As the Memorial Cup rounds the corner, the eyes of Avalanche nation turn toward the Portland Winterhawks and the man favored to be picked first overall by the Avs: defenseman Seth Jones. However, skating for the host Saskatoon Blades is defenseman Duncan Siemens, selected by the Avs in the 11th overall in the first round of the 2011 draft. Avalanche Avenues caught up with him, talking about life, his development, the memorial cup and making the jump to professional hockey next year.
Aaron Musick: This season you started a minus-9 and finished plus-31. How did you turn things around?
Duncan Siemens: For me personally, I think my consistency of my game has been pretty steady throughout. It was just a matter of getting some bounces here in the second half. The team having more success has led to more individual success and with that comes the statistical part of the game. I think with the whole team playing well as a group has allowed me to improve those numbers
AM: How has your development progressed since the draft?
DS: Since the draft I think I’ve come a long way. The big thing I’ve tried to focus on has been my consistency from night in to night out. If you want to make the jump to the next level that’s huge. I think that’s come a long ways as well as me becoming a defensive-type player that I’ve been able to just really focus on that part of my game and work on the offensive part of my game. I think both areas are starting to progress really well.
AM: Do you think you’re ready to take the next step in your career?
DS: I think my first and foremost focus is what we have on the ice here in Saskatoon but it’s always in the back of my mind. I mean next year I want to make the jump to professional hockey whether that be in the American League or the NHL. Being a player you want to be in the NHL but I’m just trying to work as hard as I can on the things the Avalanche want me to develop and put myself in the best possible position to play a full NHL next season next year.
AM: What do the Avs want you to work on?
DS: I think just simple things like following the play up, giving the forecheck more options, be a little more consistent event though it’s come a long ways and be that hard physical tough-to-play-against type defender. Those are the areas I need to continue to developing.
AM: What are your current measurables?
DS: About 6’4" and around 210 pounds.
AM: Is that about where you want to be?
DS: I think I have some room to grow, my body is still maturing. I haven’t really decided a weight to play at. I’m comfortable where I’m at, I move really well right now and it gives me enough weight to play the way I want to but obviously there’s still room to add some weight and some muscle. I just will work as hard as I can over the summer and discuss that with the trainer in Colorado and come with an action plan for where he wants to see me at camp. Wherever that is I’ll work to get there.
AM: How much communication have you had with the Avs?
DS: We talk quite frequently. (Vice president of player development) Craig Billington is always in contact with me. He’s come into town a few times to see me play six or seven games this year. We’ve had a very good line of communication. Things are very clear about what they expect and what they want me to work on. I think that’s been very beneficial for myself, having that constant feedback from them and being able to work on those things day-in and day-out.
AM: Did being snubbed out an invite to Canada’s World Junior camp motivate you to prove them wrong?
DS: Yeah I think it gave me a little bit of motivation. I was disappointed not even getting an invitation to the game. I thought I deserved an invite at the very least if things didn’t work out from there so be it. Looking at the road they went, they went with a more offensive type back end without a player that plays the style of game that I do which is the choice they decided to make. It definitely added a little fuel to the fire. It was a dream of mine since I was little to play for that team so obviously not even getting and opportunity was a little heartbreaking but you can turn those things and use them as motivation so I think most definitely.
AM: Last year you went through some struggles. What did you learn and how did you overcome them?
DS: Last year was big learning curve for me. I think that I was a young captain and I played that role earlier in my life but obviously at junior and professional levels it’s a whole different role. I was trying to search and learn the role and it had its ups and downs. I learned a lot about myself. I’m just trying to take everything I learned from last year in stride and use it to my advantage this year, being that extra year mature, that year older has been beneficial for this year. I’m just taking what I learned and trying apply it every day and trying to be the best teammate I can and work the hardest I can every day.
AM: Can you talk about some of the health issues your father went through this year?
DS: At the end of November my dad felt very ill, he was hospitalized. It’s a part of life, it’s one of those things that happened. It was a very difficult time for myself and my family. It was to the point that I felt I needed to go home and see my father in the hospital. As hard as it was to leave my team on that road trip, it was a fairly serious issue but things have really turned around for him and we’re very blessed to still have him here and things are looking positive for us.
AM: Was it hard to keep playing while your dad was ill?
DS: My dad’s been my biggest support valve throughout my career since I was little. He was the one I’d talk to about hockey. He was always the one who was taking me to the rink or picking me up from the rink. Him being from an athletic background, he could relate to some of the things I was going though when I was younger. I knew that me playing is what he would want and it was a fairly easy decision after being home for a couple days, having my time with him that I felt comfortable coming back. I kept in close contact with my mum and my dad. I was calling every second I got to check on him but when I was at the rink, it was all business and I was able to put that aside and focus on what I had to do for the time being and worry about him when I was away from the rink.
AM: What do you need to work on to make it into the NHL?
DS: Being more consistent I think with the physicalness and being able to close that gap quicker in our own end on skilled-type players without putting myself in a bad position. For me to make it to the next level I’ll have to be the hard, physical shutdown-type defenseman and obviously that requires me playing against the team’s top forwards. You look at guys in the NHL and some of the skill up front is very amazing so I‘ve just got to work on being able to close that gap real quick in our own end and being able to punish those guys without getting myself into trouble.
AM: Do you like throwing the big hit or do like to play positional and physical in front of the net?
DS: I love throwing the big hit; it’s just a matter of if it’s the right time and the right place. With throwing the big hit comes high risk and sometimes that’s not the right play at a certain time. If I’ve got people back and I see an opportunity to line somebody up I’m not shy to take it. It’s not just the big open ice hit, it’s those punishing hits along the wall and being tough in front of the net are all things that wear guys down in front of the net. Any opportunity I get to play the body whether it be a big open ice hit or just finishing my check, I try to finish it as hard as I can, make that guy thing twice about going down my side the next time or think twice about going into the corner first. Sometimes it’ll buy you an extra second to make a quick play.
AM: Are you looking forward reuniting with former defensive partner Stefan Elliott in Colorado?
DS: Playing with him was a real treat in my draft year. He’s a great player to play with. We come from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of style of play but I think we complemented each other well and were able to feed of each other’s play. He was able to jump up because he knew I’d be back and it gave me that extra vote of confidence where I knew if I gave him the puck he was going make something happen with it. Having the familiarity is definitely nice when you’re making the jump (to the pros).
AM: Coming into the Memorial Cup, how did the first round exit in the WHL playoffs motivate you or motivate the team?
DS: I think it gave us a lot of time to self-reflect and learn things about the character of our team. It gave us some time to think about what it will take to win the Memorial Cup and to focus on what kinds of things we can control going forward in order to get the best outcome possible.
AM: In the Memorial Cup you’ll be playing against Seth Jones, favored to go first overall to the Avalanche. Has the thought that you might soon be teammates crossed you mind?
DS: Right now my focus is just on the tournament. Obviously he's a great player and a highly touted prospect but my mind's not really there right now, it's on trying to play as well as I possibly can to try and help my team come out victorious at the end of this. I'll worry about other stuff when the time comes and that's all I can really do right now. It's not something that's really crossed my mind.
Thank you to Siemens and to the Saskatoon Blades organization for their time and their help with this interview.