John Tavares spills on the World Cup of Hockey, his offseason regimen -- and his future

ByJoe McDonald ESPN logo
Friday, August 19, 2016

With the World Cup of Hockey quickly approaching -- the tournament starts Sept. 17 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto -- spoke with Team Canada forward and New York Islanders captain John Tavares about the upcoming best-on-best tournament, plus his future in New York and what fans should expect from the Islanders. What will it be like for you to play for your country again, but this time in your hometown of Toronto?

Tavares: Not many guys get that opportunity at this level. Obviously, it's a best-on-best tournament, which we don't see often, and for me to be able to play in my home country and my hometown, both of those experiences are going to be pretty special, so I want to take advantage of it. I played [in] the world juniors in Ottawa, which was something special, and I'm sure [the World Cup] is going to be a little different, but it's going to be a tremendous experience being able to play in my hometown. How are you preparing this offseason for the World Cup?

Tavares: You lose two and a half weeks that you usually have [of training camp] and also the intensity you usually have three or four weeks into the regular season once you start training camp. So the tournament starts 10 days, or just over a week, after you start camp, so everything is accelerated, everything is kind of shortened. So the way I approached the summer, I wanted to start skating a little bit more in general, even without the World Cup. I wanted to make some adjustments to the way I was approaching training in the summer, at least compared to last year.

Every year, I try to assess where I'm at and see what I need and what's the best way to approach the upcoming season. I think, for me, it worked hand-in-hand; I wanted to be on the ice a little bit more. I wanted to shore some things up in the gym. I wanted to keep my quality high, so I wasn't burning myself out, and it's just as important to make sure you get time to rest and recover. As much as you want to be ramping it up, as long as your quality is high and you're on the ice three or four days a week, as long as you take those days to recover to take care of your body to make sure you're fresh, and mentally you're in a good place as well. That's the way I try to approach it, so it kind of went hand-in-hand with what I was trying to do, but it was imperative to make sure that you weren't doing too much as the same time. Why did you decide to change your offseason routine?

Tavares: Looking back, I had the knee injury in Sochi a couple of years ago, and that really gave me six or seven months to really train for the next season, which was a great season for our team and for myself as well. I felt very good. Last summer, going into last season, I got sick really early in the year, and after that it seemed to take me a couple of weeks to really recover from that, and I wonder, as I was thinking back and looking back at the season, I just wonder if maybe, not that I think I did too much, but it was imperative that I made sure I got enough rest for the following season and really let my body recover. So, I just tried to be smart when I started back up this summer in the gym. I just took it slowly with a real big recovery type of approach, and I just wanted to skate earlier because I wanted to be on the ice and have my feel. I thought that was important to have and as long as my quality is really high in the gym, I don't think I had to do as much to stay in really good shape because then if I'm getting really good work in the gym, then I go on the ice and I'm able to get quality on the ice -- a lot of good cardio, a lot of good conditioning -- I thought the two would mix really well and it would serve me best at staying fresh, staying sharp and being able to work on different things during the year. You mentioned your knee injury during the Sochi Olympics -- what it was like to watch the semifinal and final games as Team Canada won the gold medal?

Tavares: It was very hard. I wanted to be out there, obviously. I just tried to be supportive, be a good teammate and tried to stay out of the way a little bit as well, especially on game days when guys are getting into their routines and getting focused. Being part of that for the first four or five games of the tournament, you start to get into a rhythm a little bit, but being hurt you're not in that type of mindset. They usually say you're nervous, or I feel this way, too, you feel nervous when you're not [playing], you don't have any control. But we had played so well and we were so strong defensively and controlled the game so well throughout the tournament, I never really felt like we were ever going to lose. I just felt so strongly about our team and we just kept getting better each and every game and overcame some of those crucial moments in some of those tight games. But for sure, those are the games and the moments you want to be a part of -- semifinal and Olympic final -- because playing for your country is something special. Unfortunately, those circumstances happen, and you can't change that. I was still a part of winning Olympic gold, but hopefully this time around, I get that opportunity. What type of party do you think your hometown of Toronto will be able to put on during this tournament?

Tavares: I think it's going to be great. I think we know what a big hockey city it is and you get the best-on-best players in the world playing for their country, and obviously with some unique twists to the tournament with a couple of different types of teams, and the PA and the league really want to continually keep this event going on a regular type of schedule where we can keep building this event and keep making it bigger and bigger and really something guys will enjoy playing in, and it'll be a great event for our fans and to keep growing the game. I think this is really only the beginning, and Toronto is a great place to start. How do you think Team North America, the under-24 team, will fare in this type of tourney?

Tavares: I don't think there will be as much expectation for a team like that, so they're going to come out with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. As a young kid, you're still learning your way through the NHL, and being part of a best-on-best tournament, that excitement and that opportunity some of those guys are going to thrive on. There's no question the future of the game looks very good. There's so many great young players, and some of those players arguably should be playing for their countries, so I know that would be a tough thing to understand if I had to play against Team Canada, or not playing for your country is a little different type of feel, but I'm sure they'll be excited to play and bring that enthusiasm and their skill sets. During the tournament, there will be special chips in pucks and on the players to track puck speed and trajectory, along with player speed, time on ice and other advances to the game for the broadcast. What do you think of these advances to the game?

Tavares: Technology has really come a long way, especially in sports. Sports science has really come a long way. A lot of people talk about analytics, but I think a lot of that has been followed more than people realize, but certainly with technology now it allows you to track that stuff a little bit more. The sports science side, the medical side as well, has come a long way, so to add it into game action I don't think is surprising. The game, and sports in general, is heading in that direction. It'll be a unique way to understand the game and follow and be able to get some insight on some different things. Switching gears, it's rare for a player to stay with one organization for his entire career. There's been plenty of chatter recently that when your contract expires after the 2017-18 season, you could sign with another team. What would it mean for you to remain with the Islanders for the rest of your career?

Tavares: I think it would be special for any player, let alone myself. Obviously, it's come up over the last couple of months, but for me I'm trying to be business as usual. I'm just trying to prepare for this upcoming season. I've always shown my commitment there. I've always enjoyed playing there, living there, and I can't tell you the support that I've gotten, either from the organization, from our fan base, and I'm very fortunate to have that. And we have an incredible bunch of guys. We obviously lost some key pieces, but we added some good pieces this year. We've had a very similar coaching staff for a long time, and there's some stability there. I'm just trying to approach it one day at a time and focus on the upcoming season. Obviously, I would love to remain in one place your whole career and that's what you hope for; whether that happens, you never know with the way things go, but certainly that's my desire, and would love for it to work out that way. New majority owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin seem to be committed to bringing a Stanley Cup championship back to the Islanders. What is your sense?

Tavares: Yeah, I certainly sense the same thing. They are showing, right off the bat, you're seeing the moves they made in free agency and them being active and being a little bit vocal as well, they're trying to show their commitment. They have our organization on board. They have our fan base on board, and [ownership] has the same vision and same goal everyone else has, and that's to win a Stanley Cup and be competitors. Certainly, they've shown that passion and when you see that from ownership at the top, that trickles all the way down to the players and you'll see our fan base really grab on to that. Our fans are such loyal people, and they're proud to have their Islanders and it means a lot to them. So, to have somebody care as much as they do goes a long way.