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Q & A: Ontario's Jeff Schultz Is a Reign Father Figure...in More Ways Than One

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Schultz opens up about being a stay-at-home defenseman in a puck-moving league & the most frequent criticism of his game. He also discusses Alexander Semin's competitiveness, his many nicknames, the time his name was misspelled at HockeyFest, and why he took a picture of himself with the Stanley Cup in a swimming pool.

Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Jewels from the Crown: You and your brother Ian have both enjoyed pretty successful professional careers (JFTC Note: Ian was a St. Louis Blues third-round pick in 2008. He was traded to the Canadiens with Lars Eller in 2010 for Jaroslav Halak). Were you the only kids?

Jeff Schultz: Yes...we grew up in Calgary. Both grew up playing hockey and a bunch of other sports. I started off with the Hitmen and then he followed the year after I had moved on. And now he plays for the Allen Americans in the ECHL. He's had a good career, kind of had his ups and downs, but he's kept with it. He's still trying to pursue that dream of one day playing in the NHL. I'm fully confident he can do that.

JFTC: That's a real longshot, two brothers both becoming pro players. Where did you guys get that hockey-playing gene?

JS: Well, neither of my parents played ice hockey growing up. My mom played field hockey in university, so maybe there's a little bit of our hockey sense from that. But we actually grew up in a community that had a lake that would freeze over. Our parents would take us down there. We started off, pushing a chair around, trying to learn how to skate and then moved up to playing hockey. We'd go to school, and we'd rush home and say, "Can you drop us off at the lake?" We'd be down there two or three hours, playing shinny with our friends. And then our parents would come, and they'd honk the horn and you know it'd be time to go. So that's kind of where the hockey came from in our family...just behind around other people growing up playing hockey.

Ian Schultz

JFTC: Did you grow up a Flames fan?

JS: I did. I always liked Al MacInnis just for his big slapshot.

JFTC: But being born in 1986, were you also a big fan of Jarome Iginla and the 2004 Stanley Cup finalist team?

JS: Oh yeah, that's when I was in high school when that was going on. I remember everybody wearing jerseys and putting flags on their car and stuff like that.

JFTC: Is it strange to think that your Kings coach Darryl Sutter was also the coach of that '04 Calgary team?

JS: Yeah. That was my draft year. So in the springtime, I remember going down and actually talking with Darryl when he was the GM, and doing that pre-draft interview and stuff like that. Playing for the [WHL's Calgary] Hitmen, we were always around the rink and we'd see a lot of the Flames guys. See the coach and stuff like that. So I'd met Darryl a few times before coming the Kings.

JFTC: With the Hitmen, you played with noted Kings nemesis Ryan Getzlaf. What are your memories of Ryan from that time?

JS: He's always been an elite player even back in junior. He's one of those guys that if you needed a goal, you can kind of just tap him on the shoulder and say, "Alright, we need a goal or we need to prevent a goal." He was one of those guys that was always a step above everybody else. As has shown throughout his career, he's still capable of doing that.

JFTC: Do you have any funny Getzlaf stories from when you were kids?

JS: None come to mind. It was a long time ago.

JFTC: You once said that the WHL is the "best route" to the NHL. Do you still feel that way€?

JS: Yeah, I do. It seems like a lot of the players who do come out, their games translate to the type of play in the NHL. It might be a little different than say the QMJHL...looking at the players that do come out, it seems like a lot of them are able to make the jump right from the WHL to the AHL or NHL.

JFTC: What is it about the WHL that makes it so close to the NHL?

JS: Back when I was coming out, just the style of play of a lot of teams with bigger guys. Maybe a little bit more physical and less run and gun. You don't see those kind of high-scoring games maybe you would in the other leagues.

Jeff Schultz, 2004 NHL Draft

JFTC: You came into the league at an interesting time (Schultz debuted in December 2006). You were drafted in the first round in 2004, when there was perhaps less emphasis on puck-moving defensemen. But after the lockout, there's been an increased emphasis in that style of play. Do you think, being a stay-at-home defender, that you missed your time a little bit?

JS: After the lockout, they made all those rule changes. They put in a lot more obstruction penalties. The stay-at-home defenseman game has kind of gone down...for myself, I just looked at it as a challenge to improve my game.

JFTC: Well, you certainly had a pretty good career in Washington. In 2009-10, you led the league in plus-minus. Any particular memories of that season?

JS: It was just one of those years where I got to play with a great player like Mike Green. I think we really gelled with his offensiveness and my defensiveness. And if you look at the forwards that we were passing the puck up to in guys like Ovechkin and Semin and Backstrom and stuff like that. It just one of those years where a lot of things went our way...

JFTC: You mentioned Semin, who was in the news recently because he was waived. In the past, former Washington teammates have questioned his passion. In 2011, Matt Bradley said Semin "just doesn't care." In 2013, Troy Brouwer said, "Some nights you didn’t even know if he was gonna come to the rink." Do you feel Semin lacked drive when you played with him?

JS: The years I played with him, he had some of his best years. You look at his numbers and he was one of the elite players in the league. It's unfortunate to see what happened with him. He was a great player when I played with him in Washington.

JFTC: Did you feel like you could rely on him as a competitor?

JS: Yeah. He was a guy that when we needed a goal at an important time in the game, he would be put out there. A lot of the times, he would help us out and either assist on a goal or get a goal. So, nothing bad to say about him.

JFTC: In 2013, you requested a trade from the Capitals. I know the last couple years there were a little frustrating, as you went from a regular to more of a scratch. Looking back, what happened?

JS: Well, there was a coaching change and the kind of system and mentality changed for everybody. And the type of play they wanted everybody playing, I guess I just didn't fit into the mix of what they saw. It was a frustrating year, in and out of the lineup and stuff like that. So I just thought for what would be best for my career would be a change of scenery. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. In the summer, they made some changes. And then I saw coming to LA as a sign of new light, a fresh beginning. And things didn't work out there, found myself in Manchester. But it's been a lot of fun, helping these young guys start their careers off. Seeing guys move up year after year. I've enjoyed my time here, but there's still that little spark inside me that would still like to be in the NHL.

JFTC: You've had a lot of interesting nicknames over the years: Big Rig, Sarge, Mr. Nasty, Tackleberry. I know Tackleberry is from Police Academy. Why Tackleberry?

JS: I don't know. I have no idea. I think Brooks Laich gave me that one. I don't know where he got that from.

JFTC: Tackleberry isn't very tall, doesn't really look like you, and doesn't act like your demeanor on the ice.

JS: Yeah, I have no idea where that one came from, but he was the only guy who called me that.

JFTC: I would've thought Hightower, for obvious reasons (Schultz is 6'6").

JS: Oh yeah, that's true.

JFTC: And where did the nickname "Sarge" come from?

JS: There's that show "Hogan's Heroes." And there's a character called Sergeant Schultz. So I think that's where it's from. My first coach Glen Hanlon, he would call me Sarge because of that TV show.

JFTC: One of my favorite stories from the 2014 Cup was when you did a short lap with the Cup, and Justin Williams told you to spend more time with it. You've said, "That really meant a lot, hearing that, because it made me feel like I was a little more a part of the team and contributed a lot more than I thought I did." Was that why you took such a short lap, almost like you felt inside as if you hadn't earned a full share of the Cup?

JS: Yeah, exactly. Those guys fought for it all regular season and all throughout the playoffs. And I had played just one round for them. All those other guys had earned it. And I had only been there for such a short time, so I felt, Let them celebrate with it a little bit more. But when he did say that, it's kind of someone saying I had done a lot more than kind of expected. And everybody was appreciative of what I had done. It was a good feeling.

JFTC: In Game Six against Anaheim, you played over five minutes on the penalty kill!

JS: Yeah, I know. We [in Manchester] were in our series against Norfolk, which was funny, because that was [Anaheim's] farm team...I just got thrown into the mix of things, and it worked out.

JFTC: That's crazy. One day, you're looking at William Karlsson, and the next day, you're looking at Ryan Getzlaf.

JS: Exactly, I know!

JFTC: There's an interesting picture of you during your day with the Cup, where you're wearing a suit and in a pool with the Cup. Can you explain the thinking behind that?

JS: Yeah, we hired some photographers just to take some pictures with my wife and I around the city at some of the landmarks and stuff like that. And he came up with this idea of your Hollywood shot, being in LA and stuff like that. He had seen a picture of a guy in a suit in a pool before and asked if I had any thoughts of doing that, and I just said, "You're the photographer, you know what looks great, so I'll just kind of go with it." We ended up doing it, and I thought it looked pretty cool.

JFTC: You mentioned your wife Mackenzie. Do you guys have any kids?

JS: Yeah, we have a newborn. 16 weeks. He's doing good. He's growing like crazy. Every week, they're doing something new.

JFTC: Congratulations! What's his name?

JS: His name is Cole.

JFTC: Not Sarge?

JS: No, no, no. We went with something different.

JFTC: I don't know if you remember this incident, but at Hockeyfest in 2014, your name was misspelled on the back of your jersey. When did you discover that?

JS: When we were walking out to the stage where they were introducing the team. I forget who was behind me, but they had noticed it...it might have been Tanner Pearson or something like that. He noticed it and told me. It was just nothing we could do about it. Luckily, it's not like we wore the name on the front. We could kind of hide it.

JFTC: Did your teammates rag you about that?

JS: Not really. They knew it wasn't really my fault. It was kind of the Kings PR department...

JFTC: And how would you contrast the coaching styles of Sutter and Stothers?

JS: I think they're very similar. They hold everyone very accountable. No matter if it's your 10th year or your first year. They put that responsibility on everybody for pushing each other to get to the next level, be good at practice everyday, be good at games everyday. I would say they're very similar. They're easy to go and talk to. They're very approachable.

JFTC: At least with the media, Sutter can be very short, while Stothers is usually more expansive. Does that happen in the locker room too, where Sutter can be more reserved and Stothers more talkative?

JS: Yeah, I could see that. I don't know if it's just how they see the media...with Darryl, it's just short and to the point. With Stuts, maybe he'll give you a little bit extra. Yeah, I could see even just talking them to a little bit...With Stuts, he kind of elaborates and gives you a little bit more.

JFTC: Last year, Stothers said you were "the father figure on the back end for us." What do you think about that?

JS: I think it's more in terms of being the older guy, having these young guys and trying to help them with preparation or practice or stuff when we're on the road. I remember being a younger guy, and it was almost easier to go to an older player to ask a question rather than go to the coach...

JFTC: So as a veteran leader, is there a specific area that younger guys, when they transition into the AHL, usually need work on? (Schultz is Ontario's only defenseman with NHL experience.)

JS: Maybe their warmup, being loose. Once that first whistle blows in practice, you got to be ready, ready to go and be sharp, where maybe in junior, you could kind of slack off a bit at first, ease your way into it.  Where now, boom, you got to be ready right off the get-go, and if you're not, then there will be consequences.

JFTC: Last year, you played a lot with Colin Miller. This year, you have a couple young offensive blueliners in Nick Ebert and Zac Leslie with a similar game and who are trying to fill Miller's shoes. What do these guys have to work on to reach a Miller-like level?

JS: I think the biggest thing is confidence and no self-doubt. I've played with Ebert a lot more than with Leslie, so I can watch what he does out there. There's time where he gets it and just takes it and goes, and that's very similar to what Colin Miller does. And at other times, he's a little hesitant, waits to make up the [perfect] play instead of the first play...

JFTC: You've been a part of three pro championship teams, the 2006 Hershey Bears, 2014 Kings, and 2015 Manchester Monarchs. Obviously, all these teams benefited from talent and luck. But is there something less-known that all these winning teams shared?

JS: I think coaching probably comes to mind first...

JFTC: So you've had these great coaches like Bruce Boudreau (with the Bears), Sutter, and Stothers. And you had other not-so-great coaches. What's one thing the great coaches have over the others?

JS: Communication with players is probably the biggest thing. If you're not playing great, they'll let you know. If you're playing good, they'll let you know. If there's stuff to be worked on, they'll let you know. So it's just that easiness of communicating and having a good relationship with them.

JFTC: And when people see a player of your size, I think sometimes they unfairly expect you to be more physical. Your game is more positional. Is that a pressure you've felt before?

JS: Yeah, that's kind of the biggest downside [about my game] I've heard from people is stuff like that. But yeah, having a good stick and positional play is where I see myself. I mean, being physical doesn't mean fighting. It's finishing checks, being strong in front of the net, finishing your plays. There's kind of that mindset that people get of big guys and physicality is fighting. I try and be physical in other ways.

JFTC: Did you not have the disposition to be that kind of guy or did you feel your game was more effective with an emphasis on positional play?

JS: Yeah, I think just my personality doesn't follow that road...

JFTC: You said after the Stanley Cup win how your time in Manchester that season helped you regain your confidence. Is your confidence high right now?

JS: It's probably not at its highest. There's still some areas that quite aren't clicking for me out there. Certain games, my confidence is there. Other games, maybe it's a little less. It's just on me being comfortable in who I am, knowing that I'm capable of doing what I need to do out there.

JFTC: And what particular areas?

JS: Sometimes when I'm going back for the puck and making the right play. Or breakouts in our zone. Neutral zone stuff. Sometimes, I'm trying to make the perfect play instead of the first play. Sometimes, I get myself in trouble with the puck. Or closing myself off before I can make a pass or something like that. It's just something I think about, maybe I overanalyze a little bit too much.