After the lockout of 2004-05, the St. Louis Blues became a team searching for an identity. In that time there were many players who came and went through the St. Louis system and recently I was lucky enough to get to interview one of them; a six foot, one inch left winger whose time in the NHL includes just 107 games and 11 points, but still one of the proud few who has had the opportunity to step on the ice in the NHL wearing the Blue Note.
Jeff Hoggan joined the St. Louis Blues organization in 2004-05 with the Worcester IceCats and could have been a member of the team that season, but was forced to spend the year in the AHL due to the NHL lockout. Hoggan would make his NHL debut in 2005-06 playing 52 games and scoring eight points.
Recently Hoggan was signed by the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, and was made captain of that squad. The St. Louis Blues Alumni put me in touch with Jeff to ask him a few questions about his time in St. Louis and his career in general.
Hodschayan: In 2004-05 you got a chance to play for the Worcester IceCats, the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues at the time. The NHL lockout took any chance of making the NHL that season. Do you feel the lockout kept you from playing in the NHL, or do you think the time spent in the AHL gave you a chance to develop your game at a higher level before joining the Blues?
Hoggan: The lockout may have delayed an NHL opportunity for me but not necessarily keep from the NHL because I had not proven that I was NHL ready prior to the lockout. Playing in Worcester that year helped me continue with my development and prepare for making NHL when the lockout ended. The lockout year was certainly a chance to develop; and the right mindset was to make the most of the situation.
The AHL, like the beginning of this year, was probably the best league to be playing in for preparation for NHL level hockey. The lockout also gives management and Coaching staff more time to watch and help their on their future players on daily basis. Coach Mike Kitchen actually joined our staff in Worcester 2005 aiding in development plus creating an even greater situation for the players to become familiar to the NHL coach going into following year.
Hodschayan: Do you think that the current lockout will have an effect on young players trying to break into the NHL? Who in particular?
Hoggan: Now that the lockout is over you can definitely see firsthand the positive effect of the young guys playing in the AHL during the delay. Seems like every NHL teams had guys come up and contribute effectively right away. Lots of them were already into their mid-season form transitioning better then players returning from overseas and possibly better prepared than many NHL players who stayed and trained on their own.
Here in Detroit Tatar, Andersson, Smith, and Lashoff have made immediate impacts upon getting the call to fill needs or step in for players with injuries that may or may not have resulted from short training camp preparation for the big clubs before the demands of the NHL paced games were put upon them.
Hoggan: The DEL was a unique experience. My family enjoyed their time there but the North American game is considered the best in the world for a reason. I guess as my NHL time and call-ups became fewer I started to consider whether the grass is greener on the other side. The bigger ice, shortened season and pay compensation seemed inviting as my body aged and continued to grind out the demand of the AHL schedule.
I came back because home is where the heart is and fortunately found a veteran leadership role here in Grand Rapids. Being closer to my family and friends is beneficial and I really find the team concept is appreciated more here. The coaching right down to officiating can be relied upon and is consistently held to a higher standard.
Hodschayan: What would you say the biggest difference between the play in Europe and the play in North America is?
Hoggan: The ice dimensions are one of the more obvious differences. The extra ice buys the individual skill guys a little more time and space to create plays. Taking a D-man to the outside is really to the outside. There certainly are some great individual players over there but from my experience in Germany I found a stronger player mindset of “me before the team”. GM’s will sometimes strictly sign and value guys for their point production and it turns into more of every man for himself approach at times. Coaching systems and preparedness were a little different over there but all in all a unique part of the experience.
One of the most enjoyable things to witness in Germany was the fan support. Some teams have bigger followings then others of course but the atmosphere is an absolute circus. It’s similar to a soccer game with the majority of fans on their feet for the whole game with their chants, songs, flags waving and drums pounding. It was a pretty cool thing to watch.
Hodschayan: You joined the Blues roster in 2005-06. That year the Blues had Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Dallas Drake, Eric Brewer, Mike Sillinger, and a few other big name guys on the roster. Who was your favorite to play with? Any good stories about those guys, or others?
Hoggan: We really struggled to find success during the 2005-2006 season and I was impressed with all those guys and how they handled adversity professionally and remained positive people to be around.
Doug Weight really stood out to me as one of the best guys I’ve come across in my hockey travels. He treated everybody like gold no matter who you were. From stick boy, to depth guy, to fan, he made everybody feel comfortable and important.
Being able to play with old school battle tested guys like Drake and Sillinger was always fun too. Their faces were both one big mosaic masterpiece of scar tissue and wrinkle. They would go back and forth daily about who was the ugliest guy in the league which was always made for a good laugh. Another funny old school experience was when “Silly” would come over shaking his head at the young guys sitting in the cold tub, choking down protein shakes after games and say “Ice from the inside Out Boys” while sucking back a cold Bud heavy.
One the coolest things we did off- ice was in Washington. Sillinger had a friend with the Secret service who set up a tour to go through the White House. Draker backed out early in the morning so this small town Canadian managed to jump on the tour with the Vets. We didn’t see President Bush but did pet his black dog and got a few cool snapshots of the house that I keep meaning to get a hold of Jackman for keepsake purposes.
Hodschayan: You also played with Jeff Woywitka that season. Jeff signed a one-year deal with the Blues this past offseason. Were you surprised to see them bring him back into the organization?
Hoggan: Wits, what a great kid. He fits the good hard working farm boy with solid heart to a T. Funny I just played against Wits the other day in Peoria and he did a double take when he saw me. “Holy Hogues, you’re still Grinding!?” he says. His nickname was from the movie King Pin, we called him Ishmael that season and he even dressed the part for Halloween. Not surprised at all he’s back, I think most GM’s would value adding a steady depth D man and quality person like Jeff to any dressing room.
Hodschayan: So far in your career you have spent time in the Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes, and Detroit Red Wings organizations. While you have only played on the big clubs for the Blues, Bruins, and Yotes, which organization was your favorite to be a
part of? Why?
Hoggan: The Blues will always have a place in my heart for giving me that first opportunity to play in the NHL and no question is a top level contender now for doing things the right way. Though my NHL days may be over, getting older brings more appreciation for everyday I still get to play this game professionally and really love my role with the Grand Rapids Griffins this year. We’ve found a nice formula for winning while still having many of our top end guys get their opportunity with the Red Wings.
Hodschayan: Right now you are the captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins, can you tell us a little about that club and who we should watch be a future NHLer?
Hoggan: Well, except for myself, we are certainly a very young team. We had some initial struggles. Early in the season we let a handful of games slip away from us after having leads going into the third. We certainly have grown and righted the ship currently sitting at the top of the standings and working towards bringing an end to a 3 year absence from the playoffs here in GR. Of course the AHL is mainly about developing young players to reach their NHL potential but we’re doing that and creating a winning culture, at the same time.
We have some very highly skilled players that will, and since the lockout ended already are, making an impact with the big club. Tomas Tatar, Brendan Smith,Joakim Andersen and Brian Lashoff are currently up and transitioning seamlessly to the NHL. Our goalie Petr Mrazeka and Gus Nyquist have received call -ups and contributed already as well.
I was fortunate to play alongside Krecji, Versteeg, Kessel in Boston organizations plus Turris and Boedker with Phoenix before their stardom started. These guys here all have the same Star potential as the ones I’ve mentioned and should be just as fun to watch as take firm hold of long NHL careers.
Hoggan: I was a bit surprised because I came in on a try-out and did have not have much time around the fellas or staff before they offered me a job and the season got underway.
I would hope they chose me because I’m a strong leader. Not overly vocal but positive and encouraging as much as possible. I pride myself on doing things the right way, consistently each and every night. I try to connect positively with every guy in the team and prod a guy if it’s necessary to do so. I lead by example and am comfortable with the role and expectations that come along with it.
Hodschayan: Do you think you will make it to the NHL again? Recently Wade Redden got a second chance with the Blues and there are always teams looking for veteran leaders. Do you think you have a chance at making it in the NHL again?
Hoggan: Great Question!, As kid growing up and wanting nothing more to be an NHL hockey player it’s tough to come to terms with letting go of the NHL dream. I worked hard at pursuing a chance and am fortunate for what I was given. However, the reality is after turning 35 last month the dream is more than likely over. Sure the desire and hunger to keep playing remain and of course I still think I can contribute and step in if an NHL possibility created itself but I feel very fortunate for the opportunity and role I have at this point of my career. It’s not the NHL but I’m currently in solid health and
making a living at what I love doing the most.
Jeff Hoggan’s time in St. Louis may have not been the longest, but my memories of watching him play with the team will last a lifetime. I want to thank Jeff for his time and willingness to answer our questions and wish him the best of luck in his career. Hopefully an NHL team will give him another chance, but if not it sounds like Jeff has a great role with Grand Rapids.
As always, LET’S GO BLUES!