My Morning With Igor
“And if you wanna mess with me, I’m gonna let let go tonight. You better get get back in line.” (Atomic Tom, Let Let Go Tonight)
If you were to ask a younger Igor Gongalsky what he expected to be when he grew up, his answer likely wouldn’t have been “hockey player.” When he was two, he actually started out as the antithesis to a hockey player – a figure skater. So how did he end up with a stick in his hands? “I started fighting people, then I got kicked out. They told me, ‘maybe you should pick up hockey.’”
I had the pleasure of sitting down briefly with Gongalsky after the Amerks’ morning skate. I came prepared with my questions (and without jacket, since I apparently didn’t realize how COLD the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial would be, without any fans in it), and they all flew out the window as soon as I sat down. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of hockey players in my day, but I’m not sure I’ve ever met one as down to earth and thankful for what he’s doing and where he is as Gongalsky is. He will tell you that his biggest achievement is that he’s playing at the professional level, and that he gets to spend time with the Amerks club. He’ll also tell you that he has taken his career little by little, day by day, and worked hard for where he’s gotten. As a fan, and a blogger, watching Gongalsky out on the ice, there is no doubt that he works hard. Even during the skate, in his red practice jersey – which indicates that he’s playing with an injury – he was everywhere. Involved in every drill, rarely taking a moment to stop and catch his breath during the 90 minute session.
Gongalsky told me that success, for him, is something that’s found in knowing that his coaches and fellow teammates trust him out on the ice to get the job done. “I want to be that guy who plays last minute of the game … when he looks down the bench, and puts me out there, for me, that’s most important thing.” He also told me that he doesn’t consider himself to be a tough guy on the ice – that he was a scrappy kid, but will only drop the mitts now if necessary. Based on the number of PIM that he’s amassed this season, and the scraps I’ve seen him win, he’s certainly not afraid to use his 6-0, 225lb frame to do some work on opponents.
Gongalsky refers to his teammates as “an unbelieveable group of guys,” and considers himself very lucky to be able to have played with them both last season and this one. He shared that he’s made a lot of friends on this team, and that he can’t say enough about the atmosphere in the locker room. I asked him what his teammates might say about him, if I were to ask, and he just laughed. He said that they would only tell me great things, after they got done joking. He shared that he spends a lot of time with his roommates, going to movies and eating out, but that he hasn’t really had time to get out and explore Rochester like some of his teammates have. He did say that he is hopeful that he (and the rest of the team) will be in Rochester through the end of June (hint, hint) and that he will be able to get out and explore more. He also shared that he reads a lot – and reads anything he can get his hands on. So, if anyone wants to start a book club with Igor and I, I think we’d have some fun.
In 24 games this season with Rochester, Gongalsky has 3 points (2+1) and 48 PIM. He was sidelined with a facial injury during the most recent home game (against the Marlies), and this was his first time back on the ice since suffering the injury. He told me that it’s just something that has to heal on it’s own. Although it looked pretty gross from my point of view, he stated that he’s very hopeful to be out on the ice this weekend against the Binghamton Senators. In the Sens-Amerks most recent meeting, which the Amerks won 3-2, Gongalsky had a goal and lead the team with 7 PIM (including a 5-minute fighting major).