By Larry Wigge
Patrick Roy began calling the San Jose Sharks at the beginning of September, three months after Marc-Edouard Vlasic had been chosen in the second round, 35th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Roy would call every day and the conversation would go something like this: "When are the Sharks going to send Vlasic back to the Quebec Remparts."
Roy, who won four Stanley Cups as a goaltender in Montreal and Colorado, also is also the owner and coach of the Remparts -- and he wanted his talented young defenseman back.
It was rare indeed that a second-round draft choice like Vlasic would makes it past the first week of training camp. But, then this 18-year-old prospect had the Sharks convinced this fresh-faced youngster could indeed make the big jump to the NHL.
Ron Wilson, former NHL coach, said, "I think Patrick's finally lost our phone number. He was calling every day, asking, 'When's Marc-Edouard coming back?' We'd be saying, 'Not today, not tomorrow,' and 'Maybe not at all.' "
Five and one-half years later, Vlasic still get a kick out of that story when he is reminded of how much Roy wanted him back.
"I didn't know what was going on. It was all knew and exciting to me," said the 6-1, 200-pound defenseman from Montreal. "Except, for one game at Worcester (American Hockey League), my second year in San Jose, I never looked back."
Added former coach Wilson, "The first thing you notice about him the way he uses his stick. That's an art. You also notice what a great skater he is. He's one of those defensemen -- sort of like Sergei Zubov (Dallas Stars veteran defenseman and offensive quarterback) -- who always seems to be in control and goes only as fast as he has to. That's why he can play 35 minutes in a game and hardly break a sweat.
"Somewhere along the line, he learned the important little things."
Rookie? In the NHL at 18? When young players get this far and do the things that Marc-Edouard Vlasic has done, they don't play like mistake-prone rookies -- a yet there was Vlasic on the all-rookie team.
Another challenge for Vlasic. No, it's just a piece of interesting trivia. Actually, the thing Vlasic remembers most about Kiprusoff is that he scored his first NHL goal -- in his seventh preseason game -- came against Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary. The Sharks had acquired the second-round pick they used to draft Vlasic from Calgary for Kiprusoff.
"I didn’t know that until a couple of days after the draft," Vlasic laughed. "My parents were on-line and looking at some of the stories about the draft and they found that item. Pretty neat, huh?"
Kiprusoff, you see, was a popular player in San Jose. He gone on to eight great years with the Calgary Flames. But then, Vlasic value has more than paid off.
"We knew how good he was because he was excellent at training camp," GM Doug Wilson explained. "Then we watched him play 30 to 35 minutes a game in the Memorial Cup. Still he's so young. But it's funny. At the end of training camp, I remember a meeting we had with all of our people -- scouts and coaches. We asked them all to submit a list of players they thought should make our season-opening roster. It was no surprise that Vlasic's name was on all of the lists."
Wilson learned that was just the first realization the youngster. From the Quebec juniors to the NHL.
"Those experiences have really fast-tracked his growth as a player," Wilson continued. "He's got an amazing amount of poise. He does the right thing just about every time he's on the ice.
"He's got an advanced, very mature hockey mind. He's mature beyond his years. His mom and dad are former defensemen. Maybe that's where all his brains come from."
A little defensemen humor.
Ed Vlasic is now an engineer for a company called Pratt & Whitney, a Montreal firm that designs airplanes. His mom, Marie-Josee Lord is a physiotherapist.
The hard work ethic for Vlasic clearly came from Marc-Edouard's parents. It also got me to wondering what the youngster would be if he wasn’t a star rookie defenseman in the NHL.
"That's a tough question," Vlasic said. "I'd still be in school, probably taking a bunch of courses in science, working toward being an engineer. My father taught me how important an education is."
Instead, it was a finished product in Hockey 101. But ... the dreams still remain.
But on the day of his draft in 2005, he was not invited to Ottawa -- for which only about 20 were invited. He was sitting beside his computer, waiting for word.
"I was surprised to be selected in the second round. I didn't think that I would be selected that early," Vlasic explained. "I thought I would have been selected a little later on. I didn't think that the Sharks would pick me up, but it's a great place to play. I had interviews with them, but I wasn't sure I would get selected that early."
Ed Vlasic put his son on two-bladed skates when he was four, taught him to skate on a home-made sheet of ice in the backyard. And, though the kid played defense like his dad, who several times was an All-Star defenseman at McGill University from 1976 to 1981 (his uncle, John was a forward at McGill for one season), Marc-Edouard dreamed of the day he might play with the skills of Pavel Bure, his favorite player.
"I'd skate down the driveway and in my dreams I'd score the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final," the younger Vlasic confessed.
Play and play some more in his rookie season.
"The experience of playing a lot of minutes helped the most," said Vlasic. "Playing over 22 minutes a game will definitely help me for next season. As a young guy, you're confidence grow -- and it allowed me to feel comfortable while getting used to the NHL."
The Red Wings, Vlasic's favorite team growing up -- were on the horizon for the Sharks in the second round of the playoffs.
"I did like them growing up, but I didn't really like the rink that much," he said. "But they’re a great team and it was great to play against them. They have some Hall of Famers on their team. It was a great experience to play against them and it was a great challenge."
For a rookie everything is new and exciting, where does a young player find himself on an off-day?
"I like going to the beach in Santa Cruz. I like going to San Francisco as well," an impressionable rookie said. "I love Forbes Mill Steakhouse in Los Gatos. I haven't been to too many places in San Jose, but I have been to the Winchester Mystery House."
In the 2008-09 season, Vlasic took his game to a new level -- from defensive defenseman to show off some of his offensive flare while pairing with Rob Blake.
On the offense, Marc-Edouard starred with six goals and 30 assists.
"He's extremely intelligent on the ice. He never puts himself in a vulnerable position and the other impressive thing is his stamina," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. "There's been times where he's been caught on the ice for a minute and a half and we ice the puck and he's the only one who's been out there that long and he looks over at me and says, 'Don't call a time-out.'
"He has the ability to play with an offensive defenseman. There's a real comfort there. But as much as Rob Blake or Brent Burns or Dan Boyle makes Marc-Eduoard better, Pickles has made them better, too."
This season, he has three goals and 15 assists in 51 games. More than that, Vlasic leads the Sharks with a plus-16 rating.
Ask Marc-Edourd Vlasic and he would once again delve up of the Patrick Roy influence he had.
"In my third year at Quebec, he gave me the green light," Vlasic said. "Patrick has won it all, the Stanley Cups, and knows what it takes to succeed. As a former goalie, he really helps defencemen with their positioning.
"It's all about moving the puck in the transition game."
It's been six years since Marc-Edouard Vlasic played for Patrick Roy. Now, the real truth about Vlasic really comes out.
A real smart player.