Justin Schultz excited to play first pro game officially on Friday
What had been a five-month process of listening, thinking, deciding and ultimately choosing a team to play for has turned into game week. He played in a pair of preseason games this past weekend, but come Friday, Schultz and the Oklahoma City Barons hit the ice in defense of their 2011-12 West Division title.
“After the first couple of (preseason) games, it finally hit me that I’m in professional hockey now,” Schultz said Monday after practice. “It’s a lot different game. I think as the week goes on, it’ll hit me more, especially when we go on the road this weekend.”
Schultz played with two different partners this weekend, Brandon Davidson on Friday and Dan Ringwald on Saturday, and in turn, revealed perhaps one of his best qualities – he can play with just about anyone. It’ll come in handy in a league where coaches are known to make changes on the fly and injuries shake things up frequently.
Schultz has often noted how happy he is to start off his professional career in the AHL. The thought was reaffirmed after his first shift Friday night. He sees the positives of the situation and intends to take full advantage of them.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from the first two preseason games was the pace,” he said. “I think I adjusted well to that after the first period. I could play with anyone. We have some great players. It’s good for me to come down here. It’s going to be a great league, and I’m just happy I can be a part of it.”
In addition to having guys like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Magnus Paajarvi in the offensive fold, Schultz has veteran defensemen Colten Teubert and Alex Plante to look up to this year.
“They’re experienced guys,” Schultz said of Teubert and Plante. “They’ve been here before. They’ve played games in the NHL, so they know what it takes. All of the guys are great and I’m looking forward to playing with all of them. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Not only does Schultz have an all-star cast surrounding him on the ice, he’s got an all-star coach in Todd Nelson.
“He’s been great,” Schultz said of his head coach. “The practices have been really good, really up tempo. He likes to have fun out there.”
Nelson was very complimentary of Schultz following Friday’s 4-0 win over the Houston Aeros. He firmly believes Schultz’s playing style is one that will generate a lot of points.
“Justin’s a guy that jumps into a play,” Nelson said. “He knows how to read an offensive situation off the rush. Being able to get the puck through on power plays is going to help him get points. He’s got a lot of skill, but one of the biggest things is how he reads the game. He’s able to jump into the rush at just the right time.”
Looking back on his busy summer, Schultz is just happy to have his mind back on actually playing hockey and not where he’ll be playing hockey.
“It was a bit overwhelming when it was all going on,” he said. “After I made the decision, I got the chance to sit back and take it all in and realized all of the cool people I met and what a good experience it was. It seemed like it would take forever to get here (game week). It was a long summer. I’m really glad it’s finally here.”