Dec 16, 2003
When the 1996/97 Windsor Spitfires ran into injury trouble and found themselves in need of a quality, but short-term, defenseman, they did something a little unusual Ė they called up local boy Jason Maleyko and stuck him straight into the lineup.
Today, Maleyko is 23 and playing professional hockey for the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League. This, after a solid four year stint in the Ontario Hockey League, and two years out east playing CIS hockey for St. Maryís University.
Recently, I had the excellent opportunity to interview Jason on a variety of hockey related issues, and specifically, his sometimes fight-filled nights patrolling the blue line for the Windsor Spitfires, Oshawa Generals and the Brampton Battalion.
Rob: Hey Jason, welcome to OHL Tough Guys.
Jason: Thanks Rob. Glad to help you out.
Rob: Let's start with some general hockey questions, okay?
Jason: Sure, sounds good.
Rob: How did it happen that the Spits called you up as a 15 year old?
Jason: They invited me to their training camp that year, and I played pretty well. They asked me to play a few exhibition games, and I decided to do it. I knew that I would lose my scholarship eligibility, but I always wanted to play in the OHL. I then started the year in Leamington, and when they needed me to play defense for them they called me up.
Rob: What were you thinking before stepping onto the ice at Windsor Arena for the first time in front of the big crowd?
Jason: I was a little bit nervous, I was playing in an arena that I had watched so many Spitfire games in as a kid. It was always my goal to play in the OHL and to play for my hometown team was pretty exciting.
Rob: The following summer you were drafted by Oshawa, tell me about it.
Jason: I had mixed emotions when I was drafted by the Generals. I wanted to stay and play in Windsor, but they had a new coach (Vern Stenlund) and new management and I wasnít really a part of their plans. I was moving to a new city, so that was a big adjustment. In the beginning I was playing well and playing a lot, but as the season went on my ice time went down. It was frustrating not playing that much, but with their six veteran defensemen in front of me on the depth chart, I had to pay my dues.
Rob: And then, in the expansion draft, you were picked up by Brampton. Was it tough to move after just one season in Oshawa?
Jason: I was upset when I first learned that I was picked up by the Battalion, but looking back at my OHL career, it was the best break that I got. I learned so much from Stan Butler, and had three great years in Brampton.
Rob: You left there as the team captain. Was it hard to say goodbye?
Jason: It was very tough to leave Brampton. I had made so many friends in Brampton and had lived with a great family for 3 years. It seemed that those 3 years just went by so fast. My years in Brampton were very memorable.
Rob: What made you decide to give university hockey a try?
Jason: I was drafted by Ottawa, and I went to their camp the year after my over-age year. They never offered me the contract that I was looking for, so I decided that I would use my school package and get an education.
Rob: Why out east?
Jason: I went out east because a teammate (Brian Barker) that I had in Brampton was attending St. Maryís University, and he told me all about the school and the league. I had a couple of meetings with the coach at St. Maryís, so when things did not work out with Ottawa I thought that St. Maryís was my best option. The Atlantic Conference is full of players that have played major junior or professional, so the league is very competitive. The Atlantic conference is the strongest league in Canada, so I thought that would be my best option.
Rob: Who were some of the other ex-OHLers out there; teammates and opponents?
Jason: The whole league is full of ex-OHL players, and many players that I actually had a few good fights with when I played in the OHL. Players like Bob Crummer, Scott Page, Mike Hanson, and Andrew Proskurnicki were all players that played in the Atlantic conference. My team at St. Maryís had about 12-15 guys who played in the OHL. Players like Brad Morgan, Keith Delaney, Kurt Macsweyen, and Nick Foley were all players that played, or are still playing, at St. Maryís.
Rob: Youíre now in your first pro season, with Reading. How are you liking it?
Jason: Iím really enjoying my first pro season in Reading. There have been a few things that I have had to get used to, like all the free time that you have once practice is done for the day. But overall Iím really having fun playing pro hockey.
Rob: Do you anticipate being in the E a while, or is it just a stepping stone towards bigger and better things?
Jason: I hope that I will be playing full time in the AHL or higher in the future, but you never know what will happen. I attended Manchesterís camp this year, and played pretty well, so hopefully I will be called up by them or another AHL team. One thing that I have learned playing pro hockey is that there are a lot of good hockey players playing at the ECHL and the AHL level, and sometimes you just need a break to get to the next level. Iím working hard in Reading and hopefully I will get a chance at a higher level. If things donít work out with hockey, I can at least say that I have a university education (commerce) to fall back on.
Rob: Okay, Jason, great stuff. Let's switch gears now and focus strictly
Jason: You bet!
Rob: Do you remember your first ever OHL fight?
Jason: My first ever fight in the OHL was actually in an exhibition game against the Soo. I fought a player by the name of Joe Thornton, you might recognize his name. It was a pretty good fight; we both got a few punches in.
Rob: You racked up 152 PIMs in your rookie year, is it safe to say you were trying to make a name for yourself?
Jason: I think I had about 23 fighting majors, which was quite a lot for a rookie. I was definitely trying to prove that I was tough enough to play in the league. That year I did not get a lot of ice time, so every time I was on the ice I wanted to show the coaching staff that I would stand up for my teammates, and if need be, try to get the team going.
Rob: Did any of the older guys teach you how to handle yourself, or did you just figure it out as it went?
Jason: I had a few older teammates that would give me little tips here and there, but we did not really have one guy that showed me the way. My training was on the job, each fight I would learn different tricks to use in the next fight.
Rob: Tell me a little something about some of these opponents: John Erskine, Bob Crummer, Mike Mazzuca.
Jason: I think the best fights that I had were against Bob Crummer. He was a very tough player. We just had some fights where we would go toe to toe. I actually became friends with Bob in Halifax, he attended Dalhousie University, and we would see each other all the time. We would reminisce about our old fights against each other. I think that I only fought Erskine one time, but he was a very tough player. He was actually a very skilled fighter; he knew how to tie guys up very well. I had some good fights against Mazzuca also. I canít remember if he was a lefty or not, but I hated fighting against lefties.
Rob: Who would you say, in retrospect, was your toughest fight against?
Jason: I think the toughest fight I had was against Andy Burnham. He was a big tough player. I think it was when I was 19, and Andy was playing for London. We were going toe to toe for a while, and then he punched my visor into my nose, and broke my nose. I think that was the most I have ever bled in my life. Andy and I have the same agent, and my agent always talks about that fight. Andy is one of the toughest players I played against; he is also a really nice guy. I got to know him a bit a couple of years later. We never really talked about that fight though.
Rob: Over the course of your three years in Brampton, did you develop a main rival...a guy you just knew you were going to automatically go with?
Jason: I think my first two years in Brampton; every time we played Guelph I would fight Crummer. We had some really good fights against each other. My last year in Brampton I didnít really fight that much, so I didnít really have one person that I fought that often.
Rob: Did you ever fight any Windsor Spitfires? If yes, who?
Jason: I think that I only had one fight against a player for the Spitfires. The player was Mike Rupp. I was playing for Oshawa at the time. We actually started a line brawl, and we were the only two players not kicked out of the game. The brawl started because I was beating up Rupp pretty good, and Matt Cooke jumped into the fight. After he jumped in, everybody jumped in including the goalies. That was the only line brawl that I was involved in, in my career. It was pretty exciting, because it was my first game back home in Windsor. I had a lot of fans cheering for me that game, and I think that they got a good show.
Rob: How is fighting different for you now that you are a pro?
Jason: My fighting skills are not as good as they use to be, Iím a little rusty. In university youíre not allowed to fight, so itís been a couple of years since Iíve fought. Iíve had two fights so far this year, and I fought against two pretty tough guys - Joey Sewell and Craig Olynick. Iím slowly starting to get back some of my fighting skills. At the pro level there are some really tough guys, so if youíre going to fight you have to know what youíre doing. I have a teammate this year that is a very good fighter and a tough player. He has been giving me a few tips on fighting which have helped out.
Rob: Do you have any kind of specific strategy in mind as a fight starts?
Jason: I try and get the first punch in, if I can. If you can land a punch on a guy right away, you can usually catch the guy off guard. If Iím fighting against a guy that is a good fighter, I try and let him come to me, and then I can land a couple of punches on him. I have always been a guy that usually just likes to grab the guy by the collar and just start throwing.
Rob: Is there any one guy out there, active or retired, that you would just love to get your hands on?
Jason: I donít really thing that there is one guy that I would love to fight. There are a few guys that I have played against that I can say I donít like and would love to fight again. But there is not really one guy that I would love to get my hands on.
Rob: Thanks Jason, this was fun.
Jason: My pleasure. Say hi to all my OHL friends and family will you?
Rob: Will do!
hockeyfights.com thanks OHL Tough Guys, Jason Maleyko, and says hello to all his friends and family :)
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