Hailing from Canada, Justin Vaive didn’t know what to expect when coming to Texas midway through last season.
In his home country, hockey is the most popular sport and has a strong following from coast to coast. How would it compare in the Alamo City?
From his first game in the AT&T Center, Vaive was impressed by the outpouring of support the Rampage received from the San Antonio community – both on and off the ice.
“When you hear Texas, you don’t know how it’s going to be for hockey,” Vaive said. “But we had amazing support last season and my experience was a great one in San Antonio. I loved the city and the organization.”
Vaive returned to Canada to train during the offseason with three of his former collegiate teammates from Miami (Ohio) University, where Vaive helped the club to its first ever Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championship in 2010-11. The trio of former RedHawks rented a house close to a rink in Toronto that has provided plenty of opportunities to hit the ice during the summer months.
Last year, Vaive tallied six goals and 12 assists for the Cincinnati Cycles of the ECHL before being called up to San Antonio in the spring. For the Rampage, Vaive was held off the scoresheet in 15 games, but made his presence felt physically on the ice.
At 6-foot-6, 225-pounds, Vaive said he’s been focusing on his mobility this offseason to make himself a more viable offensive threat.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time working on speed and agility,” he said. “Being a big guy, speed and agility are two things you can never get too good at, but it has definitely been my focus.”
The 23-year-old, who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (92nd overall), signed a one-year deal to return with the Rampage in July. And despite being nearly 1,500 miles from the Alamo City this offseason, Vaive said he’s been keeping up with the Rampage’s transactions.
He’s been impressed with the pieces that will return from last season’s squad, which was the most successful in the 10 year history of the franchise.
“Looking at it on paper, we are going to be really strong in goal and also defensively,” Vaive said. “Having (Jacob) Markstrom and Dov (Grumet-Morris) back this year will be huge. That one-two punch in goal last season was second to none. It’ll be great to have them back there again.”
Vaive, whose father, Rick, played in 876 career NHL games and was the Toronto Maple Leafs first 50-goal scorer in franchise history, said he’s also been trying to channel his scoring touch to help the Rampage start the season strong.
“I hope we are able to start the year the way we finished last season,” said Vaive. “During the second half of the season we really found a groove. Now we need to work on putting it together for a whole season.”