This past week, I had the chance to sit down and pick the brain of recently acquired left-winger Taylor Leier, and discuss several aspects of his career, personal life, and hockey in general. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer guy to talk hockey with, and the crew here at TCB are beyond thankful for him taking the time to sit down and chat. Without further ado, here’s the interview:
PZ: You were drafted in the 4th round, 117th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Can you describe what the entire draft process was like, and how your experience was?
TL: I actually have a pretty good draft story (laughs). I didn’t necessarily know where I was going to go in the draft, and I ended up playing for Team Canada in the World Ball Hockey Championships, that June of the draft. I figured I wasn’t going in the top two rounds, so I went to the Czech Republic with Team Canada, and we ended up beating Slovakia in the gold medal game, and right after the game, I found out that I got drafted, right in the dressing room, so that was pretty cool. My dad was there, and the Flyers were his favourite team growing up, so it was pretty sweet.
PZ: That’s an awesome story! So, growing up, who influenced you as a player? Is there a certain player or players that you try to model your game after?
TL: No, I just loved playing. My dad taught me everything I knew, and him and I spent hours on the backyard rink together, along with all of my friends, but it just came back to my dad. He was my coach every year until I was 15. Those early years are the years where you kind of develop, I wouldn’t say everything, but a lot of what you have (as a player). I credit a lot of that to him, whether it’s mental or physical, and I always just wanted to make him proud. Him and my mom, too.
PZ: That’s so cool to hear! Moving on, you’re from Saskatoon, Saskachewan, and you suited up for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League. Are you able to describe how the experience was playing in the WHL?
TL: It was awesome. You know, growing up, there’s the Saskatoon Blades where I’m from. I always wanted to play for them, and when I got drafted by Portland, I didn’t even know where it was (laughs), so I was a little bit skeptical at first, I hadn’t been to Portland, but looking back on it now, I don’t think it could have been better for me, personally. I had great opportunities there, I played really well those three years I was there, and we had super good teams. Looking back on it, I’m very happy that I ended up in Portland.
PZ: You played your first NHL game in November of 2015 versus the Carolina Hurricanes. What was the feeling like suiting up in the NHL for the first time?
TL: It was crazy. That was a Saturday night, and the Friday night I was playing for the Phantoms, which is Philly’s minor league team, and we played at home that Friday night. I found out after the game that I got called up. I was with Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere), so him and I got called up together. I probably had like three hours of sleep that night, and once I got to the rink in Carolina for that Saturday game, I was pretty fired up, but I had the adrenaline going. I was so excited.
PZ: That’s amazing man. I can’t imagine. It must be quite the feeling. So, with your recent trade to Buffalo, and ultimately playing in Rochester, how are you adapting to a new team with new surroundings?
TL: Well, this has been my first trade ever, so definitely, everything is new to me, so I’m just trying to take it day-to-day, as cliche’ as that sounds. With everything being different, sometimes change is good too, and I’m excited to experience something new.
PZ: Can you describe what life is like in the AHL, with the travel schedule, the physical grind of the league, and the overall experience playing in the minors?
TL: Yeah, the AHL and the NHL schedules are a bit different. In the NHL, you play like every second or third day, where in the American League (AHL), there’s a lot of weeks where you’ll play three games in a weekend and none during the week, so the scheduling is a little different, and the bus trips and stuff, but for the majority, you’re going to have to play a lot of games in both leagues. I find that if I sleep well, eat well, and take care of myself, the schedule doesn’t really bother me.
PZ: So are there any specific games you have marked on the calendar for the remainder of the year?
TL: No, not really.
PZ: You’ve played the Lehigh Valley Phantoms since you’ve been with the Americans. How was it playing against your former teammates?
TL: Yeah, that was my first game! I had to mentally shut off my head, and just remember I’m playing hockey. In warmups, all I could hear were people calling my name, and they gave me a video tribute during the first period, which was very nice of them. It was just the weirdest thing ever getting dressed in the visitors locker room, especially just one day after being traded. Once I got over that, I remembered it was just a hockey game, and I was okay after that.
PZ: That’s crazy! Next question: How do you prep for a game? Do you have any crazy pregame rituals? Or anything you consistently do?
TL: No, not really. I just do the same thing pretty much every game. I’m not super superstitious to a crazy extent, but I do like a routine. When I go to work, I’m usually one of the first guys there, I like to arrive around 4pm. I have a freezing cold shower, as cold as I can get it. Then I have a coffee, and I just go from there. I warmup super hard, then have a bowl of oatmeal, and I’m good to go.
PZ: How do you typically spend your summers off from hockey? Do you go anywhere specific?
TL: Yeah, I head home to Saskatoon every summer. I love it there. My favourite hobby is fishing, and Saskachewan has some AMAZING fishing. Of course my family and all my childhood friends are there, but, I love to fish, and I got a pretty good setup at home, so, I love it there.
PZ: Yeah, judging by your Instagram (@taylorleier), that last fish you caught was pretty sweet!
TL: Yeah, that picture is from last summer. I need to get out on the ice soon, so bad. No one really fished in Pennsylvania, and it’s so hard for us too, I can’t bring my gear because we never know where we’re going to be, but all of my stuff is in Saskatoon in my garage. I have to find a way to get out on the ice during the winter here, and catch some fish.
PZ: What do you feel that you bring to the Sabres and Americans organizations?
TL: I feel that I bring a lot of heart. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of shifts where I don’t compete. I think I play equally as well in the defensive zone as I do in the offensive zone, and I pride myself in that. I’d say overall I’m a good, fast player that wants to contribute in all areas of the ice, so hopefully I can do that the rest of the year here.
PZ: Have you had the chance to visit Buffalo yet? Have you met any of the Sabres brass yet?
TL: No, I haven’t been to Buffalo yet, just Rochester. I actually just got settled into a house a couple days ago, I was at a hotel, and it’s nice to finally be settled. I was living out of the hotel and my car for the first few games, but it kind of comes with the territory (of being traded), so it’s nice to have my own little setup, and everyday it gets easier.
PZ: Okay, time for some rapid fire questions: Chicken wings. Flats or drums? Sauce?
TL: I’m a drums guy, and for sauce, I like spicy food, so I’d say either hot or BBQ.
PZ: What’s your favourite pregame music to listen to?
TL: I was actually the team DJ with the Phantoms (laughs). I love EDM and Rap, so both of those styles.
PZ: Who’s been your favourite teammate growing up/Professionally?
TL: Ooh that’s a tough question. Probably my Portland buddies that I played with for three years. Guys like Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Chase De Leo, Brendan Burke, and Adam Rossignol, that was kinda my crew there. We get together still every summer.
PZ: 2-on-1: Pass or Shoot?
TL: I like to shoot.
PZ: What would you say your most rewarding hockey experience in your career thus far?
TL: My first goal in the NHL, my first game in the NHL, and playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors are my top three for sure.
PZ: Alright Taylor, last question. What would you say has been the best piece of hockey advice that’s been given to you?
TL: That’s a tough one. There’s a lot of good things out there. I’d say it’s to always stay true to yourself. There’s a lot of outside noise in the hockey world, so just be a good teammate, stay true to your game, and trust yourself.
PZ: That’s all the questions I have for you, man. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to do this for us, we really appreciate it. Good luck the rest of the season!
TL: Anytime! Thanks!
Once again, myself and the whole crew here at TCB want to thank Amerks forward Taylor Leier for taking the time and sitting down with me. Good luck to him and the rest of the Rochester Americans the rest of the season!