1-On-1 with Hunter Drew

We caught up with Tucson Roadrunners Forward Hunter Drew on this week’s Insider Podcast to discuss his first season in Tucson and his career transition from defenseman to forward while with the Anaheim Ducks organization. Download this week’s podcast below to find out how many times Drew scored on teammate Matthew Villalta while the close friends played against each other in the AHL.

Listen to “Drew Things Up With Hunter” on Spreaker.

Has Arizona been all that you hoped for moving from the ocean to the desert? What was the part of the organization that you enjoyed the most?

I would say more to be honest; I didn’t know it was going to be that beautiful. It was also just the people, being surrounded by a phenomenal group. Not that there weren’t good people in the other organizations I’ve been in, but this was probably the best top to bottom I would say. I think it’s a culture thing, the staff has built a really good culture here and it’s not just hockey staff; it’s complete organization wide.

This year you and your team battled for first place in the Pacific Division along with big games and a playoff berth. What did you think of it?

Exciting and don’t get me wrong, every game is exciting when you’re playing 72 games, but when you get down the stretch those are really the fun ones. You have a different mindset and approach like every game is a must win, so you have to bring your best every night. That’s why we play; it’s the most fun time of the year so I loved it and it was unbelievable.

What was the biggest area for you personally that looking back at last year you tell yourself, “12 months ago I didn’t see me adding this and becoming this?”

I would say the mental side of it; everyone talks about or thinks about on ice and what you’re doing, but not the mental tole it can take. Obviously, I was getting scratched late in the year last year in Rockford a little bit and this year, but you have to keep your mindset and approach. Potsy (Steve Potvin) always called it the growth mindset, but that was the biggest change for me. Just the difference from even earlier this year but last year to this year for sure.

We talked to your close friend Matthew Villalta last week and he told us the story of how you two met. Just tell us what your friendship has been like for you two; knowing each other for so long and now playing on the same professional hockey team.

It’s cool and weird in a sense almost; I’m so used to having my home season buddies and my hockey season buddies but it’s nice to have someone that’s constant. I hang out with him every summer, but obviously I lived and spent time with him this year. It’s cool to have that kind of relationship both during the season and at home; I’ve seen him already like three or four times since coming home so it’s nice having that. Even when you’re going through hard times or dark days of the year in January/February and right in the thick of things; it’s just having someone to talk to and bring back old memories of high school or summer. Things like that just keep you moving a long and it’s been really nice.

You played in the Slovak league during the delayed Covid season in 2021 on a loan assignment with good numbers playing in that league. What was that experience like and how did it compare to playing in North America?

The ice is bigger and that’s the simple common answer, but I was a defenseman at the time over there too, so way different for me in terms of having your gap and how you approach a penalty-kill or power-play with so much more room. You always have to be conscious of where you are on the ice and the space the skilled guys have that you must contain. It’s just way different hockey that’s a little less physical too unless you’re Patrik Koch. It was great to get that experience and at the end of my career, I would like to go back to Europe and play travel hockey because like you said, it was the pandemic, so I didn’t get the full experience away from the rink but all and all the experience was pretty cool.

Tell us about that transition that you made as a pro from defenseman to forward and how that went down.

It was weird; it was like one of those things where you get asked, “Hey what do you think about this?” However, it wasn’t really much of a choice; it was more of, “Hey we want you to do this and you’re going to do it,” from Anaheim. For me personally, the less I would think when I’m on the ice was the best. You don’t have time to think about making a mistake or in the wrong spot; you just read and react. I just finished my third year as a forward, so a little different now where I’ve been in more situations where I have more of a strangle hold on whatever would be thrown at me. It’s definitely different now, but it was weird at the time; you skate so much more as a forward with a different approach to the game, but I enjoy playing forward now.

You had a hot streak at the end of the season with nine points in the last nine regular season games and the playoff goal in game two. You talked about getting scratched earlier this season and having that growth mindset. How will you use that nice streak at the end of the season to work on what you need to work on this offseason and enter next year with some momentum for yourself?

Sports in general is confidence; it’s when you’re confident in your game and feel like you’re playing at your best. That was huge for me especially to have it late in the year. Like you said going into the offseason, you just carry it right in. You have that swagger I guess in the summer where you feel good, and you know you have something right away to build off of. You set the standard and now you keep the standard and raise it next year. Me and Potsy always talk about not expecting anything or don’t expect to get this and score this many times. It’s nice to at least have a base to go off of and keep that swagger going through the summer and next year.