Omaha Lancers right winger Seth Ambroz discusses the 2010-11 season, the leadership role he's assumed coming back to the USHL for a third season, his consideration as one of the top prospects for the 2011 Draft, the areas he's focusing on improving, his teammates that impress him, and more.
McKeen's: I'm catching you guys after three games in three nights and, four games in six days or so, so you guys have been busy lately. How much does that affect you? You guys came away with the win, which is the important thing, but how much did that affect you, personally, on the ice tonight?
Ambroz: Oh, not too much. I mean, obviously, you probably don't have as much energy and legs. But, you've got to be ready mentally and do a lot of the little things. The team came together and got the win tonight. So that was great.
McKeen's: We're into the final ten games of the season, and you're on pace to surpass the number of goals you had last year, which is a positive, and you're doing it without guys like Erik Haula, Matt White, Dakota Eveland, and Greg Wolfe for a time last year, too. Have you found that opposing teams have been able to focus in on you specifically more and, if so, how has that affected you?
Ambroz: Oh, I don't know. I think, not to focus on me, we have a great group this year. Obviously, Matt White and Erik Haula are great players to play with, but this year it's a different team. We're a little less offensive, but I think we're a great defensive team this year. I'm not too worried about anything. I think we've got great guys to play with. We're not going to have a lot high scorers this year, but that's this team. We focus more on other things. We have a great group of guys here and if we just keep working toward the little things and get the job done every night, we should be fine going into the playoffs.
McKeen's: As a power forward who's difficult to move in front of the net, and who finishes his chances a lot of the time, you're well-established in that regard. But I've noticed that the subtleties of your defensive game are coming along in a positive way. Is that assessment accurate and, if so, what would you accredit to your development into more of a two-way player?
Ambroz: A lot of the time you think defense first. You can't win games without defense. Just as long as you're in the right spot in your d-zone and you've got your guy, or you've got your area covered, a lot of it has to do with are you willing to block a shot or willing to chip pucks out, or not cheat offensively, just focusing more on the defensive side and being willing to make sacrifices for the team.
McKeen's: You're in your third year in the league now, and you've kind of set a new standard for what's possible for players coming into the USHL that young and staying in the league and not bolting for major juniors. So, over the course of those three years, in what ways do you feel you've developed the most both on the ice and off the ice?
Ambroz: On the ice, I feel like a lot of it was leadership. I came back here coming in as being one of those players that people look up to. It's definitely a great thing. That's one of the biggest areas that I think I've developed here. Off the ice, you're developing as a person. Just being able to do the right things and showing a lot of character off the ice and on the ice. Hopefully a lot of guys respect you, and that's basically the main goal. They may not like you, but hopefully they respect, you know?
McKeen's: You just touched on my next question quite a bit, but in what ways has your role with the Lancers in your third year changed from your second year?
Ambroz: Ummm, well, second year, you're taking on some leadership, but this year, being a third-year guy, you've got people who look up to you and follow you. You definitely take on a leadership role. You've just got to work toward leading by example and setting the tone for the guys. Obviously, you want to get them going every night. But, you just look to be someone that they follow and trust. So, just leading by example, and hopefully things turn out well.
McKeen's: You were one of the team's higher scorers last year, but you are the leading scorer this year. Your number of fights is down. Tonight, some Sioux Falls players took exception to you finishing your checks, slashing you some, and Marcus Perrier looked like he wanted to fight you, but you declined. You don't back down from people, but explain how it is this year that your leeway to fight is less than previous seasons, not to mention less guys are looking to fight you.
Ambroz: Well, you know, it's a lot of different things. I don't want to fight in that situation. Obviously, we're up 2-0 tonight, there's no reason to give them any shot at any momentum, and it came out well in drawing the penalty there. Perrier is obviously one of the tougher guys in the league. But, tonight, it probably wasn't the best time. Coming in, you want to be on the ice as much as possible. When you want to try and give your team momentum, you ask guys to go. A lot of the time, it is momentum. Tonight, it just wasn't the right time and they got a penalty out of it.
McKeen's: Right. This year, for most teams, whoever fights you, no matter how the fight goes, the other team wins that match up, because you're drawn off. I mean, if you're fighting a fourth-liner, for instance, no matter what happens, they won that match up in taking you off the ice. So, you're in a position this year that you have to be pretty disciplined to know when to go.
Ambroz: Yeah. A lot of the time it's, for the most part, sticking up for a teammate or sticking up for yourself, obviously, and then also to gain momentum if you're down. You've just got to pick the right times. You pick a wrong time and things don't go your way, it might turn the game around.
McKeen's: I remember reading over the off-season that there was the potential for you to play for The U (University of Minnesota) this season. Was that truly a serious possibility and, if so, what drew you back to the USHL for one last season?
Ambroz: Yeah, it was a possibility. Obviously, some school things didn't work out well there. But, coming back this third year was definitely a big step for me as a player, working toward the leadership and developing that quality as a player. I'm still developing every day coming back and being the guy that people look up to. So, coming back, hoping to be the guy. Obviously, going to The U would have been a great thing this season. Too bad that they are out of the playoffs now, but I'm in a great situation. Coming back, I don't regret it. I'm learning every day about leadership and developing as a player.
McKeen's: As we've mentioned, your continued development will be at the University of Minnesota, at least it's slated to be. In what areas of your game do you feel you need to improve the most heading into next year with the Golden Gophers?
Ambroz: Definitely the first three steps, getting some quickness, and when you get the puck on your stick, you've got to work toward making a play right away and not taking a long time to get it off your stick. Then, working the corners and driving wide and keeping moving my feet. Those are definitely the main points where I'm focusing on.
McKeen's: There have been a lot of highly regarded USHL prospects in recent history who were slated to go the collegiate track and their NHL teams steered them toward major juniors, or, in same cases, like your former teammates Louis Leblanc, they only go to college for one year and then go major juniors. We've discussed this before, but do you anticipate pressure from NHL teams to go the major junior route?
Ambroz: Possibly. You never know. Right now, I'm planning on going to The U. We'll just see. Whatever happens, happens. I'm not going to think about it too much. Just focus one day at a time here.
McKeen's: Die-hard prospects fans and fans of the NHL Entry Draft have had the opportunity to read some updates from you once a month or so this season on NHL.com, maintaining a blog - one of a few prospects they have doing that. How did that come to be and what's it been like doing that?
Ambroz: I just got a phone call one day and was asked to do a blog. Right now, it's a lot of fun. He's a great guy, Mike Morreale, over there at NHL.com. It's obviously an honor for them to want me to have a blog. It's been a lot of fun just letting people know how the team's doing and I'm doing and how everyday life is going. It's a lot of fun and a great honor for them to want me to do it and I'm happy to do it.
McKeen's: On the NHL's website for this year's draft, they have six players whose image appears at the top, and one of them is you. What's it like to, in a way, to carry the USHL mantle?
Ambroz: It's obviously great to be recognized as one of the top prospects. But, you know, you try not to think about it too much, don't want to put too much pressure on yourself. You put it in the back of your head. You still have to go out every day and try to get better and develop. Hopefully, things turn out great in the end. Just got to take it one day at a time.
McKeen's: This year, with two new expansion teams, the playoff format has changed a little bit. The top two teams get a bye. There are a number of teams still in contention for that in the West. Is the bye something you guys actively want or is there any worry about being off for a short while?
Ambroz: Yeah, you want the bye. You've got some guys banged up and you want to get some rest for them, and the rest is great going into the playoffs. You get that first round and you're still playing and you're still in the groove of things - you don't just come out to play and kind of get woken up coming after that bye, you've got guys ready to go. But, a bye is definitely something we want. You get some guys rested up and then get ready to go when it comes time.
McKeen's: Not to put the cart ahead of the horse, but after the playoffs - I'm fairly confident in saying for you - there will come the NHL Combine in late May. Do you anticipate training for that in any special way and what are your expectations of the Combine?
Ambroz: Yeah. I'll have to get training right away. You've got to be ready to go for that, obviously. It's the Combine, you've just got to go up there and do what you can. Do what you're able to do and hopefully things turn out well there, too. You can't think about it too much. You've just got to go out there and work hard and give your best.
McKeen's: This year's draft is in Minnesota, fortunately for you just north on I-35 and I-35E. So, how many people do you anticipate being with you and your family at the draft and how do you expect it to feel when your name is called?
Ambroz: I don't know for sure how many people will be there. It'll hopefully be a good amount. It'll definitely be a lot of fun, just right down the road. Hopefully things turn out well and your name does get called right away. That'd be great, and obviously a great honor. You've just got to be excited and look forward to what happens next.
McKeen's: Last time we talked, Shjon Podein was your family advisor. I assume that is still the case?
Ambroz: Mmm, hmm.
McKeen's: Has he been able to ascertain if there are any particular NHL teams that have an exceptionally high interest in you?
Ambroz: Not that I know of. You hope they all have interest in you, you know? I'm not thinking about that too much. If he talks to someone, he talks to someone. If not, just hopefully things turn out well.
McKeen's: The last two questions won't focus on you, other than it being your opinion, I suppose. Of your Lancer teammates this year, who's impressed you the most and why?
Ambroz: This year, we have a lot of great players, a lot of young guys coming up and working hard. I think Benny Marshall has stepped up into a big-time role. He's obviously a great offensive defenseman. He's been a big part of this team's success. Also, Nick Oddo has stepped up and played really well this year. I'm happy for him. He's having a great season. There's just so many more players. I think Mike Chiasson, our captain, he's obviously a great leader, a great person off and on the ice. I'm happy for him and for his success. I hope to get him back here. Right now, he's out with a concussion. Our whole team has been great. Ryan Daugherty, he's just battling all of the time. He's had struggles with injuries, but he battles every day. We've got a lot of young guys coming up. It's been a great group. It's been a lot of fun.
McKeen's: To close it out, who are the opponents that you've played against that have impressed you the most and why, or maybe who are the guys that the coaching staff say before the game, "Key in on these guys," if they do do that.
Ambroz: I try not to focus on all that stuff. Obviously, there are some players throughout the league, players coming back from college, even. Vinny Saponari has been a great player over in Dubuque. There's a lot of good players out there. You never try to focus on it. You just go out and play your game. If they do well, if they score, they score. You've just got to keep battling. I try not to focus about that stuff too much and just play my game and have fun out there.