be successful. For him to come up and steal the show like that… he was great. The fans loved him and he was probably just what we needed at that time. He was a fresh face and always cheery and winning us games, I was very happy for him.”

When he discusses his current team, Redmond’s enthusiasm is obvious:

“I really think this team is something special,” he says. Even when he discusses the team’s slow start and the difficulties they faced at the beginning of the year, his optimism is contagious.

“In a league like this you can’t afford to be even average for a month, and we were chasing for most of the year.” he says. “I wasn’t there for all success the year before, but I think we were kind of riding that and coming into this year we were a marked team. Whereas teams maybe before were saying this could be an easy game, we were getting everybody’s best game this year and we weren’t competing like we should, right off the bat. There are no easy games in the NHL.”

The Avalanche tightened things up over the course of the year and Redmond is quick to point out his teammates’ successes and improvement.

“We were playing like a playoff team for stretches of the season. We’re bringing back the same core group and we all know that next year we have to get off to a much better start and see it all through to the end. To win a championship in any sport, those teams aren’t slipping at all the entire year. You’ve got to have a good 82-game season and never really dip below .500 in a ten-game sequence. You’ve got to stay consistent and earn the points however you can because it definitely comes down to one or two or three points at the end of the year and that can be all the difference.”

“All you have to do is get into that eighth spot and you have a chance,” he says. “There have been eighth seeds who have made runs at it.” He laughs a bit when he adds, “That being said, obviously the higher you can finish the better, that’s the game plan.”

“We have a young team that learned a lot last year through what we went through together and I think everybody’s going to be on the same page coming into next year.”

Redmond has a reputation as a guy who plays with determination and drive, and that shows when discussing his future outlook with his new team. Looking toward next year, the Avalanche has a big milestone coming up: their first outdoor game, the Stadium Series at Coors Field against their long-time rivals from Detroit.

Redmond, who grew up in Traverse City, Michigan, was perfectly diplomatic when I asked him the big question: is he a Red Wings fan?

First he laughs. Then he says: “I can’t say currently that I am,” like a politician smoothly deflecting a pointed question.

“But I definitely was growing up,” he admits. “There was no fiercer rivalry than Colorado and Detroit. So it was pretty funny signing with Denver. I got a few comments thrown my way.”

“I think everybody has fun playing their hometown team, but to be part of playing Detroit at Coors Field, that’s very special. I’m sure I’ll have some friends and family doing their best to get there for that one.” He says he sure hopes his family will be wearing Avalanche colors, but he’s also sure a couple friends will still be wearing their Red Wings gear.

In the more immediate future, Redmond seems glad for a chance to finally wind down and enjoy his summer. Though the Avalanche’s summer started early, he was still playing hockey, representing the USA at the IIHF World Championships in the Czech Republic, where his team earned a bronze medal.

“It was awesome. I loved it, going over there. We were in Ostrava for about 90% of the tournament, but we got to see Prague for a few days, which was just incredible.”

“You only have so many opportunities to represent your country,” Redmond says, before going into more detail about the differences between the Worlds and the NHL. “It’s a different feel than the regular season… more low key. You’re still playing hard and staying focused but it’s more like you’re playing only eleven or twelve games so it’s a bit easier from a mental standpoint. You’ve got to play as hard as you can for twelve games; it’s not like you’ve got eighty more or seventy more or sixty more, so the attitude is ‘after this it’s summer, so let’s work hard and do our best.’ It’s still fast-paced and you’re still amped up, but you get to relax after.”

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

One of the things Redmond keeps coming back to is that hockey is hard work. It’s evident that he takes his job seriously, both in the role he plays on the Avalanche and the calm professionalism with which he discusses it. So when he says that his plans for the offseason are “kind of boring” and involve mostly just house-hunting, golfing on weekends, and recharging, you can’t hold it against him. He says he’s going to enjoy a pretty typical summer and then looks forward to getting back to Denver and the upcoming season.

“I don’t think there’s a person that dislikes Denver. I had a great time there this year. You can’t beat the weather, there are mountains all around, so much to do,” he says of his time in Colorado during the season. “For me being there all year instead of doing the up and down thing and being in a more temperature-friendly city was a great thing for me and my girlfriend to experience. There’s more of a life outside the game.”

Redmond and his partner spent the season living near Washington Park, and when he was away on the road, his girlfriend Maggie took advantage of Denver’s many outdoor activities like hiking and horseback riding. “We were fortunate enough to utilize the park, walking around on off-days, and we got into biking around the city a little bit toward the end of the season. Just trying out different restaurants and going to movies.”

Apart from finding a house this summer, Redmond’s goal is a clear one:

“I’m just trying to make myself better and do whatever I can for the team.”

If the past is any indication, there isn’t much that can stand in his way. With all that he’s had to overcome and all the work he’s put into building his NHL career, one can’t help but admire his optimistic outlook. He’s excited about next season, excited about the Avalanche. This disposition is likely a big part of why he’s becoming such a fan favorite in Colorado: he’s a hard working player with an interesting history who believes in his team. After taking a few more notes, I thank him again for his time and let him get back to enjoying the fruits of that labor.

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