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Dusty Imoo Q & A: Imoo Dishes on Japan, Alec Dillon & Jack Flinn

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LA's Goaltending Development Coach talks about playing in Japan, how Dillon needs to "reinvent" himself & why Flinn is "a great project"

(Photo courtesy LA Kings)

Jewels from the Crown: You played professionally in Japan for over a decade, even representing them in the 1998 Olympics...obviously, you acclimated well over there. (JFTC Note: Imoo was born in British Columbia) But just for example, a couple NHL'ers that you played with there, Tom Kurvers and Jason Podollan, didn't last more than a season there. What's the biggest challenge for a North American pro trying to make it in a foreign country?

Dusty Imoo: I think it's a little bit different for every country. A lot of the places in Europe are quite North Americanized. But Japan is...it's just such a 360. I think it's a little too much for a lot of them.

Every guy I ever played with out there loved it. Even to this day, I talk to TK, Tom Kurvers, and he says it's some of the fondest memories of his whole pro career. Even if it was just a short amount of time.

But I think that there's a lot of expectation of living the Japanese lifestyle, acclimating yourself to their lifestyle, as opposed to sometimes in the pros...you kind of expect, and I'm not saying the pros I played with...they're used to having things bend for them. And that's not how it works over there.

It's such a culture change. I think sometimes, they play a couple years, and they're like, "You know what? This was awesome. But I don't know if I could do this for long periods of time." And sometimes they...not wear out their welcome...but it's time to move on. Because guys get tense with that type of lifestyle. It's pretty prim and proper, and you have to follow the sempai/kohai system and all that kind of stuff. So sometimes, it's a little too much. (Note: In Japanese, "sempai" means elder, "kohai" rookie)

JFTC: Can you give me an example of something, not speaking specifically of the players you played with, that didn't "bend" a player's way in Japan?

DI: We got treated great over there, but there are things like carrying your own bag and getting your own laundry and things like that. (laughs) Things that you're not used to doing. And also, helping out with different, little things you wouldn't expect to do over here.

The other thing is sometimes if there's an older guy and he's a crappy player...and he never plays, he just practices. So the pros are going to be like, "This guy, he's a nobody." He's an extra. And they treat him like an extra. But [there], he's older, so you got to treat him with respect. He's an elder. That was a bit of a change for myself included.

But you know, you get used to it. I enjoyed a lot of their culture and how things are. There's a lot to be said about how things are run over there.

Dusty Imoo

(Photo courtesy Dusty Imoo)

JFTC: Let's move forward quite a bit. Both you and Peter Budaj came from the Winnipeg organization this past offseason. Did you have anything to do with the Kings signing him?

DI: Well, I definitely have believed in Peter. Did I tell Dean or anybody, they got to sign this guy? No. But when I was asked about him, I've always believed in him. And had no problem with saying it...

We became close while we were both in Winnipeg's organization. I saw him go through his tough time. It was hard to see. But I've been through it as well. We all have as goaltenders. There's times when things don't go right. Sometimes, you hit a crossroads.

He was right at that crossroads with his age, where if things go bad, you think, maybe, possibly, this might be it. "Do I go to Europe? Am I done?" And it starts playing with your head. So I think it could've been a really good fit for him in that sense because I've been through all of it, and I knew exactly what he was going through. So I kind of also knew how to center him and keep him on the right path.

JFTC: Let's talk about Alec Dillon. He's had a couple of recent hip surgeries. How is he progressing?

DI: He's done with his surgeries, and he's rehabbing now. I think the one is doing pretty well, and he's just starting rehabbing the second one. I heard, the last I spoke with him, he's maybe for camp. Maybe.

He's got a long haul. He knows it though. I'm not sugarcoating it for him. He's going to have to start from scratch again in everybody's eyes. I said, "That's probably a good thing. You need to reinvent yourself. Re-prove yourself to everybody." Because he had such a short stint in the WHL and didn't have very much success at the beginning. But never really got to show that was just the beginning. And then he's done [with injury]. (Note: Dillon went 2-2-1 with a 3.81 GAA & .871 save % for the Edmonton Oil Kings)

So I said, "Just consider this a fresh start for you all around. Re-show the Kings what you're made of." If it takes him moving onto another organization, it's not the end for him. I'll work with him in the summer if he wants to come out to Vancouver and train with my son and I...I'll do whatever I can for him and try to reboot his career...but he's got a long ways.

JFTC: You've said, "Alec is a good kid and has some raw talent, but has a lot of maturing to do." What did you mean by that?

DI: I don't think he understood a lot about that next stage. (laughs) "Yeah, I want to be an NHL goalie. I want to be on TV." But he didn't really know what it took to do that. He even told me that this last month when we were talking about how his rehab is going. It was a bit of an eye-opener for him. He said, "I kind of got kicked in the butt from it and woke me up a little bit." So I think he gets it now.

There's way more to being a pro than just going out and playing some big games. It's getting in the gym. Treating it like it's your life. I think he understood that. And I think he's willing to do the work. We'll see. He's got a lot to learn. He really does. But you can't learn from anything better than experience. And he's getting it right now.

JFTC: Well, with any luck, it'll go the way it went with Quick, and how Quick overslept his way down to the ECHL and worked his way back to the NHL. Anyway, moving on, the Kings were said to be finalists to sign Alex Lyon. What happened there? (Note: Lyon signed with Philadelphia)

DI: You'd have to ask Alex Lyon and his agent. I heard the same thing. I did more of the watching and the assessing him as a goaltender. I thought we were there.

I can't speak for Alex, but maybe, he felt based on number-one goalies in the organization, we have one here...

JFTC: That's never leaving?

DI: Right. (laughs) So who knows? Maybe it's because he wanted to be in the East Coast. Because that's where he's from? It's all kind of things that could have been. But he seemed to have liked us. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

JFTC: Speaking of who you did sign, what about Jack Flinn intrigued you guys?

DI: He's a tower. (laughs)

He's a bit raw. But at 6'8" and to still have some natural athletic ability is not easy to find. I believe I can help him. It's a great project to see where that can flourish to. He has some abilities in his game that can lead to an NHL goaltender.

JFTC: Finally, I saw your Spiderman-themed mask. Where did the inspiration come from?

DI: I've worn the same Spiderman with different paint jobs. But it's been Spiderman for my whole pro career pretty much.

When I was a kid, the goalies had the same mask. That was kind of their identity. Now guys get three masks and change them and they're always different. So you don't really know whose mask that is. Unless it says their name on it.

But if you saw Ken Dryden's mask, you knew it was Ken Dryden. If you saw Cheevers's mask, you knew it was Cheevers. So I always thought that's how it should be.

I did the same thing. [Spiderman] was my childhood fave when I was growing up. So soon as I was able to get a paint job on a mask, that's what I did. And I just never changed it.