Andreas Athanasiou is in his third development camp, and he's now one of the veterans of the group. With the experience and knowledge he's gained in the last two years, this year he's taken on a much bigger leadership role. After blazing up and down the ice all practice long, he's one of the last guys off the ice, usually taking time to say a word or two, or hand out a fist bump or stick tap to his teammates as they leave the ice. I asked him about this being his third camp and if he has a different perspective this time around.
AA- "It's a little bit different. I'm a lot older than a lot of the other guys here so I know a lot of the young guys here and try to help them out as much as possible. Coming in with a lot of experience I just try to take as much as I can from this camp and learn as much as possible"
After Athanasiou's Barrie Colts were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs, he joined the Griffins for their final two regular season games, and the playoffs. He had three points in the final two regular season games, and notched a lone assist in six playoff games, but that's nothing to be ashamed of considering it was his first time playing against the pros.
AA-" It [playing with the Griffins] was a lot of fun. It was a big step up and I got a taste of professional hockey and what it takes to be a good player... You're playing against grown men who are a lot bigger and stronger so it's tough, but once you get used to it, the game play and the speed of the game, you're playing with really good players as well so it's a lot of fun.
He said he's hasn't been told for sure if he'll be in Grand Rapids next year, but I'm pretty sure he will. He's at the point in his development where moving up to the next level will help him improve the most. He has incredible blazing fast speed, making even difficult skating maneuvers look easy, and his skills with the puck are a joy to watch. I'm sure by now he's used to being the fastest guy on the ice in any given situation, but it's not always easy being so fast.
AA- " You have to know when to take off and when to sit back, sometimes you have to wait for the puck, find the open lane, then take off again. You can't always be flying around because it's hard to find open seams like that. You try to find the open seam, get in the passing lane and maximize your speed as much as possible."
The biggest area I think he needs improvement in, is improving his control. He has the speed, but sometimes he gets going so fast that he over skates the puck, or has it but can't quite control the puck to get the right scoring chance. It's certainly a nice problem to have, because he will learn the control he needs, but you can't teach speed like he has. He's one of the most exciting players to watch, and he know what areas he needs to work on the most, and is determined to do whatever it takes to make it to the big league.
Athanasiou displays his personality on the ice right alongside his numerous skills. He's serious and competitive on the ice, but also has fun and likes to have a little fun. His exclamation of "woo hoo" during a brief break in drills echoed through the rink to lighten the mood and bring a smile to onlookers' faces. He clearly loves playing hockey and that passion seems to fuel his determination to make it to the NHL. Last year during camp, I captured video of Athanasiou playing goalie while Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi tried to score on him, just a few teammates having some fun after practice was over. In reply to that video, someone sent me a picture of AA in full goalie gear on the ice. After practice today, Athanasiou went to the goal while Tomas Nosek took a few shots on him, so I asked him about it
AA "Growing up I always played mini sticks and after practices I always play goalie. This year going into Barrie there was a prospect camp for the draft picks and I played goalie there."
Since there's a scrimmage this afternoon, the practice this morning lasted only 45 minutes, but the coaches made the most of it, putting together an intense set of drills that had everyone panting. One of things they did was to split up the defense, wingers, and centers and focus a little bit on more position specific drills. The centers worked on faceoffs, and Athanasiou was with them instead of the wingers. Each center has a little different face off technique, and Athanasiou employs the Datsukian technique. If at first you don't succeed, be sneak and creative and steal the puck back anyway. Just when the opposing centerman is confident he's won the faceoff, Athanasiou will reach around him or even between his legs and take the puck back. Surprise! There are a lot of set plays in hockey, and often players or teams get set in a certain style, but I think the best players, or at least the ones who are the most fun to watch, are creative and think outside the box. DO something unexpected to get the job done. Take the opposing player(s) by surprise and make them ask "what the heck just happened". Athanasiou is that kind of player, he's dynamic and creative, and I think that's an important quality in his game, and he's a friendly, welcoming guy to talk with as well.
He has fun, and his enthusiasm appears to be contagious as it spreads to the players around him. He's exciting to watch, has all the skills to be a star, and he's confident in himself with a swagger that says he knows he's good, yet that confidence doesn't seem to go to his head.
Remember his name, because you'll be hearing it a lot more in the future.