Just a “Stretch” to the NHL
I have been a fan of hockey as long as I can remember and the Los Angeles Kings have always been my favorite team. This past September, I attended a few of the Training Camps for the Kings to watch current Kings players and hopeful prospects alike practice and compete for a spot on the team. Curious about what the training camp was like, I decided to talk with the 22-year-old Ontario Reign center C.J. Stretch, who had the opportunity to attend the L.A. Kings training camp for the 2011-2012 season.
Underwood: First off, what got you interested in hockey?
Stretch: I started out playing soccer and baseball at a young age. My dad’s best friend loved hockey so he put his two sons, my two brothers, and I into a hockey league. Ever since then I have loved it.”
Stretch’s two favorite players include the Los Angeles King’s Anze Kopitar and Corey Perry from the King’s cross-town rival the Anaheim Ducks.
Underwood: So when did you start playing?
Stretch: I started out playing roller hockey when I was 7. Then I started playing ice hockey at 8.
Underwood: Do you have a big support system?
Stretch: Yes, I have a very big support system. I have about 20 friends and family at every home game. I also have family from all around watching the games on the Internet.
Underwood: So this past preseason, you were called up from the Ontario Reign to play at the Los Angeles Kings training camp. How would you say training with the Kings (an NHL team) was different than the playing Ontario Reign (an ECHL team) and what was it like?
Stretch: It was a great experience. I had a great time. It was similar but different at the same time. The Reign and the Kings do a lot of the same kind of drills, but at the Kings camp it’s more intense. The NHL is the top level of hockey in the world. Everyone is faster and stronger.
Underwood: Were you nervous to be training with the Kings because they are a NHL team?
Stretch: No, I never get nervous playing hockey. When I was 19, I went to the San Jose Sharks camp so I have had experience before skating with NHL players. Also, the last two summers I have been skating with a lot of the Ducks guys that stay in town over the off-season.
Underwood: How long were the workouts with the Kings? What did you have to do?
Stretch: We skated for about 3 hours a day during the camp. We also had on-ice and off-ice fitness testing. Our off-ice fitness testing consisted of a pull-up and push-up test.
Underwood: What was your favorite part of training with an NHL team?
Stretch: My favorite part of training with an NHL team is that my whole life I have dreamed of playing in the NHL. I am there at their training camp and that means I am one step closer to making my dream a reality.
Underwood: Do you think that training with the Kings influenced how you’re playing with the Reign this season?
Stretch: I think training with the Kings gave me a lot of confidence going into my season with the Reign.
Underwood: Are people tougher on you or do they expect more from you now?
Stretch: Since I am on the top line on the Reign, the other teams are normally a lot tougher on my line mates and me. Also, that means the coach is still expecting my line mates and me to produce and score goals.
(So far this season, Stretch has played 37 games, with 18 goals, 23 assists, for a total of 41 points.)
Underwood: With the Reign, how often do you practice, train, and have games?
Stretch: Our season is a 72 game season. We start the season early Oct. and end late March. We practice every day for about an hour.
Underwood: Sounds like a busy year. How much free time do you have during the season?
Stretch: Our only days off are Sundays if we don’t have a game. We practice in the mornings so that we have the whole day for free time, but we normally are at the gym during the day if we don’t have a game the next day.
Underwood: What do you like to do with what little free time you have?
Stretch: When we do have free time, I like to spend time with my teammates. We are one big family from all parts of the world and it’s always a good time to hear the stories that all my teammates have.
Underwood: What would you say your favorite hockey memory has been?
Stretch: I have so many hockey memories so it’s hard to just choose one. But I think one of my favorite memories is playing in my first professional hockey game. It was in Las Vegas and my whole family was there watching as I scored my first professional goal in the end where they were sitting.
Underwood: What an exciting memory! Lastly, what are your dreams and goals for the future?
Stretch: My dream and goal for the future is to make it into the NHL.
You can keep up to date with C.J.’s quest for the NHL by following him as he plays for the Ontario Reign.