13 March, 18:45

NHL 1-on-1: Marcel Goc, important new piece in PIT's puzzle

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VR)— Centerman Marcel Goc has come in from the wasteland. PIT’s aggressive GM Ray Shero rescued Goc from the serially imploding FLA roster on March 5th for one 3rd and one 5th round draft pick, and gave him to coach Dan Byslma as a potentially pivotal piece in his Stanley Cup playoff puzzle.

Goc AM

Morning skate time for Goc in DC

Photo credit: © VR

The 30 year-old Goc has been a solid, dependable performer in the NHL since 2005-06. He is a shutdown defender with scoring upside, and has shown some of his best stuff in playoff action—he was one of FLA’s most effective 5-on-5 players in their seven game cliffhanger against NJ in 2012. As we explain below, it seems that PIT has some big assignments in mind for Goc, and it is time for fans to get to know him.

Out of Nowhere

Goc hails from Germany, a country that has produced very few NHL players. Still more difficult for his hockey development, he grew up in a small town called Calw that was located almost an hour by car from the nearest youth team. But his father had grown up around hockey in Czechoslovakia, and loved the sport. He supported and coached Marcel and his two brothers Nikolai and Sascha, and, astonishingly, all three have fashioned successful professional hockey careers.

Calw

Central marketplace in Calw

Out of the Swamp

At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Goc has the size to withstand the grind of the long NHL season, but missed about 30 games in three different years with some injuries. Goc’s early years in the NHL with San Jose and Nashville established him as a reliable second or third line centerman, and then he went to FLA as a free agent on July of 2011. This decision was a bit of a risk. The FLA swamp has swallowed too many promising players in what the team’s own fans call a “culture of losing”, and the team is set to miss the postseason for the 13th time in the last 14 years. But Goc did as much as he could to help FLA over the last two and a half years. He had 23 points and led the team in both shorthanded ice time and hits this year before he was traded to PIT. His 53% win-rate on faceoffs is another plus.

Eyeing the Cup

Goc’s combination of above average size, speed, and agility qualify him for assignment against the most dangerous attacking lines PIT will face. We suspect that GM Shero and coach Bylsma have penciled Goc in to play that role throughout the playoffs, and acquired him in anticipation of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, where they would probably face one of the biggest lines in hockey—be it Kanes, Toews, and Hossa of CHI, ANA’s Perry-Getzlaf duo, or Thornton, Burns, and Pavelsky of SJ.

Goc Benn

Goc matched against DAL's Jamie Benn earlier this season

Photo credit: © Richard Martinez, AFP

Bylsma threw Goc into the fire straight away after he joined the Penguins. The team faced Western Conference leaders SJ and ANA before a home-and-home against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. When we saw Goc in Washington on Monday, playing mostly with Craig Adams and hard-hitting Tanner Glass, he coped very well with 12 minutes of ice time, including a number of shifts against Ovechkin’s line.

Goc-Glass

Goc and Glass monitoring Brouwer and Ovi

Photo credit: © VR

When Bylsma had the last change at home against Washington on Tuesday night, he matched Goc against Ovechkin more often, again to good effect. In 23 minutes combined 5-on-5 ice time in those two games, PIT generated 11 shots while Goc was on the ice, and conceded 13. Going up against Ovechkin, Bylsma will take that.

Bylsma had quite a few thoughts on Goc when we queried him before the PIT-WSH matchup:

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Kerans: Coach, on your own roster, you just picked up Marcel Goc. Are you expecting a lot from him? Anything specific? Are you satisfied so far?

Bylsma: Well they {Goc and another trade deadline acquisition, winger Lee Stempniak} arrived at noon of the San Jose game (on March 6th ), so they had back-to-back games (against San Jose and Anaheim), plus a practice yesterday with our team. So exactly where they’re going to fit in, and how much they’re going to fit in, (there) probably hasn’t been an indicator to this point in time. (Goc is a) good, solid, defensive-minded guy, real responsible guy, good in the faceoff circle, which he’s been for us already. (He’s a) penalty kill guy, which we need him to be, and good in the faceoff circle on the penalty kill, which, last game against Anaheim he was outstanding. I see his role growing bigger as we are able to use his versatility in our lineup a little bit more than we have in the first few games. But, uh...

Kerans: So far, so good?

Bylsma: So far, so good.

Bylsma

Bylsma in the glare, Kerans on the right   Photo credit: © VR

We caught up with Marcel before the first PIT-WSH encounter for a discussion about how he made it from Germany to the NHL, and how he might help Pittsburgh in its quest for the Cup.

NHL 1-on-1: Marcel Goc and PIT’s quest for the Cup

Kerans: You’re just here with the Penguins, but you started out in Germany, Black Forest region, in the southwest, is it called “Calv” {Calw}?

Goc: Yeah, that’s where I was born.

Kerans: And fans pronounce your name “Gotch” {Goc}?

Goc: “Gotch”, yeah.

Kerans: Not usual, two of your brothers are professional players, Sascha and Nikolai. So, you’re the one in the middle?

Goc: Yes.

Kerans: How could it be, three brothers, other than that you are genetically gifted? Was your father a player? Do you have a lot of hockey in your family, or no?

Goc: There’s not a lot of hockey in the family. My dad, he came as a young boy from Czech {then Czechoslovakia} to Germany, so in Czech hockey was a little more popular.

Kerans: In his history, and in his blood, maybe?

Goc: Yeah, but he just played it for fun, like in a fun league, a hobby league in Germany.

Kerans: And he encouraged you to play, but your brother went first?

Goc: Yeah, my older brother started, and yeah, I guess we spent some time there at that rink, and we all had fun skating.

Kerans: Did you go in the summertime, occasionally, go back to Czech Republic, or no?

Goc: Uh, when I was very little, I don’t remember much there.

Kerans: But you didn’t play any hockey there?

Goc: No.

Kerans: What about your town? Germany has an extraordinary history in football. Every kid wants to play football, probably. And you wanted to play football too? But how many kids in your town would be playing hockey? A lot? Or very few?

Goc: Uh, there’s only three that I know—my two brothers and myself {chuckles}

Kerans: {laughing} How did you have enough to practice, to train? Did you have a youth club? How did it happen? It’s unusual in Germany to make a professional player, but, did you have opportunities? How far did you have to go to get to the rink? Was it a long drive?

Goc: When I started it was 50 minutes, 50-55 minutes.

Kerans: That’s a long time.

Goc: Yeah, our parents did a lot of driving, so we’ve got to thank them for doing all that for us.

Kerans: I think so, yeah.

Goc: Yeah, then when I was 12 or 13 I moved to a different team, they played (against) better teams in Germany, like it was a better league...

Kerans: What city?

Goc: Schwenningen

Kerans: Okay, and you’re older brother is still there?

Goc: He is back there now, yeah. And that’s where it all started, kind of.

Kerans: And what about your own play in football? In summertime I’m sure you tried, I’m sure all your brothers played. Did you have a lot of success? Or were you better at hockey?

Goc: At that point, at 13 or 14, I had to choose one or the other, and I picked hockey.

Kerans: Did the coaches in football want you to stay in football?

Goc: {laughing} Yeah, they wanted me to play soccer, but I liked hockey better.

Kerans: Players that go the NHL have a lot of talent. But they also work hard. And they also have coaching. It sounds like it might not be so easy for you to have good coaches (in a small town in Germany). You are 30 years old now. If you look backwards, to when you were 8 years old, 10 year olds, did you have good coaches? Or (did it) just come from God, (and) you trained yourself?

Goc: Well, my dad coached all three of us…

Kerans: Okay…

Goc:…so I think he did a very good job there. {smiling}

Kerans: Good enough! You don’t the chance in Germany to play outdoors, right? Very rarely. It’s not cold enough in your town?

Goc: Well, actually, until, I don’t know, when was it, six, seven years ago, there was a team in the second league, Ravensburg, they had an ice rink with no roof or ceiling, nothing. And when I started in Schwenningen, a lot of the buildings were not enclosed, one side was open. So it got pretty cold during the winter.

Kerans: But it was not like after school you could just go out and play…

Goc: Oh, no, no. There was maybe once for a weekend every winter {when it was cold enough for all the ponds to freeze thoroughly}.

Kerans: So if Marcel Goc grew up in Russia he’d be a different player, he’d be playing more outdoors. But you got to play enough?

Goc: Yeah (and) when it was a frozen lake I went out there.

Kerans: Did you have a special school? In Russia, in Denmark, I’ve talked to some other players from Europe, like Czech Republic, when they are 10-12 years old they can go to a different school where they have more time to train, and they can combine school and sports. Or did you go to a normal school with all the other kids throughout your youth?

Goc: No, I went to a normal school.

Kerans: And how old were you when you first thought “maybe I am good enough, I have a lot of talent, I can be professional”? And maybe your brother’s example helped? Because you see him, he’s a few years older, and you say, “if he can do it, I can do it”.

Goc: Yeah, that definitely helped me, that I saw that he made it. And I just, I don’t know, I thought at that point well, I want to follow in his footsteps and try the same thing.

Kerans: And then your younger brother too, right?

Goc: Yeah. {smiling}

Kerans: How did they discover you for the NHL? Do you know how it happened? Who talked to you? Did someone see you? Did they talk a lot to you, or it just happened as a surprise?

Goc: I guess there were scouts at the World Junior Championships and tournaments. So I guess somebody liked the way I played there, and I got drafted.

Kerans: But it’s not as though they came and talked to you, like they were thinking about it, and tried to sound you out and understand you as a person? They just saw you from a distance and drafted you. It was San Jose, right?

Goc: Yeah, I got drafted by San Jose. They actually spoke to me… I think it was at the qualification to the Olympics in Norway {in 2001}.

Kerans: It was just a short conversation, I guess, to say hello?

Goc: Yeah, they came to watch the game, and we talked after.

Kerans: And what about Pittsburgh? You’re here now; have they told you why they want you? They want you to help in the playoffs. They are going to make the playoffs. And have they discussed with you what they like about you, what they want you to do, given you a lot of instructions? Or do they just trust you already?

Goc: Well, there’s been a lot of communication. I’ve got to learn the system, make sure I know where I am supposed to be. And yeah, I think I’m getting better at it as we go on here, as I play more, get used to teammates, linemates. And they have been great so far. They’ve been talking to me between shifts and before and after games.

Kerans: My last three here. You played in the Stanley Cup playoffs recently with Florida {vs. New Jersey in 2012}, and you had a good series—you personally had a good series. I saw the numbers, the puck possession numbers, and you put up a lot of points {Goc’s 5-on-5 Corsi-for was 53%, 11.4% above the team average, and he had 5 points}. Do you bring a lot of confidence out of that? Do you remember that series? And did your team think you could win that series? It was awfully close, seven games.

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Giving New Jersey fits in the 2012 playoffs        Photo credit: © Bruce Bennett, AFP

Goc: Yeah definitely we thought we could win it, especially after we went to Jersey (for Game 6), had the lead, and lost there in overtime, and then we took it back to Florida and lost there in the second overtime.

Kerans: The league closed down after that for half a year. Did you have a lot of opportunities or offers to play in Europe, or maybe even the KHL in Russia? Or not much?

Goc: Yeah, I played in Germany, in Mannheim, where my younger brother is…

Kerans: That makes sense…

Goc: It’s the closest first league team to my home town, so…

Kerans: And what happened to the German national team? They didn’t make it to the Olympics this year. Did you get to play in qualification?

Goc DE

Goc in action for Germany in the 2005 WC, vs. Slovenia  Photo credit: © Robert Parriger, EPA

Goc: No, that’s when the league (the NHL) started, in February was the tournament, I believe, in Germany. Austria ended up winning that group.

Kerans: Well, I hope you get to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I hope it goes really well.

Goc: Thank you.

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