Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Valabik feature done

I just finished a long feature on Boris Valabik.

I first met Boris almost exactly four years ago, the day before he was drafted by the Thrashers in the first round in 2004. There was a media luncheon at the 2004 draft in Raleigh, and knowing that the team was going to take defense, I very purposefully chatted up the several defensemen who were there.

It's funny what you remember about things four years later. I remember thinking Cam Barker looked virtually identical to one of my high school boyfriends. I remember sitting across from Evgeni Malkin and his parents, and how impressive he was physically, and he was still 17.

The next morning when Valabik was picked, I remember waiting for him to come into the media room standing next to Tom Hughes, the Thrashers head PR guy at the time. I mentioned to Tom that I had talked to Valabik the day before. Tom was planning on putting him on the radio in a few minutes, so he asked me how Valabik's English was. "Really good!" I exclamed, realizing just then how good it was for only being in Canada for a year. It really was phenomenal. He has a real gift for language to be able to pick up English so quickly. There are players who've been here many more years who never reach that level.

Valabik was very pleasant to talk to then, and has continued to be so on many occasions since then. And that's despite me asking him some tough questions at times. As things stand, I'm fairly certain that despite his short fuse, no matter what I ask, he's not going to pop me one. I do wonder if I were a male reporter if I'd feel quite so secure. Tough to say. Anyway, no matter what you think of his skills or potential, it's hard not to respect him personally. He's a stand-up guy.

Fast forward to this year: a window into the anatomy of a feature article. A week before the end of the season, Craig Custance and I were waiting for the players to come off the ice after practice, both waiting for Valabik. Craig asked if I was planning a feature. I said probably, but it depended on what I got. I was hoping so, but things don't always work out the way you'd like. Well, as soon as Valabik said how he got close to McCudden in a way he normally doesn't with people, case closed. My question to Boris had been simply if he planned on working with Kenny that summer, but I pushed a button I didn't know was there.

I was headed to Chicago the next weekend, so naturally I talked to Kenny to follow up on it. To me, this story is an end of year outlook story -- about what Valabik needs to continue to do this summer to make the team in the fall. Since it wasn't yet the end of the year when the information was gathered, it needed to simmer. And I think Valabik would be glad that it simmered. He didn't really want to talk about the summer when he still had the entire playoffs with the Wolves to go. But I was persistent with the summer questions, as sometimes you have to be in these cases because seasons end so incredibly quickly in the playoffs.

The Wolves are moving on to the conference finals, having beaten Rockford in Game 7 tonight, but I think this is the right time for this story in any case. The summer is much closer at hand. And it's good to get it out before anything changes drastically. You just never know.

A couple extra notes. I asked Pavelec if he missed Boris while he was gone in Atlanta. "Best three weeks of my life. Nooo..." he joked. He admitted he missed Boris.

Popovic called him Borat. I'm not sure a non-teammate would want to try that though.

The Swedish camp that several Thrashers may go to -- the Swedes on the team aren't among the group who are going. And why would they? They are already excellent stickhanders. If Enstrom was there, it could only be as an instructor.

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