Q&A: After 13 Years, Ontario Reign's Kris Newbury's Favorite Word Is Still "Work"
Kris Newbury reveals why Reign teammates call him a cheater, spins an affectionate Tortorella tale & dishes on his many tattoos. And of course, he has a weird Sean Avery story. Plus, hear JFTC & Newbury botch the "Fresh Prince" theme together.
Jewels from the Crown: You're from Toronto suburb Brampton. How often have you had to explain to friends and family that the Ontario Reign play nowhere near Toronto?
Kris Newbury: Quite a bit actually. Just mostly to friends. They think I'm still somewhere in [Canada's] Ontario. Being in Pennsylvania last summer, the whole summer, I really didn't get to see them much. By now though, they all know we're in California.
JFTC: In 2002 (JFTC note: After a breakout, 102-point season with the OHL's Sarnia Sting), you were drafted in the fifth round by the San Jose Sharks and then-GM Dean Lombardi. Do you think his familiarity with you was one of the reasons why the Kings asked you to join the Reign?
KN: Yeah, I think so. Obviously, the confidence is there for a guy to draft someone. Obviously, he's got to feel a little bit of confidence inside. So the familiarity was there. I'm not sure if he's seen me play in the last couple of years, if he had seen something he liked? But I was definitely glad to join this organization.
JFTC: In December 2006, you debuted as a 23-year-old in the NHL with your hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Of course, you played with Hall of Famer Mats Sundin. But I wanted to ask you about a center who joined the team later in the season, Yanic Perreault. Perreault was probably the best faceoff man of the last two decades. What did you learn from him?
KN: I learned a lot from him. It was an artform to him. He taught me a lot of things, so I got to thank him.
A lot of just tying up the guy. Footwork, I think, was a big thing. You don't realize how much you use your feet to kick pucks back and stuff like that. A lot of it just had to do with having a good stick, tying up the guy, and being able to kick it back to your teammates.
JFTC: Nic Dowd called your faceoff style "entertaining." Can you elaborate on that?
KN: Yeah, they call me "Cheater" all the time and stuff like that. My response to that is, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying." Right? You're always trying to get the benefit of the doubt. Me playing for 13 years, some refs let me get away with a little bit more, maybe then a first or second-year guy. I try to mix it up. Try to do things a lot different than I would maybe the faceoff before. Keep guys guessing, keep them on their toes...I'll try anything to win it.
JFTC: What are a couple of your cheats?
KN: My feet aren't in the hashmarks...some times when we watch video, and it starts with me taking a faceoff, guys get a chuckle out of it. I think that's the main thing.
JFTC: One thing I've seen you do on faceoffs at times—which I haven't noticed before from another player—is you don't go low, you just swipe at the puck.
KN: Yeah. Like I said before, you have to mix it up. Sometimes when you look at a guy that's standing straight up, you're like, "What the heck is he going to do?" Those ones more often than not, I'm just trying to time the drop, and get it back to the D as far as possible and keep the other guy guessing.
JFTC: Are faceoffs an ability that translates pretty accurately from the AHL to the NHL? What I mean is, if you're say 60% at draws in the AHL, would you expect similar success in the NHL?
KN: No, I don't think so...obviously, they got a better skillset than us up there.
JFTC: That season in Toronto, you had the misfortune of suffering a concussion because of a fight with Pittsburgh's Ronald Petrovicky. You said shortly thereafter, "Luckily it’s just my head and not my heart." "I haven't changed how I think about fighting. If one of my teammates needs protection or if I think it will give my team a lift, I will do it."
And certainly throughout your career, you've lived up to that statement (JFTC: Newbury has amassed 1,700+ PIMs in his 13-year AHL career). But since that fight with Petrovicky, you've seen a more tragic side of repeated head trauma with the losses of Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard. And of course, concussions and fighting are a big topic right now.
What are your thoughts on these issues now?
KN: I think it's kind of getting weeded out. Obviously, there's a time and place for it. But as far as having one or two heavyweights on your team, I don't think you see that very often anymore. The game's a lot faster, so unless you're in tip-top shape...and at 6'5", 240 lbs or so, it's kind of hard to keep up to the pace. I think eventually, you'll just see out right out of the game. But as of right now, there's a time and a place for it.
JFTC: Besides a willingness to drop the gloves, another big part of your game is getting into people's faces, smack talking. What's the best burn you've given or received that you can share?
KN: A lot of it has probably got some vulgar language in it. You kind of go into every game, knowing...well, at least I do...who's going to be annoying out there. So you kind of get some information on guys. Kind of bring it to the table.
But most of it's right off the top of my head. So for me to even remember...I do it so much that nothing really sticks out as to what I said. A lot of it is maybe how they are as a player or that they suck or something like that. But I don't really remember anything off the top of my head, to tell you the truth.
JFTC: You've said, "Sometimes I’ll even chirp the other coach. I almost got in a fight in the hallway with one coach after a game." Want to tell that story now?
KN: Yeah...I think it was like Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, which was like Calgary's [AHL] team at the time. I remember being on the ice, we were winning. They put on players at the very end of the game to try to score a goal. The puck was in our [offensive] end, faceoff. And I kind of did a remark to the coach of, "Do you guys know you're down a goal?" Could he not see the clock?
Apparently, he only had like one eye or something. Had an eye injury. Which I didn't know about. And then after the game, obviously we met in the hallway, and we got in a little tussle. It's kind of funny to look back on it...but obviously, I wish I didn't say that because I feel bad for the guy, but it is what it is.
(JFTC: That coach was Ryan McGill, whose NHL career ended because of an eye injury.)
JFTC: After a couple more seasons with the Toronto organization, you signed with the Red Wings. You played a little with Tomas Holmstrom. Michael Mersch has cited Holmstrom as a model for his game. Do Mersch and Holmstrom share similarities?
KN: Yeah, for sure. Tomas was a guy, I sat beside him in the room when I was up in Detroit for a bit. Just a professional everyday, comes to work hard...obviously, not the best skater, but the guy in front of the net, you can't move him. He tips every puck. Stays on after practice, works on his game. His game basically is just around the crease area. I think for Michael, that's a big key too. He's a big, strong guy...I think the comparison is a really good comparison for him.
JFTC: After a year in Detroit and Grand Rapids, you played for three-plus years in the Rangers organization under John Tortorella. Was he as volatile as has been reported?
KN: For me, I loved him. He loves hard-working guys. That's what I tried to bring when I was there. Obviously, some guys take him a little bit differently. I'm sure if you're more skilled in the NHL, you kind of don't want a coach harping down your throat all the time and getting in your head. For me, he knew what I did, so he kind of laid off me. I just made sure to show up to work everyday.
JFTC: Any good Torts stories?
KN: He's in the gym all the time. He's not the tallest guy, but he's really stocky. Pushed the weights around. When you get to the rink in the morning, you see him in there lifting weights. And me as like a fourth-line guy, the first thing I do is go to the gym to make sure that he saw that I was in there.
JFTC: In 2013, you appeared in your first NHL playoff games for the Rangers. Unfortunately, they dropped their second-round series to the Boston Bruins. Earlier that spring, former Ranger Sean Avery had tweeted about Torts, "Fire this CLOWN, his players hate him and wont play for his BS...." You were in that locker room, any validity to Avery's statement?
KN: I mean, I wasn't there a whole long time. I know some guys didn't like him. But I'm sure for every coach, he doesn't get along with all the guys on the team. Like I said, I liked him. I'm sure a lot of guys didn't and got kind of sick of his antics. But for me, he was a perfect coach for me. He likes hard-working guys. He wanted the system to be quick. And that fitted my game perfect.
JFTC: And what were some of his antics with the skill players?
KN: He would just yell at them a lot. Get on their case. And some guys take it a little differently than others. Some guys can take it in one ear and let it go out the other. And some guys take it to heart, kind of screws up their game.
JFTC: Both Avery and Marian Gaborik seemed to be Torts targets. They're also former/current Kings. What were those guys like?
KN: Sean, you definitely get a lot of laughs from. I know a lot of the younger guys, when we were in Hartford together, took him a little differently. But for me, I played junior against him growing up and through the pro ranks and whatever. I kind of knew what he was like, so for me, it was kind of humorous. Marian obviously a great skater and gifted shooter. Someone you could learn a lot from, just the way he carries himself.
JFTC: You mentioned Avery not being taken well by the younger guys in Hartford. And you might have heard that years ago, Avery had problems with a young Dustin Brown in the LA locker room. What happened in Hartford?
KN: I remember he tried to take the guys' cellphones off the bus, the younger guys, so he had better reception on the internet. So just little stuff like that. I mean, for me, I thought it was pretty funny, especially when you see some younger guys actually give him their phones. I thought it was just humorous...he was a different cat. It's how you take the guy. And for guys that don't know him, take him a little differently.
JFTC: You've played with some special players, Sundin, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Gaborik, Lundqvist, Giroux with the Flyers in 2013-14...of all the players you've played with, did one of them, above all the others, have a specific skill that just put you in awe?
KN: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, for me, it was the way they carried themselves. The whole Detroit team. It was an older team. You almost looked at Lidstrom like he was the coach. He's been around so long.
Obviously, Mats in Toronto, just a true leader, a great person. No matter what line you played on or how much money you made, he treated everyone the exact same. For me, that was really eye-opening.
JFTC: So their greatest skill was their leadership?
Obviously, you could just watch Datsyuk all day without practicing and be in awe. That guy definitely has the most skill I've ever seen. But for me, it's the way they carried themselves in and out of the rink. They don't look down on anyone just cause they know they're better. That's a big thing for me.
JFTC: Now you're in Ontario. Your wife Amanda and three children Jacob, Jaidyn and Jorja have remained in Pennsylvania. I understand that both Jacob and Jaidyn play hockey. Has your daughter Jaidyn learned a little bit too much from your gritty style?
KN: Jaidyn's a little softer. My son Jacob, he's 13 right now, he's been around the game for a long time, but he kind of gets a little bit of feistiness from me, whereas my daughter is a little laid-back. Especially playing girls hockey, they're not allowed to hit or anything. She gets a penalty, she gets really upset.
Whereas my son, he kind of looks at it, he's more proud. Which I'm trying to tell him, it's not a good thing, but from him watching me for so long, he's seen me take a lot of penalties and do a lot of stupid stuff. So he gets it from me.
JFTC: Jacob, Jaidyn and Jorja. Three J's. Any reason for that?
KN: Just something me and my wife came up with. We liked it. We thought...Jorja with a "J," you don't see that too often. It's something we just stuck with.
JFTC: At the AHL level, you're an accomplished scorer (JFTC: Newbury has scored 543 points in 744 AHL appearances). In the NHL, however, you're more of a self-described "hard-hat" player. Specifically for you, why was it difficult to translate your AHL scoring ability to the NHL?
KN: My first two [junior] years, I didn't score a lot of points. My last three, I had quite a bit...I went to the pro level and wasn't playing a lot, had to find a role to stay in the line-up. I've always been a guy that works hard and stuff like that. But for me to stay in the line-up at St. John's the first couple of years, I had to do whatever it took. And that involved a lot of hitting, a lot of energy, sometimes fighting. And it just kind of carried on. And I realized if I could put both together, which I did with the Marlies, that I would get my shot.
Eventually, I got my shot, but it kind of went back to the same thing. If I want to stay in the line-up, stick to the basics, hard work. Hopefully work my way up, get some confidence from the coaching staff. Obviously, didn't get no power play time or stuff like that. But I'm not going to look back at anything or regret anything. I tried to do my best.
JFTC: And how is the NHL game different from the AHL one?
KN: It's a lot faster up in the NHL. For some guys who haven't done it, they don't realize how quick it is, how strong the guys are. So it's kind of an adjustment to get used to. Some guys adjust a lot quicker than others. For me, it was kind of a week or two-long process just to realize how quick you had to be to keep up. Once I was able to do that, confidence starts coming a little bit. But you got a lot of guys to beat out to get power play and special teams time.
JFTC: We're winding down here! As of 2009, you were up to 13 tattoos. How many do you have now?
KN: Oh, I lost count...I'd say probably 30.
JFTC: Can you tell me some of your favorites?
KN: Favorites are definitely to do with family. Grandparents. My kids' names. Stuff like that. I had a couple since I was younger...I got an English bulldog with a Canadian flag and a hockey stick. Yeah, but mostly family stuff. Grandparents who passed away. Their names. My kids' birthdays. Stuff like that.
JFTC: What's the story behind the bulldog?
KN: The bulldog was just my favorite dog growing up...
JFTC: Finally, what are your favorite TV shows?
KN: My favorite show growing up was "Fresh Prince." Right now..."Sons of Anarchy," "Breaking Bad"...we watched "Making a Murderer" this week, which really intrigued me. A lot of documentaries. I like the murder shows for some reason. I just find it really interesting, the court process and stuff like that.
JFTC: And are you able to rap the "Fresh Prince" theme?
KN: I used to. I probably wouldn't be able to do it now. I can't remember how it starts.