Italian-Canadian Michael Quesnele was one of the more unheralded signings this summer, entering into his first professional season with the Blaze after spells in the OHL with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) and Lakehead University from the Canadian University League. But with nine seasons and the age of 26, he comes with plenty of experience, “The University league is a little better (than the OHL), the guys are a little smarter and old. The biggest difference when you come up to the pro leagues is size and speed. The guys are smarter, usually in the right position and the game is a little bit quicker. I’m not the biggest guy but the pace is definitely quicker. At the same time though, you’re playing with better guys. It makes the transition a little easier.
It’s not just the players that are different as well, it’s the rinks on which we play over here, “Big Olympic-size ice is different and is pretty rare back home. Defensively, you want to keep everything outside the dots. On the bigger rinks, if you get caught on the outside, there’s so much room in the middle for guys to make plays. I like the bigger ice, I feel like I have some extra time to make plays coming out (in transition). In a small rink, you might be able to run and throw a hit but in the big rinks, you need to back off.”
Backing off is not something that seems to be part of Quesnele’s game. Despite his stature, he is very much involved in the physical side of the game, “When I was younger, I was the biggest guy on the team; I just stopped growing! I always played the physical game and as a defenceman, it’s got to be part of your game. I’ve kind of always played a harder game and try to contribute up front as best I can.”
Contributing up front hasn’t been a problem and Quesnele has been a key part of the powerplay to date. “Goalscoring-wise I’ve been fortunate with getting a couple of goals and how they’ve gone in. It’s been good but the other guys are starting to get hot now so I’m sure they’ll start scoring a few now. As long as I can chip in, contribute and help the team, it’s a good thing. Since Major Junior I’ve always been a powerplay guy. Chuck called me over the summer and said that he wanted me to contribute up front. He said he liked the way I played with my size and wanted me to bring that element. Playing the powerplay is something I’ve always done and something I take a lot of pride in doing.”
After leaving Lakehead, it seems that joining the Blaze was just meant to be, “I had some opportunities to play professionally after major junior but I wanted to get my education instead and have something to fall back on. I knew that I wanted to continue playing after my education and Europe-wise, this was my best fit. I had a little bit of history with Chuck (Weber) and I’ve played with guys like (Josh) Godfrey before, so it worked well.”
That history with Weber was joining him for the latter portion of a season on an amateur try-out with Cinncinati Cyclones (ECHL). “That year, our team in junior finished last and missed the playoffs. It was my second-to-last year, I was fortunate to get the opportunity and get called up to Cincinnati and I guess he liked what he saw and kept me around for the playoffs. Normally it is guys who have just played their last year of major junior, I was kind of surprised to get the call. I had an agent at the time who did a good job and found me a spot. We had a good run but lost in the conference finals; it was a great experience for my career to see what it was like to be a pro. I guess he (Chuck) kept tabs on me and sent me email in the off-season. I was pretty happy about that!”
Quesnele sums up the season so far well, “It’s been a tough start for us and we weren’t scoring goals. We had that crazy game against Belfast where we lost 10-8 and we’re putting pucks in the net now. Our powerplay is going now and the guys are coming together. Beating Nottingham at home was a huge step forward for us, a big character win and now I think we’re going to be successful moving forward.”