Deep Dive is a new interview series where Nick Nollenberger and Joey Goldstein sit down with some of your favorite members of the San Jose Barracuda to "dive deeper" into some of their experiences on and off the ice. In this feature, Nick and Joey sit down with Goaltender Antoine Bibeau and Forward Rudolfs Balcers to learn a bit more about their time in Utica, NY for AHL All Star Weekend.
Nick Nollenberger: You guys played on Saturday (1/27) in San Antonio so it was a pretty quick turnaround before you were off to Utica the following day. What time was your flight?
Antoine Bibeau: It was at 6:30 (AM), so it was a quick turnaround. We played at 7 (PM) in San Antonio on Saturday and then our flight was Sunday morning, so I didn’t sleep much until I was on the flight. It was a lot of travel, and it was early. We got there (Utica) around 1:30 (PM) or 2 (PM).
NN: Did you carry your own bags?
AB: (Chuckles) Yeah, but that’s no problem. We got there at 2 (PM). Once we got to the hotel, we had about two hours to chill out but then we had to go immediately to the rink for media and then we had the skills competition that night, so it was a long day for sure. The next day was busy too, and there was a post skills competition event the first night, so we didn’t go to bed that early. We didn’t get out of the rink after the skills competition until 10 (PM), 10:30 (PM). The next day we went to the AHL Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 11 (AM) and then we had the afternoon off before the All-Star Classic at night. It was a busy weekend for sure, but a ton of fun.
Joey Goldstein: You said the first day in Utica you had to go to the arena for media, what kinds of things did they have you do?
Rudolfs Balcers: It wasn’t too bad. The first day we got in and we signed some sticks and other stuff for fans.
JG: Did you have to sit down and do interviews or anything like that?
AB: (Chuckles) No, we’re not that popular for that.
RB: No, we just kind of sat there and they explained all the rules to us. AHL President Dave Andrews spoke to us too for a bit.
JG: I know in the past they’ve had some green screen type stuff, was there anything like that?
AB: No not this year. A few media members came in and had some questions, but for the most part, it was pretty quiet.
JG: I was the media! (laughs)
AB: (laughs) Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of media, but it was a good experience.
NN: When you walked into the locker room what was your first thoughts of the uniforms?
AB: Yeah, they were sick.
RB: Yeah, I liked them a lot.
NN: Did you tend to gravitate toward Pacific Division guys because you were familiar with them having played against one another?
RB: There weren’t a lot of faces that I knew. But the guys in the division that we play against I was somewhat familiar with, so I tried to talk with them a little bit. I just hung out and talked to who I was around.
AB: Yeah, everyone is so friendly. It’s a laid-back event, so everyone talked to each other. At first, it’s a little bit awkward if you’re not outgoing, but once you talked to one guy, you start to meet and talk to other ones. I think all the guys in our division were really nice.
NN: Did you watch any of the skill competition and be like, wow! That guy is pretty good?
AB: I did (laughs). When I was sliding (during the shootout relay), I was looking at the guy thinking that was a pretty nice move before he scored.
JG: That’s my favorite story. They keep showing that highlight everywhere.
AB: Thanks for bringing that ups (laughs). Now I’m seen everywhere getting scored on. All of the events are fun to watch, but the fastest skater is pretty cool. Accuracy is fun too when guys pick corners, which is pretty impressive. And the hardest shot is always something special.
RB: You kind of just wait for the guys to lose the puck and fall (laughs). It’s all pretty fun to watch.
JG: What was your favorite event that you did (RB)?
RB: I don’t know…The puck relay was pretty tough because I was cold and I didn’t get a chance to warm up, and I was tired from all the travel. I got out there, and my legs just started burning. But I’d say the three-on-three was probably the best part of the weekend.
NN: Was it easier to do the three-on-three tournament because you do it in overtime now?
RB: I don’t know about that… it wasn’t totally the same.
AB: It’s still different because normally we’re playing a lot more defensive and a lot harder.
JG: It seemed like you (RB) started off pretty hot. You and the guys from Tucson (Nick Merkley, Kyle Capobianco) seemed to click right away.
RB: That was a lot of fun. The guys on the bench didn’t want us to change. They said to stay out there because we were scoring all the time. We kind of just found each other and scored some goals.
NN: Do you (AB) like the three-on-three as a goalie?
AB: No I hate it (chuckles).
NN: Do a lot of goalies hate it?
AB: No, I don’t really hate it but no goalie likes getting scored on like that, and it’s a perfect scenario to get scored on. I like to watch it, and it’s fun for the fans. In an All-Star game, the guys are so good, it can make it tough as a goaltender.
JG: Whether it was your team or conference. Was there anyone at All Star Weekend that really stood out… Like, "this guy is the real deal"… besides you guys of course (laughs)?
AB: (Chuckles) It’s hard because everyone is so good. It’s hard to pick one guy. It was special to see the three Tucson guys together. You could tell they had a lot of chemistry.
NN: (AB) Was it fun to see your family? And are you the type that plays better in front of your family or worse?
AB: It doesn't effect me, especially for an All-Star game because it’s more about having fun than anything. It was nice to have them there because I had not seen them since training camp. It’s been a long time, and they’ve supported my hockey career so much over the years, and I just think it was a ton of fun for them to be apart of the whole event.
JG: (AB) Who came from your family? It seemed like you had a big crew in town.
AB: My parents, my girlfriend from San Jose, her parents and then I had a family from Toronto as well. I became close with their son during my time in junior so they made the trip as well. They had a really good time. It was a fun weekend for sure.
JG: (RB) I know you had no family in town, but you were able to meet a buddy of yours, correct?
RB: Yeah, I had a friend there who’s in school. He texted me when he found out I was going there for the All-Star game and he said, “call me if you have some off time and we’ll meet up and get some food.” It was nice to see him and be able to talk a little bit of Latvian.
JG: (RB) Being 20 years old, your experience may have differed a bit from some of the other players but part of that experience was you had a chance room with Rasmus Andersson in Stockton, what was that like?
RB: It was good! He’s an interesting dude. At the start, it was a bit awkward not knowing one another besides playing in the Pacific Division, but we talked, and he is a real good guy. He’s clearly a skilled big d-man who's played a bit in the NHL. We kind of asked each other about our different organizations, so it was fun.
NN: (RB) When you found out you made the team, who did you call first?
RB: I obviously called my parents and explained it to them. They were happy, but I don’t know if they really knew what it was all about. In Latvia, there isn’t anything like that. Unfortunately, they couldn’t come and see me play but they bought the games back home and watched them online in the middle of the night, so it was fun times for them too.
JG: Overall as a division you were steamrolling teams and then you got to the final. Before we get to that, were you able to watch any of the game between the North Division and the Atlantic Division? That was a pretty wild game.
AB: Yeah, we were watching it in the room. It was pretty crazy in the last two minutes when they came back. When they scored the first one, we were like, “man they may come back.” And then they scored the second one, and then they tied it up, a then they scored again to win in regulation in front of the home crowd. That was pretty crazy!
JG: The place was pretty loud!
AB: Yeah, it was going crazy. Obviously, it was tough for us to lose to them in the final, but the fact that it was the North Division, in Utica, it made for a pretty cool atmosphere.
JG: Once you got to the final against the North Division the 3 on 3 seemed to tighten up a bit defensively. What was that one like from your perspective?
RB: We didn’t change much in the final, and obviously we wanted to win but it's a shorter game so you only get one shift for each trio. You’re only out there for six minutes.
AB: Yeah, it was a quick six minutes.
RB: Then they scored that one goal.
AB: It could have gone either way, but we missed some chances at the other end.
NN: 14 days on the road and then the All-Star festivities… when did it hit that you were physically drained?
RB: (Laughs) It hit me in San Antonio!
JG: And then we were flying into Chicago from Utica, we thought the layover flight got canceled so there was some frustration there I think.
RB: Oh man, I don’t know what I would have done.
AB: The last few games before the break were a battle, and we played hard. The trip got extended because we had a day off in between games in San Antonio but it allowed for me to rest a bit. When we got on the flight to head out to Utica is when I was like “Oh man this is gonna be a long couple of days.” You don’t notice it until you stop moving and it all hits you at once.
JG: What were your overall thoughts on Utica and the event as a whole?
AB: It was great! The Turning Stone Resort was perfect for hosting the event, and Utica did a great job. The whole thing was done professionally, and the league made it a ton of fun.
RB: It was cool. The town, the hotel, the crowd. It was a lot of fun.
JG: It’s a small building, but they get loud. You’ve said before (AB) from your time in Toronto that it’s not fun to play as a visitor.
AB: They (Utica Comets) always have a hard team to play against, and it’s a tough building to win in. But the environment is a lot of fun, and they showed it during the All-Star festivities.