Chris Pronger talks hockey in great depths, describes his relationship with the media and doesn’t mind if he ends up with more wins than friends when all is said and done.
Pronger has taken three different teams to the Stanley Cup finals in the last four years. That’s hardly a coincidence.
"Hopefully I’ve had some sort of an influence, but all the three teams that I’ve been in the finals with have gone there through all sorts of difficulties."
"They have been teams that have been hungry and really wanted to be there. A couple players isn’t enough. The whole team has to be into it. That’s what’s been common with these three teams. Everyone has done their job."
"And when all the players accept it completely what they have to do for success, the success will come. You need some luck too, but you always need to get good goaltending and clutch scoring."
"If you can’t deal with difficulties along the way, you don’t know how to deal with them, when you face those problems in the playoffs."
The Flyers seemed to go through a lot more problems last year compared to the Stanley Cup winning Ducks team in 2007. It seemed like the Ducks never faced any problems.
"Actually we did. We had a brilliant start to the season. I think we won over 30 games from the first 40. Then we collapsed and we had some stretch where we won two and lost twelve."
"There were many reasons for that. I was injured, Scotty [Niedermayer] was injured. We were lost as a team for a while."
"But getting through that prepared us to face all the problems that came later."
"Never really 100%"
Pronger, now 35, had some injury woes also in the beginning of this season and may not be at 100 percent right now either.
"Well, it’s tough every time when you’re not 100 percent. It’s been a rough process..."
Ville Leino enters the room.
"... when you’ve had to try and make sure that some Finnish players will give it their all."
Leino comes and goes and Pronger gets serious again.
"I don’t know if I’m ever really at 100 percent. It feels like there’s always been something. I’m actually not sure if I’ve been at 100 percent since I was 12."
"I guess it’s because of the way I play. When you play a physical game, you give and you take. All kinds of stuff happens then."
The importance of the first pass
Pronger is considered one of the biggest stars in the game, but rather than trying to be flashy, he seems to base his game on simple things. One might say his biggest secret is his first pass.
"I totally agree. The meaning of the first pass is undervalued too often. I think it’s an extremely important part of the game. It’s the simplest part of the game and makes everything else possible."
"It’s pretty usual that when the defenseman has done his job well, you don’t notice him at all."
"I guess I’ve always understood how important it is to give that first crisp pass right in the blade. A good first pass starts a chainreaction and everything can be lost if that first pass isn’t a good one. If it is good, the next player has more time to take the play forward and so on."
"Sometimes the simplest and easiest looking plays go ignored – like an easy and good first pass – or hockey sense compared to skating for example. If you have hockey sense, you end up in the right spot and often make the right decision."
"It’s very common that you get two options; go for the flashy pass through a couple guys or open the play to the closest guy and play it simple. If the first option might lead to a fancy breakaway, but has it’s risks, and the other option very likely leads to a 3 on 2, you know what? That latter option is often the better one."
"But it depends on the situation. If there’s one minute left in the game and we’re trailing, then of course you have to try and look for the breakaway pass. Everything effects everything and you have to keep thinking all the time. You have to know what the score is, how much you have time, who’s on the ice from your team and the other team. And you have to make your decision basing on all of that."
"You can always plan something beforehand and some things happen naturally, but every time you go get the puck you have to know where your team mates are and what are your options."
"Usually the best option is to pass the puck to the guy who’s open the most."
Pronger has always been someone who’s ready to do a lot of things in order to win games. The media has also followed him closely and sometimes the silliest things can become huge if it involves Pronger.
Like the puck episode during the Stanley Cup finals last season. After a game against the Blackhawks, Pronger stole the game puck.
"Stole? I stole nothing", Pronger grunts.
"I took it. I didn’t steal it. The media overblew it completely, but actually it just worked in our favor in the end."
"My initial plan was to just annoy their players, but the media made it a story of it’s own."
"I don’t really think it effected their game, but it helped us. The media focused on this tiny little puck so much that they almost forgot the fact that the Stanley Cup finals were on."
Pronger’s relationship with the media has always been interesting. For someone watching it from aside, there seems to be a lot of stuff going back and forth between Pronger and the daily reporters. Sometimes Pronger gets back at the reporters if he doesn’t like what’s going on.
"Like Panaccio? Hmm. Yeah, I remember that. This one guy had written something and then he didn’t show up at the rink the next day and I wanted to remind him about it."
"You can write whatever you want, but be a man for cripes sake. They can write what they want, but then they have to show up the next day and stand behind their words or ask more questions. You can’t just write whatever you want and then go hide for a month."
But Pronger says his relationship with the media is actually just great.
"Sometimes people forget that we’re here to entertain people, whether we’re on the ice or in the media."
"And yes, I understood pretty fast how the media works when I was younger. You have to understand what they’re trying to do. You have to understand the game inside the game and the fact that negativity sells."
"Sometimes it’s everybody having fun, sometimes it’s nobody."
Not here to make friends
If Pronger calls his relationship with the media great, he doesn’t intend to be great towards his opponents on the ice. It’s probably safe to say he is one of the most hated players in the league year after year.
"I don’t play to get friends. I play to win. And I play tough. No one will stand in front of our goal without problems."
"If they know that someone can be hard on them, they start being more careful. And you have to make them become more careful, because no one is at their best when being careful."
"You can’t play as tough today as you could 15 years ago, but... I mean, you have to know the rules and play by them, but there are still many grey areas that you must try to use to your advantage."
"When the refs come and say that it’s time to calm down, then you do so. I personally think that I’ve deserved that privilege that the refs come to say when I’m about to go over the line. I haven’t always had that privilege. I got a lot of penalties when I was younger."
Pronger looks to be on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he won’t be remembered as the same sort of a gentleman as someone like Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman.
"No. I won’t. Let’s just make this as clear as possible; I’m not here looking for friends. I try to win games. And I don’t play like those guys did. Never have, never will. I don’t think I’d even play anymore if I played like they did."
Pronger has an impressive list of achievements by now, but individual achievements like the Hart Trophy aren’t at the top of that list, even if it’s a rare one for a defenseman.
"No. I’d say the Olympic gold in 2010 and the Stanley Cup. You have to work hard all year for the Stanley Cup. It’s a huge amount of work. The Olympics in Canada with all that pressure and expectations were amazing in it’s own way."
This report was based off of a Finnish-language story in the publication Veikkaaja.