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Vermette Finds a Home with Coyotes

Tuesday, 05.22.2012 / 10:46 AM / Features
NHL.com

GLENDALE -- Hockey players embrace routine as part of the fabric of their lives. For Antoine Vermette, that has always been the case.

When he played for Ottawa and Columbus, he would go to the rink on game days for the morning skate. After that he would go home, eat lunch and take a nap. None of that has changed since his move to the desert before this season's trade deadline.

Vermette still goes to the practice rink near his place in Scottsdale, then back home for a meal and a nap. Then, before he leaves for Jobing.com Arena, he jumps in the pool to wake up, and then he proceeds to get ready and head for Glendale.

Antoine Vermette

Yeah, that part of his routine is a little different since he became a member of the Coyotes.

"It is a little strange," Vermette told NHL.com. "That is not something that I did in Ottawa or Columbus. You adjust yourself to the situation. Certainly, the weather is something you wouldn't think of when you're growing up (in Quebec) playing street hockey with your buddies."

Like many players traded near the deadline, Vermette had a life-altering few days. He went from the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets to the Coyotes, who were fighting for a playoff berth. He went from winter to a place of perpetual summer.

For some players, the transition can be hard. A new city, a new coach, new teammates, a new system -- it can be overwhelming. If a player doesn't produce for his new team, there is a new kind of pressure to prove his worth.

The Coyotes have a certain culture within the organization. Part of it is the team's style of play on the ice, but it extends beyond that as well. Other players might not have had a seamless transition, but it has been just that for Vermette.

"(General Manager) Don (Maloney) did a lot of homework on him, not just watch a lot of video of him playing, but a lot of homework on his personality," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "We always talk about we need players that are going to fit well into our group. Everything Don heard about Antoine was very good, very good teammate. Sometimes, you get players that are outcasts in the dressing room. That wasn't the case. He was at the forefront of leadership, things he was trying to do. Good experience with the playoffs with Ottawa. We felt it was a player that fit well into our group, personality and play-wise."

Added Vermette: "It was fairly easy for me. Talking with the coaching staff, and you talk about his philosophy and how he sees things. At the same time, I didn't feel that it was out of my game. They probably looked after me and see a guy who could fit into this system. I don't know why, but I was pretty lucky, I guess."

The Coyotes made the playoffs the past two seasons, but were not expected to contend again this campaign. A big reason was the loss of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but there was a definite lack of depth at center as well.

Martin Hanzal filled one of the spots in the middle on the top two lines, but Kyle Turris, the No. 3 pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, never quite found his way with Tippett and this club, so he was traded to Ottawa. As the season progressed, the need for another guy to anchor one of Phoenix's top two lines was clear.

"He was brought here to stabilize the center ice, and I think he's done a great job with that," said defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who played with Vermette in Columbus. "He's, first of all, a good player, and secondly, he can play at both ends of the ice really well. He's got a lot of skill and he can fit in anywhere on any line. He's responsible defensively. That's why his transition was so easy."

Vermette thought he'd be playing for a chance to relish postseason hockey this season, but he expected it to be in Columbus. He was traded there by Ottawa in 2009, and then re-signed with the Blue Jackets before the 2010-11 season.

It was a five-year commitment on Vermette's part, but at the price -- $3.75 million per season -- it also meant increased expectations. The Blue Jackets were never a particularly deep team when he was there, so Vermette was counted on to be a top offensive player.

When disaster struck for the franchise this season, Vermette was one of the guys the Blue Jackets moved to try and start over.

"It is pretty amazing. When it happens, it is always a shock," Vermette said. "I am certainly right now enjoying the ride and having fun with the guys."

While Vermette is being counted on to play big minutes for the Coyotes, the expectations from his coach are more in line with what they were when he played for Ottawa. Tippett expects all of his players to work and be defensively responsible. The team embraces a scoring by committee mentality, so there isn't as much pressure on individuals to do it every night.

As it has turned out, Vermette's offensive game has spiked with the change. He had eight goals and 27 points in 60 games for the Blue Jackets, but he has been the Coyotes' leading scorer in this postseason.

He's tied for the team lead with five goals, and leads the club with 10 points. His line, while it wasn't considered the top line during the regular season, has become the team's most dependable trio during this run to the conference finals.

Shane Doan is tied with Vermette for the team lead in goals, while Mikkel Boedker has four goals and eight points.

"It works out pretty good because we find each other well," Boedker said. "[Vermette] been great for us since he's been here, and that trade couldn't have worked better for us. He's been to the [Stanley Cup] finals before and he knows what it takes. He leads by example and always smiling, never down. He's always trying to help, so it makes it so much easier for you as a player."

Added Vermette: "When I came here, I knew the team was doing good and I knew something was going on in here. I quickly realized the success of this team really comes from the team itself and how everybody was going on the same page. Talking about the points personally, at this time of year you just try to do whatever you can to be successful. Sometimes it turns out to be putting points on the board, sometimes it doesn't. I think that's what makes this team to this point -- everyone is willing to do the other things."

Often players who are moved at the trade deadline are impending free agents, so there are no plans for the future in place. Vermette has another year left on his contract, so he will be with the organization next season.

Photo by Norm Hall

When Vermette arrived, Tippett told him he would love the area. It didn't take long for him to agree with that prediction. His wife came with him from Columbus, and both are enjoying what the Valley of the Sun has to offer, whether it is more time on the golf course or in the pool.

"She loves it. It is great. Everybody likes it," Vermette said. "I've had family that have come in, and a few friends. They find it to be pretty awesome. It is a little weird at the beginning, but it is such a nice place to play. It has been working pretty well."

Vermette grew up near Quebec City, and he played parts of five seasons in Ottawa. He has lived in places where hockey isn't just a passion, but part of what defines the people and the region.

He embraced it as a way of life when he was there. Now that he's here, Vermette has found a new life -- and he's found out that it suits him quite well.

"I think it makes for a nice balance," Vermette said. "There is the intensity and the seriousness of the games, and some nights you are frustrated or you're facing adversity. I think there is the chance, through the weather and the setup here, to get away a little bit. I think it is healthy."

Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer

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