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A wide-ranging Q&A with Coyotes fan favorite Conor Garland

Craig Morgan Avatar
December 20, 2021

Much has changed since Conor Garland and I set up an in-person interview one month ago to preview the Coyotes-Canucks game in Vancouver on Sunday. In that one-month span:

  • A shift in international travel restrictions convinced PHNX Sports that a border crossing would be ill-advised.
  • The Canucks fired GM Jim Benning and coach Travis Green after an 8-15-2 start.
  • Since then, the Canucks have won six straight games to improve to 14-15-2.
  • The Coyotes-Canucks game scheduled for Sunday was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within Vancouver’s organization, and the NHL and NHLPA later agreed to postpone cross-border games through Dec. 23. 

In-person interviews always provide better color than over-the-phone interviews, but I have had so many conversations with Garland over the past four seasons that the technology didn’t diminish the content significantly. When we set up the phone interview we had planned to talk for 15 to 20 minutes. In all, we talked for almost an hour. 

That’s just who Garland is. He’s personable, he’s thoughtful, he’s insightful, he’s funny and he is always accessible. If the Coyotes hadn’t traded him last summer, his name likely would have made its way onto the Shane Doan Good Guy Award at some point.

When I finally hung up the phone, I thought about the difficulty of gathering all of the topics that we discussed into one coherent story. I decided that it wasn’t possible. Instead, I let Garland speak unmediated in Q&A form. 

You spent your entire pro career in Arizona. How have you adjusted to life in Vancouver?

Getting adjusted to a new city, new systems, new linemates, it’s been pretty tough. I don’t feel like I’m there yet. The consistency in my game is probably taking the biggest hit just because I don’t feel like I’m fully comfortable yet and I’m a huge routine person. 

The one thing that I’ve been truly fortunate with was a worry when I first got here because of how comfortable I was in (the Coyotes) room. I was worried that that might be a one-time thing that I never got to experience again. Fortunately, I’ve become very close with the guys here. It’s an unbelievable room and everybody likes each other. That was huge for me to get comfortable even before the end of training camp.

How about the lifestyle of Vancouver vs. Arizona?

Some of the younger guys convinced me I should live in the city and I should not have listened. Living in the city is great for young guys; not so much when you have a fiancée and a dog. It’s horns and sirens all night. I never get any sleep.

Have you considered a sleep app to drown out the noise?

We have the white noise app, but it doesn’t affect our dog. When someone beeps their horn, it wakes him up and he’ll bark for three minutes. And then it’s like a cycle. The white noise only helps my fiancée, who doesn’t wake up from anything. I’ll look over and I’m like, ‘Can you tell him to stop barking?’ Nothing. Not even a wince. She’s in full sleep.

https://twitter.com/ConorGarland2/status/1418739340889493511

It sounds like the city is working out for somebody?

She loves the city. I guess there’s more to do for her to do here. The dog loves it, too. He gets his walks in, and I don’t have to worry about a hawk coming down and scooping him up like last year, living on the golf course in Arizona, when he ran away from me. It is a really pretty city when you drive over the bridge and you look at it. It’s nice. I love the desert, though, being able to golf once in a while and the restaurants there, but she loves Vancouver a lot more so I guess that’s all that really matters.

How have you adjusted to the differences in media coverage and fan expectations?

The hockey market part of it is really cool. Friday nights and Saturday nights when we’re home, it’s a crazy feeling, especially since we’ve been winning. The crowd is doing that chant about our coach and it’s just kind of picked up steam. That’s just how excited the city is about our team right now. It’s been fun since we started winning. 

How was it when you were losing?

We have been booed a few times this year, but the booing we got after the Pittsburgh game was hard. I was angry. What do you think we’re doing? I know we’re losing, but God, we’re playing hard out here and then they throw the jersey on the ice.

It is such a massive change from Arizona, which unfortunately, facts are facts, is not the biggest hockey market, to one of the biggest markets in Canada with heightened expectations and everything. When you’re in a market like this, it’s hard not to pay attention to the noise, but I think I’ve done a good job of not listening or not reading.

You work with a coach every day. What was the feeling in the room when Green was fired?

When Travis Green was let go, our room felt pretty bad. I think we understood it wasn’t Greener’s fault. He’s a great coach; a really good person. It woke us up a little bit with the responsibility of what happened, but we changed our system a little in how we’re pushing the pace and playing harder. Some guys got out of slumps. 

When Bruce Boudreau came in he said this on day one, ‘We’ve got to build a snowball here and just keep getting it bigger.’ It’s been a great analogy because it’s kind of what it feels like because we’re getting better and better. We didn’t play good against Columbus, but we found a way to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win. And then we played terrible (against San Jose), but we found a way to get timely scoring and a power-play goal, and we found a way to muck out a win. That’s what good teams do.

Before, we were a little more of a sitting back and let you make your mistakes kind of team. Now we’re trying to force teams into mistakes, which is similar to how we played under Toc (Rick Tocchet). Pushing the pace is a good way to describe it and it drags guys that were in slumps into the game. It’s more noticeable when you’re not moving your feet. 

Do you find yourself having to do more media interviews?

When I went out there for my first training-camp interview, I just chuckled because it was like 15 people, and it was training camp. It was that day that me and O (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) didn’t do great in the bag skate. I don’t know many of their names, though. Like, I knew every person’s name in our media room in Arizona, but here I think I only know two. Some of the guys will say ‘(reporter’s name) asked me this question’ and I’m like, ‘I couldn’t tell you who he is if you gave me 100 chances.’

You have had a dizzying array of linemates this season. Has that made the adjustment period harder?

I had a joke about it. I said to the guys in the room, ‘Alright. I’m taking all my linemates for dinner tomorrow night. I’ll make a reservation for 25.’ It did make it a little tougher, but now I have kind of settled in with Elias Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin.

Conor Garland had 47 goals and 96 points in 164 career games with the Coyotes. (USA TODAY Sports)

How has signing a five-year, $24.75 million deal changed your life?

It’s nice because I took a contract in Arizona (two years, $1.55 million) where I kind of bet on myself and it was stressful. Toc used to say to me, ‘I don’t want you to think that if you don’t score for a game you’re not going to get this contract and then if you score for a few games you’re going to get more money.’ It used to make me laugh because that’s actually how you think and that’s why he was such a good coach because he understood those situations and the personal part of it. 

To have five years, it has relaxed me a little bit, but it hasn’t changed my play. I just think it has made me a more mature player because you’re just solely focused on winning. Listen, guys will lie right to you if they tell you that they don’t think about personal stuff in a contract year. They’re just lying. It’s been nice just to focus on winning games. That’s probably why I’ve enjoyed it a little more since we’ve been winning. You feel more responsibility now about winning games, but it’s obviously security. You never know what could happen so it’s nice to have that. 

So if you’re not really a city nightlife kind of guy any more, what do you do with your free time?

I’m big into crime movies. So, like “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Heat” and “The Bone Collector.” We have a few guys on the team that watch a lot of movies. A bunch of us were supposed to go to Spider Man (Friday), but now with COVID, we can’t take any risks.

I watched “House of Cards,” but my fiancée never did so now we’ve been watching that together.

We all know that you’re a big coffee drinker. Have you found your spot?

There’s one next to us, but it’s just okay. My uncle has been sending me a lot so I’m good. 

What about donuts? You loved Donut Wheel in Tucson and I know you’re a big Dunkin’ Donuts guy. Have you become a Tim Hortons convert?

Our first day after we landed we went for a walk. Just out of respect I went and showed (my fiancée) Tim Hortons but we haven’t actually gone since. I did find a donut spot, though. There’s an island here called Granville Island. You have to go over the bridge to go there, but they have the best donut place called Lee’s. It’s a bit of a ride but it’s worth it. When Covid ends you’ll have to go there, but you can’t go on the weekends. It’s like a 35-minute wait.

Speaking of Covid, how is it impacting you?

It’s crazy. We all went and took the vaccine and now a bunch of players are sitting out so it’s kind of all confusing. This new variant, we have guys with it here but nobody has a symptom; like nothing, so it’s kind of strange. I don’t know. It’s beyond my intelligence.  I don’t understand it, but it’s crazy.

We had this conversation yesterday about the Olympics, like if you got picked, would you go? And I said immediately, ‘Yeah I would.’ The Olympics would mean a lot to me. My trainer was an Olympian and that was always a big deal growing up, but there’s some guys that would be very hesitant. Three to five weeks in a Chinese hospital does not sound great. 

Do you find yourself still paying attention to the Coyotes?

It’s hard to find the Coyote on TV most nights, but when we’re not playing, I can skip through Edmonton and Calgary and Seattle, though. They’re all on the same channels.

It is weird sometimes when you see the Coyotes score on the bottom of the TV and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I forgot, that’s not my team anymore.’ It’s a weird feeling. I spent a lot of years there and I have a lot of good friends. I was pulling for the fellas there at the start when they couldn’t get a win. That was tough to see.

Do you still stay in close contact with players or staff?

Oh, yeah. I have a lot of really good friends over there. I’m going to get married, not this summer but the next summer, and I would say about three of those guys will probably be in my best men group so it’s going to be really weird playing against those guys. (Clayton Keller) is the front-runner to be my best man but I’m really close with (Dave Zenobi) and Donnie (Fuller) and Stan (Wilson) and Tony (Silva).

It will be good to see all of them. We play them in Arizona (in April) on a back to back. I’m mad because I wanted some rest before playing them. I just want to win, obviously, but O and me are really looking forward to that game. We’ll probably be flying out there.

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