It's only November, but Chris Drury has the Buffalo Sabres thinking Stanley Cup. The 30-year-old forward is paving the way for perhaps another crowning jewel in what has been a sparkling athletic career, both on the ice and on the diamond.
In this week's Facing Off, the Sabres captain tells us what it was like to meet his boyhood idol, which NHL player has him lining up to buy tickets and what could make him return to his home state of Connecticut after his NHL days are done.
Question from David Amber: Your older brother Ted blazed a trail for you into the NHL. What did he teach you as a hockey player?
Answer from Chris Drury: Initially, he taught me the value of hard work. When we were kids, he was always doing something to get better. He was always shooting pucks in the backyard. I remember he used to walk around with a tennis ball in his hands, squeezing it to strengthen his forearms. He even wore ankle weights in high school to strengthen his legs. I saw firsthand how hard he worked and where it got him; it taught me the value of hard work at an early age.
Q: In 1998, you won the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA men's hockey player. Where do you keep that trophy?
A: It's actually in a storage facility in Connecticut [laughs]. That's not too glamorous, is it?
Q: Why is it there?
A: I don't know. I guess simply I just didn't feel right having it out on display. Maybe when I retire, when I'm older, it will find a shelf somewhere in the house.
Q: You played for a Connecticut championship team at the Little League World Series. Why did you choose hockey over baseball?
A: I actually had an injury I suffered playing hockey, a wrist injury. The doctors told me I couldn't play baseball for a year because I couldn't throw or swing, but after five months of rehab, they let me play hockey with a brace. So, that was the big summer before junior year and that kind of made the decision for me.
Q: I recently spoke with New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, and he laughed when I asked what his professional career would have been like had he chosen hockey instead of baseball. What about you? What kind of major league baseball player could you have been?
A: Baseball was probably my first love as a kid, but who knows how far I could have gone. My old high school baseball coach said I definitely could have played at a good Division I school, and then from there, who knows. I definitely wouldn't project myself to be a major leaguer by any means, but if I did get into a good Division I program, then who knows where it could have gone from there.
Q: You were a pitcher back in Little League. If you could face one major league hitter today, who would you face?
A: Well, I'm a Yankees fan, so I guess anyone on the Red Sox. Manny [Ramirez] would be fun, but he's pretty good, so I don't know.
Q: You are one of a number of two- or three-sport athletes in the NHL. Who do you think is the best pure athlete in the game today?
A: [Long pause.] That's a good question. In college, when we used to play basketball or even soccer, you could tell right away who was athletic and who was just a hockey player. I haven't been exposed to enough players in the NHL to say for sure, but I would say maybe Jarome Iginla. I wouldn't put anything by Jarome, he could do anything he wanted with how athletic, fast and strong he is. I know Marc Savard is a great golfer, I don't know if that counts. Some of the European guys with their love of soccer are maybe in there, too.
Q: I read that your boyhood idol was former Yankees great Don Mattingly. Have you met him?
A: Yeah, I have. We actually got invited to Yankee Stadium after we won the Little League World Series. We were in the dugout watching batting practice and Steve Sax came into the dugout and said, "Where's the pitcher?" I pitched the championship game, so I assumed he was talking about me, so I jumped up and played catch with him. I have a picture of me pitching to Sax, who was in the catcher's position, with Mattingly standing in the batter's box pretending like he's going to hit. It was a huge thrill for me.
Q: Did any of the Yankees take batting practice against you?
A: No way. Are you kidding me [laughs]? I would have got killed. But it was great meeting the team, especially Mattingly, who was a real gentleman. I will never forget that.
Q: You were part of the silver-medal-winning team for the U.S. at the 2002 Olympics. At the 2006 Games, the team won once in six games. How would you describe the state of U.S. hockey right now?
A: I think other than that transitional Olympic team, I think it's in good hands, actually, I know it's in good hands. They have a good plan in place in terms of youth hockey development, making the game fun and teaching skills. The guys running the show know what they're doing. It was a tough Olympics for us, no one's denying that, but I did think it was a transitional phase. Just look at how many Americans went in the first round of the draft this past year and in previous years, so I think we should be happy where U.S. hockey is right now.
Q: What was your reaction when Jeremy Roenick wasn't named to the team?
A: I wasn't totally surprised. There's a whole bunch of guys who could have been on the team that weren't. It's a good problem to have when they pick a team and there are people second-guessing and complaining.
Q: You're a very modest, soft-spoken guy who always puts the team first. What do you think about a guy like J.R., who by all accounts is a self-promoter and isn't afraid to admit it?
A: I have talked to him about it and I have read all sorts of articles about him, and as an American, he's a guy I have to look up to. Just look at his numbers, they're amazing. He may call himself a self-promoter, but at the end of the day, he is also a league promoter. I think he loves this game so much, he loves to talk about it and he loves to play the game. A lot of people would say if you had more guys like J.R., who are open and honest, the game would be easier to sell.
Q: As a New England kid, what was it like playing with Ray Bourque the year he won his only Stanley Cup?
A: It was a huge thrill. It was great getting to know him personally, then to see him win the Cup, his only Cup, and then to have him retire with the Cup was amazing. The day he was traded to us, it was kind of surreal. Everyone knew Bourque was going to be traded, but no one knew where. We were in Calgary for a game, and we had heard the Bruins pulled [Dave] Andreychuk off the ice during practice, so we knew he was getting traded, too. First, we heard Andreychuk was coming to Colorado and everyone kept hearing rumors that maybe Bourque was coming, too. I just was happy I wasn't going the other way so I had the chance to play with both those guys and win a Cup with Bourque.
Q: You're a Calder Trophy winner, a Stanley Cup winner, a great team player, but you've been traded twice. Describe that feeling, when you're traded.
A: The first one was the toughest because it was during the season. It was just a few days before opening night when I was traded to Calgary, that's a tough transition to make. In the summer, you're kind of removed from the game anyway, so to go to training camp on Day One as the new guy isn't so bad. Getting traded makes you grow up pretty fast. Right away, you realize what a business it is and you have to expect the unexpected. When I was traded by Colorado, we were at the practice rink and I got called in to the office. Avs GM Pierre Lacroix wasn't there, but the whole brain trust, including Coach [Bob] Hartley was, and Lacroix told me on speakerphone that I had been traded. I was a little shocked even though my name had been thrown around a little bit.
A: That's tough, they both bring so much to the rink. I guess Peter's younger, so wisdom would be to take him right now, but Joe has been doing it for so long at such a high level, he never seems to slow down, he trains so hard every year, so there are arguments for both I think. Joe hasn't missed many games in his career while Peter has, so it's a tough decision for anybody to make.
Q: What's been the best part of this incredible start for the Sabres?
A: When you're on a streak, everything is better; the flights are shorter, the food tastes better, it's just fun every day. I love seeing how hungry the guys are. When we won five in a row, no one was saying, "Oh, this is great, let's take a few days off." Every night, the guys are dying to compete. It's a great thing to see.
Q: How would you describe the Sabres? What type of team are they?
A: Competitive. Even in practice, when we do 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 drills, it's amazing to watch, and it shows in our games, too. Whatever the score, whether we are leading or trailing, guys are willing to compete hard and it's a great thing to have.
Q: Aside from the Sabres, who do you see as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season?
A: Probably Carolina. They didn't get off to the start they wanted to, but it's always hard the year after winning the Cup. Until someone knocks them off, they are the champs and they are right up there as far as the teams to beat. I also think Ottawa has a lot of firepower. They are deep and well-coached. I was also impressed with Atlanta when we played them; they have great goaltending from [Kari] Lehtonen and they are extremely well-coached. I played for Hartley and he knows the game and how to get the most out of his players, so they will be tough to beat.
Q: When you look around the league, who do you think is the best young player in the game?
A: Wow, there are so many right now. [Alexander] Ovechkin, [Dion] Phaneuf, [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. We have [Thomas] Vanek and [Ryan] Miller on our team, so there is a lot of good young talent.
Q: But is there one guy that makes you say, "Wow, this guy is special?"
A: You know, there's a guy who isn't too young or new, but I love his game and that's Marian Hossa. I think he's amazing, the things he does offensively and how strong he is on his feet and how explosive he is, he is definitely a guy I would pay to watch. He is something else out there.
Q: Of course, he did finish second to you in rookie of the year voting all those years ago.
A: [Laughs.] Yeah, he did.
Q: What will you do after your career ends? You're from Connecticut, not far from ESPN, so maybe a career in broadcasting?
A: That's right. Maybe [John] Buccigross and I could work together.
Q: Get a mullet on you and maybe you could work with Barry Melrose, too?
A: [Laughs.] I don't know, he seems to be doing pretty well without any help.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.