The Summer of T-Birds: A Chat w/ Keean WashkurakAug 27, 2023
Voice of the T-Birds Ryan Smith will be checking in periodically with some of your favorite players throughout the summer months in a series called The Summer of T-Birds.
In this installment, Ryan is chatting with Keean Washkurak, who enters his third season of pro hockey hungry for a bounce-back following an injury-riddled 2022-23 campaign.
Questions and answers have occasionally been edited for clarity.
RS: Last year was unfortunately a season where you had to battle different injuries. What’s the status of your health now and how are you trying to turn the page?
KW: My health is 100 percent. I’m in the gym five days a week, so I’m putting on some muscle to try not to get injured much this year or at all. Everything that was hurt last year is up to 100 percent, and I’m feeling really healthy and confident about the year.
RS: Your rookie season, you chipped in double figures in the goal column as a 20-year-old in the AHL, and you filled in for all sorts of situations with COVID quarantines, injuries, etc. – how much confidence did that give you to get so many reps so quickly in your career?
KW: It was huge, actually. Coming into the league, I wasn’t really expecting to play as many minutes as I did because of the guys who had COVID, injuries, and what not. Moving up the lineup helped my confidence a lot, as well as my development. That playoff run definitely helped, especially as a 20-year-old. After losing in the first round in (the OHL) for a couple of years, that deep run really boosted my confidence.
RS: What would you like to be the next steps in your development – what are you prioritizing in order to one day become an NHL regular?
KW: For me, I think it’s my speed. I feel like I’m a fast player, but you can always get faster. I’d like to put on more muscle so I have a little more weight in the corners with the type of player that I am. Speed and strength are the two big things I have been concentrating on this summer to help me get to the next level.
RS: You got to see both Will Bitten and Hugh McGing get their first shots in the NHL. Seeing those success stories and seeing how your game is developing in a similar way, does that give you a clearer picture of what (St. Louis) is looking for and how you can get your break?
KW: It definitely does help. Both of them work their tails off on every shift and come to the rink with a purpose. I have been trying to do the same thing. Living with (Hugh), I was really happy to see him go up, and the same with (Will). It paints a picture for me to try to come in and play like that while just continuing to play my game.
RS: So much of the AHL is about adjusting to what you’re doing on the ice, but now that you’re two years into your career, how much more comfortable are you with the other details, like being familiar with Springfield, knowing St. Louis’s expectations, and understanding what the coaches are looking for?
KW: It helps a lot, especially being there for a couple of years now. I remember I wasn’t really sure what I was walking into for my first year in Springfield and with the coaches, but year-by-year you just get more comfortable with the people that you’re around on a daily basis. Even with the city as well, I don’t have to use a GPS anymore to get to the rink, and knowing where you’re going to be living already helps you feel more comfortable during the year.
RS: When you’re not training and busy in the gym, you mention you’re sitting in the cottage. Where’s the vacation destination, where’s home in the offseason, and what’s on the to-do list?
KW: I’m usually on the golf course after I’m done with my skating sessions and workouts. On the weekends, I’ll head up to the cottage in Parry Sound, and I’ll be on the fishing boat for a couple of hours whether it’s by myself or with my brother. I’ve also been playing a couple of games of softball with my buddies getting back to baseball, which I played when I was younger.
RS: So, what’s your softball role? Lead-off hitter, power hitter?
KW: I’ve only played three games, and I actually hit my first home run in the last game. I’m in the fifth or sixth slot right now, but hopefully, with that homer, I can move up in the lineup a little bit.
RS: What’s the largest catch you’ve had on the fishing boat?
KW: Nothing too big this summer, but I caught a pretty big walleye up (in Parry Sound) and just a couple of three or four-pound bass.
RS: I’m the furthest thing from a fisherman. You could have told me you caught a marlin and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at you, but I guess honesty is the best policy because if you did lie and some of (your teammates) read this, they’d have something to say.
KW: Oh yeah, they would be on me for that!