RJ Umberger: Exit Interview

Are you at the point where you can focus on the 19-5-5 finish as opposed to coming just short of the playoffs?

I don’t know if we’re there yet. Still kind of soaking it in. Last night was such an incredible roller coaster with such a high at one moment and then such a low the next. Never felt something like that. You know, I think it will take some time to reflect, but I know we’re definitely proud of the time we put in here the last two months.

What can you take from those last two months that you’re confident will transfer over to next season?

I think, as a group, we learned how to win hockey games again. You know, I think we have a foundation of how to play here, a work ethic, a group that’s shared a lot together this year. It seems like a majority of guys will be back, and I think it’s a group that has a great foundation to build off of.

I would think that extends beyond the dressing room. You talk about relationships established, and this city just had a love affair with this team late in the season. Can you see that continuing?

Absolutely. It’s like no other time here. It’s really incredible right now. There are fans everywhere coming up to players and thanking them and everything, and we should be playing this way all the time. That’s what they deserve. They enjoyed following a team, seeing them put everything out every night and their passion. They really enjoyed being able to be proud of a team.

Did you enjoy this? Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson have both said this is the most fun they’ve had as a hockey player in a long time.

Yeah, it’s been a long time since something like this…You know, winning is the most fun thing there is in sports. That’s why we play. Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we did some incredible things the last two months. The hard part is knowing, I think, we could have done a lot more in the playoffs. We weren’t going to be a team that was just happy to get in. That’s kind of the part that eats at you right now.

Are you looking forward to the move East?

Can’t wait. (laughs) I’m really excited. I love playing the East teams. I’m an East guy, so I’m really excited for it. It’s going to different. It’s going to be exciting, new. It’s going to be hard. Our division is going to be very tough, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.

I know hockey players do a lot of talking on the ice, and I don’t expect that stopped with your remarkable run this year, but was it nice that your opponents had to maybe find some new material?

(laughs) Well, I think what is nice is that we gained a little respect. For a while, we’ve been the kind of team that just got their foot stomped on, and it’s old having that happen. It’s old being the laughingstock. A lot of guys on our team have pride, and we enjoy getting some respect, and we earned it. Now we just have to continue earning it.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t believe you can duplicate what you did at the end of this season, next year?

Keep saying it, because it will just motivate us more. We did a really good job with people counting us out. I think the thing is that we were because of the strength of our team. We weren’t individuals. Our goaltender was great, but we were strong as a team. It was a team game we played every night.

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