Komets center Travis Ewanyk is a wizard in the faceoff circle and made an immediate impact when he was acquired in a trade with Idaho on Feb. 7. Faceoffs are an even bigger factor during the playoffs so The News-Sentinel sat down with him to ask about them.
News-Sentinel: How did you learn faceoffs?
Travis Ewanyk: I've been a centerman and doing faceoffs my whole career, and with that I've learned from a lot of really good people in minor hockey when coaches would bring them in. I worked with Mike Sillinger a lot when I was with Edmonton and he was unbelievable at them. Every Oilers camp, I went to I worked with him, and whenever I was at NHL camps or junior camps I'd find the top centermen and pick his brain and take a couple of dozen faceoffs against them. There is a technique to them, and a big thing is watching what other guys do.
NS: Sometimes during late-game situations, you've positioned guys and you're able to put the puck right on their stick.
TE: I think guys like that sometimes. There are games where I've taken 30 faceoffs so I've gone against the same guy 15, 20 times. By then I have a pretty good read of what he's going to do. Even if he is switching it up, he's going to go back to what he does best, and I know exactly how I'm going to win it.
NS: Faceoffs are a confidence thing, too, aren't they?
TE: Definitely. When you are hot you are hot with faceoffs, and sometimes when you are not winning there's nothing you can do. It's like scoring goals. Sometimes the goalie is stopping everything no matter what you do. It's a tough stat because coaches consider anything over 50 percent as really good. So if you lose two faceoffs, you have to win the next two in a row and one ore for sure.
NS: Is that one of the big foundations of your game?
TE: I think so. It's a big part of being a centerman. My first three years as a pro in the AHL, I was just scrapping for ice time, and if a coach can at least trust me to win a faceoff, anything you can do helps. I know in juniors I was always relied on as a faceoff guy. I've played on winning teams a lot, and I've always been a third- or fourth-line player and it starts with faceoffs.
NS: The Komets really struggled with faceoffs all year, and then you got here and it made them 20 percent better.
TE: Me and (Gabriel Desjardins) share a lot of penalty kills, and I know why I'm there is to win the first faceoff. They say if you can clear the zone to start a penalty kill, that's like 30 seconds right there.
NS: It's such a precise skill, but there don't seem to be as many guys who specialize in it any more. You can really make yourself valuable.
TE: I've played against some really great centermen, especially in the AHL. I went up against Manny Malhotra when he was in Charlotte for a few games and I was in Oklahoma City, and I took a bunch of faceoffs against him over two games. He was unbelievable at them. Even during faceoffs I was asking him things and he was laughing. He was an older guy and even during a game I learned something.
NS: So you are still learning more about them even today?
TE: I think so. People are always trying new things and there are always people who are going to be bigger and stronger in a faceoff circle. I don't really try to talk much, but some guys do. If someone asks me what I'm going to do, I'll tell them exactly what I'm going to do, and I think that kind of throws them off a little bit. I'll tell him I'm winning it back to my strong side, and he'll probably think I'm not going to do that and that's what I'll do.
NS: So you are inside their head?
TE: Everyone has one or two key faceoff maneuvers just like everyone has a favorite shootout move. If you can get them off their go-to faceoff move, you have a big advantage.
NS: They are also 50 percent more important during the playoffs when puck possession is so critical.
TE: Especially with the new rules. The team in the offensive zone gets to put their stick down last now, and that's a huge thing. If you can put your stick down second, you can win every draw. Going down last is a huge advantage because you get to see how he lines up and once he's lined up, he can't switch.
I like to go down second because I get to see what he's doing. A lot of guys only like to go on their strong side, but for me it doesn't really matter. It's just a pattern of how he always likes to win it, and how I know how I win it.
NS: Do you know what your percentages are?
TE: They post them after every game and I try to be above 55 or 60 percent every game. There are some games where you'll go 75, 80 percent, and then there are games where you'll have a bad night and go 40 percent or 50 percent. If you are consistent over a season, you have to be up above 55, 60 percent.
NS: Will you watch a lot of film for playoffs?
TE: Yes, if there is a center who has beaten me a couple of times clean, I'll ask the coach to cut me a few faceoffs, and I'll look to see what he does.
NS: Why does it seems like you are always there waiting for your faceoff opponent?
TE: I like to get into the dot and get set up, and then you can watch the other guy come in and see how they lineup.
NS: So then they have to adjust to you?
TE: Yes, exactly. There are a million moving parts. There are so many tricks and tips I have picked up, if I was taking a faceoff against first-year pro me I'd beat him 20 out of 20 times.
NS: Are you still getting better?
TE: I try to get better all the time because the other guy is always learning your tendencies. There's a lot going on that doesn't meet the eye.