As Josh Anderson picked himself up off the ice and turned to drop his gloves and scrap with the opposing player who put him into the boards, that’s when it hit him who he was about to fight.
At 6-foot-3, 221 lbs., the Columbus Blue Jackets forward is a pretty big boy, but now he was preparing to fight a behemoth on skates in 6-foot-9, 250 lbs. Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.
“When I dropped my gloves, I finally realized who I’m dropping them with,” Anderson told PHT this week. “You could just see the height difference. I just said to myself be patient and try to get as punches as you can in there.”
“It was a short fight, it wasn’t a long fight, which was probably a good thing in my favor,” Anderson added.
When Anderson isn’t using the physical part of his game, he’s providing plenty of production for a Blue Jackets team that’s off to another strong start at 9-6-1. After a 17-goal campaign last season, he’s followed that up with six goals in his first 14 games of the season.
A slow start would have been expected given that Anderson missed all of training camp as he and the Blue Jackets sorted out a new three-year, $5.55 million contract. So while he was in contact with his agent every day during the standoff, the 23-year-old Burlington, Ontario native did two-a-days to keep in shape as best he could. In between the workouts, he was receiving plenty of support from teammates, including Brandon Dubinsky, who went through his own tough negotiation with the New York Rangers in 2009.
“He just said hang in there, all your teammates are with you, so that made it easier,” Anderson said. “But it’s definitely tough going through it when you see your teammates at camp and all together and you see them bonding and you’re just at home. It’s not fun. But at the same time you have a life. You don’t play in the NHL for many years.”
After a deal was agreed to, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella expressed his frustrations regarding Anderson missing camp, and just how much that hurts a young player’s development. “I just think young guys need to understand the (arc) of their career, what they need to do,” he said via The Athletic. “Not pull these shenanigans because you have a good 60-70 games. I think you have to do it again, and then you start saying, ‘you know what? I want this, I want that.’ I think you need to wait your turn, I guess is what I’m saying.”
“Obviously he was really disappointed in me missing camp,” said Anderson, “but I knew that when I got back into Columbus I had to be in the best shape because I’d be one step behind everybody knowing that they’ve been at camp for a couple of weeks, on the ice every single day.”
Anderson was given a regular opportunity to stick in the NHL last season. After two years of playing mostly in the AHL with the Blue Jackets’ affiliates in Springfield and Lake Erie, he changed his mentality to that of believing he could find a role.
“I was just trying to play every game thinking that I don’t want to be sent down,” he said. “John Tortorella wants you to play every game and be really consistent. [I] just wanted to play my game, every game, whether that’s hitting or scoring or making a difference to the lineup.”
So far, Anderson is backing up his talk and making a difference. He leads the Blue Jackets in goals with six and is tied for this on the team with nine points. It’s a balanced attack that’s also playing well defensively.
After all of the positives that came out of the 2016-17 regular season, the ending — a five-game exit at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins — was one to forget. But according to Anderson, the Blue Jackets haven’t erased their memories of how early their off-seasons began last spring.
“I think there’s an unfinished business mentality going through our room right now,” he said. “We played only 10 days in the playoffs last year. Obviously you want to play longer than that, but I think this year we got younger and we got faster and more skilled.
“Going through some stuff like that last year helps our team this year, and I think we’ve got to do the same thing we did last year and treat every day with a business-like style. If we keep doing that and getting better each day I think we’ll be fine.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.