Saturday, December 18, 2010

Q&A with Dave Tomlinson

Q. Dave, since this is the 20th anniversary of the 90-91 team that came ¼-inch from a national title, let’s start with that team and the championship game vs. Northern Michigan. That was a team that many BU fans feel was among the best squads not to win a national title and certainly among the most talented. Have you watched the entire game on tape?
A. I’ve seen parts of the game but not the full game in its entirety. It is pretty painful to think about how close we came to winning it all. After being up after the first period there were thoughts of closing in on a National Championship, and after battling back after being down late in the game, it was almost like it was meant to be…but the puck never made its way across the line and we came up short. It was an emotional roller-coaster for sure, and a game I’ll never forget being a part of.

Q. Once BU tied the score late in the third period, how confident were you that BU would win in overtime?
A. Well, with all the talent on that team, and such a great, tight group of seniors, it was almost like someone was certainly going to be the hero on our side. I remember Tony Amonte being almost unstoppable in that game. David Sacco was the guy that tallied the equalizer with the goalie pulled, and, in between the third period and overtime, there was talk of getting it over early. Obviously that wasn’t the case as the game went into the third overtime, and I remember the goal against like it was yesterday! It would have been a fantastic way to cap off my college hockey career, but it did remind me of how hard it is to win championships, which is something I carried through my pro career…not wanting to experience that losing feeling again in a final.

Q. How do you think the 90-91 team stacks up against the teams that won national titles in 1995 and 2009?
A. I wish I could have seen those other teams in person to make a fair comparison, but I will say our team in 1991 had young speed and skill with Shawn McEachern, Tony Amonte, David Sacco and Keith Tkachuk, some quality defence with Scott LaChance, Phil Von Steffenelli and Peter Ahola, and some hard workers like Ed Ronan and myself. Add in characters like Mark Krys and goalie John Bradley, and I will say our group might have been the closest group of any teams I’ve played on. Although the two other teams mentioned won National Championships and our team didn’t, I’ll take my squad against the others in quadruple overtime, this time with us finally connecting in O.T.!

Q. The change between the BU teams of your sophomore (88-89) and junior (89-90; Final Four) seasons was dramatic. Aside from the addition of new players (Amonte, Cashman, etc.) what factors led to the drastic improvement in performance?
A. I’d say we just came together as a class group from freshman year on up, and by Junior year, any new players felt like they were entering into a supportive dressing room. We had a large freshman class that experienced a very trying first year; missing the playoffs almost stuck out in a such a bad way that we felt we had to make up for it every year since then. Terrier fans don’t take too kindly to teams that miss the playoffs, and with the character guys we had…it was like we were on a mission.

Q. You had a lot of memorable goals at BU but one that stands out for many fans is the goal scored against Harvard in the 1990 Beanpot when BU was down two men. Can you tell us a little more about how that goal happened?
A. Oh yeah, loved that moment of my college hockey career. I recollect that we were up 3-0 on Harvard in the Beanpot Final, and then we had to kill a 5 on 3. The thought was that if Harvard got one early, they could get back into the game. Coach Parker put me out with 2 defenceman and I knew that Harvard would try and go “through the triangle” for a one-timer shot. I intercepted the pass and flipped the puck over the man on the point. For some reason I decided to give chase because the guy at the blue-line was slow to react, and after chasing him and the puck down the ice, the goalie decided to come out and play it. I hedged that he’d go to his forehand side to move it up, and I popped out from behind his defenceman and knocked it out of the air and put it into the empty cage. After it was in I stopped just before our bench, with my arms outstretched leaning against the boards, and soaked in the whole atmosphere. Awesome feeling! We went on to win the game 8-2.

Q. Who gave you the nickname “Sniper” and how did that come about?
A. Conflicting reports out there, I’d say in good fun. It was very early during freshman year, before we had even skated in our first practice, and all the freshman were sitting around the cafeteria talking about where they played and in what league and so on. Being from Vancouver, and playing in an offensive league like the BCHL, I said…”I like to score goals, I like to snipe”. From that moment on the other guys called me Sniper. At least that’s my side. My classmates would say I stood up and said…”My name’s Dave Tomlinson, but you can call me Sniper”! They seem to like telling it that way, so it’s a fun little story that changes depending on who you talk to. Either way, my former teammates from BU still call me that…it brings back cool memories.

Q. Which of your BU teammates do you remain close to these days?
A. I see Phil von Stefenelli quite often here in Vancouver. Our kids occasionally play together and were in German classes together as well. Phil’s a great guy, and we were roommates sophmore season. Now that I am the radio colour commentator for the Vancouver Canucks, I get to see Joe Sacco when his Colorado Avalanche team plays the Canucks. I think our senior class is overdue for a get-together…so maybe that will have to be organized.

Q. What are the most lasting memories of your BU Hockey career?
A. Personally, leaving home and eventually finding new friends on the team from other places was a great experience. I have fond memories of the fun times we had along the way. I also credit Coach Parker and Mike Boyle for turning me into a complete hockey player, one that played pro for 15 years after being passed up in the regular NHL Draft (I was drafted in the Supplemental Draft which is no longer held). Coach challenged me hard at times along the way and taught me about defence as well. Mike Boyle turned me into a strong, fit player, as I grew a few inches and gained over 20 pounds while at BU; d he showed me the benefit of proper workouts.

Q. Dave, what were the greatest challenges in attempting to transfer your skills from D1 to the NHL?
A. Learning to play at a higher tempo more frequently and getting revved up for each and every game at the pro level was difficult at first. In college, when playing almost only on the weekends…it was easy to harness the energy and go all out for two games and then practice until the next two games the following week. At the pro level, you have to be at your best every night over a long season of 80 plus games. Also, making plays quickly and instinctively rather than assessing every option…as there’s no time for thinking in the NHL as everything has to be reaction with your feet moving.

Q. Many Terrier fans were thrilled to see you achieve your dream of playing in the NHL. What was the highlight of your time in the NHL?
A. It would have to be my first (and only) NHL goal. It was in St.Louis against Curtis Joseph, a deflection in front. I also had an assist on a Keith Tkachuk goal for my first (and only) multi-point NHL game that night as well. A close second was playing for the Winnipeg Jets against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver with lots of family and friends in attendance.

Q. After NHL stops, you spent many years in Germany, where, as your sister Karin pointed out in her blog, you gained celebrity status. What were those years like?
A. They were great. I was in a smaller city (Mannheim) that took their hockey seriously and we won four championships in my first five years there. It was a big fish in a small pond kind of thing, and I enjoyed all the ice time and being an important part of the team’s success. Also, a fully furnished apartment, a Porsche, and incidentals being paid for certainly helped as well. Being single at the time was a bonus.

Q. When did you decide that you wanted to get into broadcasting?
A. I always had in the back of my mind, even when deciding on what courses to take at BU, to get into broadcasting after whatever hockey career I would have. My Dad steered me in the direction of business, so I went the SMG route, but I’d always pay attention to the broadcasters from each team I was on and ask questions along the way. When the all-sports radio station I am currently working for gained the broadcasting rights to the Canucks’ games, I went knocking on their door, talked my way onto the airways and retired from hockey at 38 years old.

Q. How daunting is the challenge of replacing the legendary Tommy Larscheid as a broadcaster?
A. Oh, it’s not easy. He was well liked by everyone not just on-air but off as well. Just a real classy guy. He had his own way of calling games, which was heavy on the entertainment and light on the x’s and o’s. He was the only colour commentator the Canucks had for 27 years so he had quite the history in the city and province. My challenge is to be myself and not try to copy anyone. I like the little things in the games that turn out to be difference makers in the outcome, and try and bring that to light. I’ll throw in some humour along the way as well and hope the listener feels like they’re right in the middle of the action.

Q. What is the biggest difference that you have noticed between the players today and when you played?
A. They are all in better shape and can skate faster. They are not all necessarily smarter with the puck or have more hockey sense, but they can play at a higher tempo for longer. I often wonder and wrestle with the idea that players respect each other less and less compared to when I played. Some of the hits seem too nasty and with no regard for injury. Being that the players are all bigger, faster and in better shape to go harder and hit harder, it’s not surprising that injuries are more frequent as well. But it just seems there is less respect to players in a compromised position on the ice and with hits from behind and to the head. I don’t like that part at all.

Q. Did you get a chance to see BU freshmen Sahir Gill and Garrett Noonan play for RBC Cup champ Vernon last season? If so, what can BU fans expect from them?
A. I haven’t personally seen them play, but just knowing they’ve come out of the BCHL and from such a respected organization as the Vernon Vipers tells me that BU has a couple of real good hockey players. The BCHL is the best Tier 2 Junior league in North America. Add the fact that they won the Canadian Championship last year and that’s all everyone needs to know. Just as long as they don’t knock me out of the Top Ten in all-time Terrier scoring and I’ll be behind them and the team one hundred percent! I wish the team and Jack Parker another successful season and a well-deserved trip to the Frozen Four, for some more Terrier magic and another National Championship.