One-on-One with Hugh Jessiman

It’s not hard to spot Lake Erie’s big man from the Big Apple.

Right winger Hugh Jessiman is the Monsters’ monster, going 6-6, 231 – the same height, but six pounds heavier than his opposite winger, Patrick Bordeleau.

The former first rounder (12th overall, 2003) is in his first year with the Monsters after splitting last season with Rockford and Rochester of the AHL and a brief stint with the Florida Panthers in late February.

The well-traveled Jessiman, who was originally drafted by his hometown Rangers, has played with four AHL clubs and has been to the Calder Cup playoffs five times. He played his college hockey for Dartmouth, where he led the team in goals as a senior.

As the Monsters try to bounce back from a rough start with a three-game homestand, sat down with the New York native to talk about his background, his new teammates and, of course, his unique nickname …

So let’s start with the nickname – “Huge Specimen.” Have you had it a while or is that something your Monsters teammates gave you?
Hugh Jessiman: That’s been around for a few years now. I was a freshman in college, and I don’t know if it was one of my teammates who came up with it. One of my teammates claimed it was him, but it was either him or a scout.

It was my draft year, so that’s when the name came up – and it stuck. It stuck, and my college buddies still call me that. My best friends really don’t call me that, but my teammates do. Guys just call me “Spess” now. It’s a great nickname.

It doesn’t bother you at all?
Jessiman: No, no. It’s hilarious!

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a 6-6 player in this game?
Jessiman: Advantage-wise, obviously the size is helpful along the walls, physically – with forechecking and protecting the puck in front of the net. Basically, places on the ice where you have to have little battles.

I guess the disadvantage is it’s harder to get the 18-wheeler going sometimes. I have the high-torque going. (Or is it low-torque?) And that’s one thing I’ve been working on – getting into gear quicker.

It’s just tough because you’ve got more limb to move, and my agility is something I need to work on more. Quick players are a little bit tougher for a big guy.

You’re built like a tight end. Did you play football or any other sports growing up?
Jessiman: I played a little bit of football, but I really didn’t play too much of that. I played soccer in high school. And I played lacrosse as well.

But hockey’s been uncontested the whole time, ever since I moved out to Connecticut when I was little.

You were actually born and raised in New York?
Jessiman: I was born in New York City. We moved to Hong Kong for a year between age one and two – my dad worked for J.P. Morgan. And then I moved back to New York until I was about seven or eight.

Then I moved to (Darien), Connecticut – basically right outside the city. I was fortunate because I got to grow up out in the suburbs but with the city right there. So, it’s been a big part of my life.

What’s the youth hockey program like in New York City?
Jessiman: Well, I really didn’t get into youth hockey until we got out to Connecticut.

I started skating when I was younger. But I started playing house hockey when I moved to Connecticut. (House hockey is like mite league; it’s not even a travel team. I was on the Whalers. They were named after NHL teams – there was the Nordiques, etc.)

But there’s some really good hockey in the tri-state area. So, as you get older – I remember playing with the Junior Devils – we started traveling out to New Jersey to play.

It’s gotten a lot better now. Even in the city with Chelsea Piers – it’s a program that’s growing there. And a lot more kids are playing. But before Chelsea Piers, there wasn’t a whole lot going on.

After getting off to a slow start, is the team finally getting its legs under it?
Jessiman: Definitely. I think we were gunning for an identity – and that’s to be a fast, in-your-face team.

I think Coach Quinn would agree that we were playing that way, but not necessarily getting the results. But we were certainly playing to the identity that we wanted to, and I think now we’re starting to gel – and it’s starting to work.

So we’re going to stick with it and stay with the same program.

Have you ever played or been part of a team that played three overtime games in three days?
Jessiman: No, I haven’t. I didn’t even think about it to be honest. Three-in-three’s are tough. But last year, and in years past, we’d have four-in-five (nights).

On the last game, you’re just emptying the tanks.

It had to be a good trip home after finishing the roadie like that.
Jessiman: The guys were really psyched. They really pulled it out. I think everyone was pumped because a win like that, we kind of felt like it was coming.

And that being a Sunday, you can bring that into this week. We’re going to ride that momentum, and we’re feeling good about ourselves.

Did your NHL stint with the Florida Panthers make you extra hungry to get back up-top as quickly as possible?
Jessiman: Yeah, it sure does. (Florida) gave me a really good opportunity by trading for me. (Panthers Assistant GM) Mike Santos brought me in. I was playing in Rochester.

Those two (NHL) games are just two games. But for me, it’s almost invaluable because the experience – just knowing that I can play at that level. And having worked so hard to get there for quite a long time, it’s almost like, you’ve tasted it and you know I can get back there.

It sort of gave meaning to the whole process. I know I can be there.

Do you feel you have a good chance this year?
Jessiman: You do have to get lucky a little bit. And I always go with the saying, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

The things you can take care of are in preparation. And then opportunity comes along when it comes along. But if you’re prepared, you can get lucky. So, obviously, I’ll do what I can to stay ready.

How are you getting on with your new teammates?
Jessiman: I love it.

David Liffiton’s son is my godson. We played together in Hartford for a few years; he’s one of my best friends. So when I told him that I might sign here, he was pretty pumped. He said it was great, said it was the best place he’s ever played.

So, obviously I took that seriously and it was pretty much a no-brainer anyways.

I’m just enjoying it. It really trickles down – from the coaching, they really provide a great culture and it’s very positive. You know that they’re not just burying us down here. You know you’re going to get an opportunity.

How important is this homestand to keep momentum going?
Jessiman: These games are crucial. It’s still early in the season, but these six points are just meaningful now as they are with 10 games left in the season.

I think it’s crucial that we stick to our gameplan and keep playing how we’re playing (and obviously shore up some of the mistakes that cost us two points in the first five games). And I really feel like we’ve got a good thing going and being at home, it’s going to be great going in front of the home crowd again.


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