Joel Rechlicz is currently the only potential fourth-line enforcer on the Islanders’ roster. Unlike several teams in the East, the Islanders have not added one. Rechlicz was a healthy scratch in games in Bridgeport last season. Nevertheless, the signs point towards the Islanders giving the 6-4, 220-pound forward every chance to make the team. I like Joel. Great energy, huge heart, fantastic Rockyesque story. But I’ve written that it seems pretty obvious he needs to do a lot more in the pros to make it to the NHL, and I didn’t want to be a phony about it. So I sat down with him today after the scrimmage.
Do you think the enforcer’s job on the Islanders is yours?
I don’t know about that. I just know I’m very serious about making the Islanders next season. Very serious. I want to be there all season. I want the job, and I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in the best position to win it.
Garth Snow has yet to add another tough guy to the roster this off-season. Has he told you the job is yours?
I don’t want to get into what management tells me. I’ll just say they’ve been supportive, and it’s been great to have someone I respect as much as Eric Cairns giving me guidance. They wanted me to come down for this July camp and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I know they believe in me.
I’ve written that my concern is, just as you wouldn’t rush a skilled defenseman like Calvin de Haan, there’s no reason why the Islanders should rush an enforcer. You haven’t played a lot of pro. You were a scratch for games in Bridgeport.
I can respect your view. That’s okay. You see me more as a player and I appreciate that. I’m just looking forward and preparing like I can win a spot on the Islanders this year. I don’t want anyone to take my job. If I don’t make it, I’m gonna go down swinging.
From the looks of it at this camp, you’ve been on the ice a lot since the end of the season.
I have. I’m working on the fighting, of course, but I’m really trying to improve all of my skill sets. I’m skating, working on puck control. I have to be more of a player. The Islanders don’t want some guy on the fourth line who only plays a minute a game, and I don’t blame them. I have to prove I’m capable of more out there.
I know you work out with your brother Mark a lot.
The only reason I’m not on Long Island the whole summer is because I want to be there for my little brother. He wants to make it, too. He played in Odessa this season and I want to help him. We help each other out, push each other.
Yeah (laughs). I know this might sound funny to some people, but I use a skills video that Alexei Kovalev put out a while ago. I go out in the driveway and work on my puck skills. Hey, whatever works, you know?
The teams in the East continue to load up on big guys. Do you watch film on the top fighters?
All the time. I have to be ready. You got Donald Brashear with the Rangers now. Eric Godard in Pittsburgh, and they added (Mike) Rupp. Cote and Carcillo and everyone else in Philly. Colton Orr’s now in Toronto. You got that Leblond kid in New Jersey. He’s real tough. There’s a lot of great fighters out there. Last season I did whatever possible to be prepared, and Cairnsy often called me the night before a game to get me ready for possible opponents.
Where do you practice your fighting?
I have a heavy bag in my garage. I’m in there constantly. I do a lot of workouts in a warehouse near my home.
Sounds like Rocky.
Sort of. We have lots of room to do our stuff. We work out for hours on end. We box. We lift weights. We even flip tractor tires. Some days I leave that warehouse and I am literally drained. I know I have to get stronger. I know I still have a lot to improve.
Your fight last season with Georges Laraque, you…uh…
Go ahead. You can say it.
You looked out of your league.
I haven’t stopped thinking about that fight since it ended. What can I say? Georges is the best fighter in the game and he took care of me. That’s all right. He saw me run Tom Kotsopoulos and he did his job. I said, “Georges, do you want to go with me”? He showed me respect and gave me a fight. Where I blew it is, I messed up the “grab.” Once I didn’t get in there and get a hold of him, it was trouble. I’ll learn from it. If Georges gives me another shot someday, I’ll be there.
The only hockey fight lesson I ever got was from Gino Odjick. Besides getting my rear kicked, Gino taught me that defense is a big part of what you guys do.
Protecting yourself is a huge part of it, no doubt. There’s a lot more that goes into it than most people realize. To take on the best, I have to improve every aspect of it.
But do you really think you’re ready for the heavyweights in this league?
When someone takes a run at anyone on the Islanders, I’m gonna fly over. I can’t say I’m going to win every fight. Even the best guys don’t win them all. But I’m getting better and I’m going to continue to get better. I’ll be there to fight all the heavyweights.