There is one thing I can say about working in a steel mill. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make a man out of you.
Baseball Hall of Famer
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, back in early October, and the Ottawa Senators have just left town for a road trip, leaving goalie Cam Talbot home alone.
This particular preseason trip to Montreal, Newfoundland and New Brunswick is being treated as a three-game bonding trip for the Senators – to get their players on the same page, in hopes of avoiding yet another terrible start. For the past two seasons, the Sens have completely played their way out of contention in the very first month.
But Talbot won’t be part of this important final tune-up, nor will he be ready for opening night. Instead, the 2022 NHL all-star is home in his bedroom, plopped down on his bed, trying to escape the noise of a renovation going on downstairs.
Talbot is home dealing with a rib fracture, suffered just minutes into his preseason debut with the Sens in late September. It’s definitely not the start he was hoping for in Ottawa. The 35-year-old wanted to make a good impression on his new team and fan base, not to mention competing for the starter’s job and a new contract next season.
But Talbot is one of those guys who seems chill about everything. He’s a pro’s pro, filled with life perspective and appreciation. And with everything he’s been through in a sometimes difficult hockey journey, a little rib problem is barely a bump in the road.
Talbot’s back story reads like a cool hockey movie –
the small town, undervalued Canadian kid makes good. His formative years were completely devoted to minor hockey, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t time to expand his horizons with some road hockey.
Despite his obvious passion for the game, he never played a second of major junior hockey and was never drafted into the NHL. But he kept going. Statistically, at Alabama-Huntsville, his first two years of NCAA hockey were a disaster (a combined 3-26 record). But he kept going. All through college, he worked 12-hour shifts during the summers at his father’s steel mill. But Cam Talbot kept going.
And every step in his hockey adventure has been worth it.
Talbot and his beautiful young family have now arrived in Ottawa for a new chapter, about to begin his 10th season in the National Hockey League. He and his wife, Kelly, are super busy with their two six-year-old twins, Landon and Sloane. And they’ve already bought a house in Ottawa.
“There was zero to rent for a family of our size,” said Talbot. “And we needed an extra bedroom for family and stuff. So we ended up just buying, hoping that we’re going to be here in Ottawa for longer than the year. We’re just finishing the basement right now, getting some extra play room for the kids.”
How did you and Kelly meet?
We met in college, but she didn’t actually go to my college. Her brother (Tom Train) was like my best friend on the hockey team in college. And I always say she came for family weekend and I just joined the family. Tom was cool with it, though. I didn’t do anything behind his back. We were still best friends. I was his best man and he was in my wedding party. So no animosity there. We’re all good.
What are your kids into? Are they hockey crazy like their dad?
They love hockey. They love coming to the games more than anything. I think that’s their favorite thing. Coming to the rink with me in the morning for practice or something like that. And then coming to games and warm up, seeing me down by the glass, banging on it, cheering for Daddy. It’s the best to see them out there. But my daughter’s really into dance right now. She dances for two hours a week. My son is a really good soccer player. He’s playing twice a week and also just started hockey.
So it’s busy. There are no off days when you’re a parent, that’s for sure.
Tell us a little about your childhood, growing up in Caledonia, down near Hamilton. It was minor hockey and what else?
Minor hockey (with the Caledonia Thunder) and a lot of road hockey with my friends. One of my best friends lived across the street from me growing up. A lot of gaming, Nintendo, all that kind of stuff. If it was too cold to go outside, five or six of us would hunker down in a basement for the weekend and our parents always kind of knew just where we were. Small town. You know, pick up a phone, ‘Hey, is my kid there?’
‘Yep. Yeah, we got ’em all. They’re down in the basement here.’
Did you start out as goalie right away?
I started out as a skater where you just kind of rotate goalies, like everyone always does. But I started maybe a couple years after most of my friends, so they were all a little bit quicker than me and could handle the puck better. So whenever people didn’t want their turn in net, I took their turn. I found myself taking everyone’s turn and then I just ended up being stuck there. So I guess it worked out.
When did goaltending become something you loved and not just a tactic to stay on the team?
Probably around age 10 when I tried out for my first rep team. I think that was the first year I got my first actual goalie helmet. You know, before you’d just wear the player helmet with the little dangler hanging down so you don’t get hit in the throat. Not exactly the safest, but most people aren’t shooting that hard at that age. I also got my first set of pads around that time. And that’s when you really start loving the position – when you start to get all the gear and it’s all yours and you’re not just sharing all the other minor hockey equipment.
So let’s move forward in your hockey life. You’re 19 and playing Tier 2 junior hockey with Hamilton. Back then, you probably wouldn’t have dreamed you’d be where you are now, starting your 10th season in the NHL.
No, definitely not. I still wake up and I can’t believe I’m going into year 10 right now. My 13th year pro, 10th year in the NHL is still unfathomable to me. Back then, you didn’t really expect to get drafted out of Tier 2. I was more or less at that point, just hoping for a scholarship or maybe even an OHL team to pick me up – just to play at a little bit of a higher level. But to me, the NHL wasn’t attainable at that age.
And if I’m being honest, it wasn’t even attainable until probably my last month of college. I didn’t have an agent or an advisor in college until about a month left in my season. My coach (former NHL player Danton Cole) called me in during my third year there and asked me, ‘Do you have an agent?’ I was like, ‘Nope.’ And he handed me a sheet of paper with like five or six names. He goes, ‘You caught some eyes last week. All five of these guys have called throughout the week. If you need help, just let me know. My door’s open. But give them all a call, see what they have to say. You’re probably going to have to make a decision pretty soon.’ And so our season ended, we won our conference tournament, went to the NCAA tournament, where we lost 2-1 to Miami, the number one seed in the country. The next day, I signed with the New York Rangers and two days later I was in the American League.
It happened that quickly. It was crazy. I had no idea I was going anywhere.
Were the Rangers the only team interested in you at that point?
So the Rangers came in and the Flyers came in. Philly actually had a goalie go down either that day or the night before. So they were actually wanting me to go straight to Philly to back up the next day. So that was a tough one to turn down. But I think one of the best choices I made was the agent that I chose. He was honest with me. He goes, ‘You’re a great college goalie. You’re probably not NHL-ready. The best thing you can do is go to New York, then spend the rest of this year in Hartford. The next year you get to work with goalie coach Benoit Allaire and learn from Henrik Lundqvist.
And that was probably the best decision I made in hockey. I think had I signed with Philly, I don’t think I’d still be around. Getting rushed into a situation that you’re not ready for. New York took their time to develop me. I spent three years in the minors before I was even called up, and I think that’s what I needed. And when I got there, I was prepared.
So what’s your memory of your first NHL game? You didn’t have the easiest road to get there. And you weren’t filling in for just any goalie. You were filling in for the great Henrik Lundqvist.
It was…it was emotional. I remember just taking everything in. It was in Philadelphia. I had a whole bunch of my family drive down for the game. A bunch of my buddies drove through the night to get there. I remember being out on the ice, listening to the national anthem, nerves going crazy, heart beating out of my chest.
And then as soon as the puck drops, you try to be as calm as possible and once you make the first couple saves, you get into it. But I’ll never forget that moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t win that game. But Henrik was injured for a couple of games, so I ended up getting to play the next one in Detroit too. I just remember seeing Derick Brassard scoring the game winner for us in OT. I’m pretty sure I jumped three feet in the air when I saw that puck cross the line.
And just like that, your NHL career was underway. That had to be a slightly better job than working at your dad’s steel mill every summer during college.
Yeah. My dad was a steelworker for 37 years and finally retired a few years ago. But they basically had a work program where you get to work for the summer, either to pay for university, or help pay for your food, all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, it was a “12 hours on, 12 hours off” kind of thing, three or four days a week. You’re on a shift, so you work Monday, Tuesday, off Wednesday, Thursday, then work Friday, Saturday, Sunday, night shift. Off Monday, Tuesday, work Wednesday, Thursday. Then you’re off for the weekend, which was nice. And then that schedule just continues to roll and you alternate in between days and nights. So it was a grind.
And in between all that, I’m trying to go to the gym and get my workouts in and make sure I’m ready for college hockey season. Number one, it was great for me to see the work that my dad put in for so many years to pay for the hockey and the soccer and all the overtime that he put in too. And then it made me manage my time as well. Not only did I have to work 12 hours, I had to find some way to get to the gym and make sure I was prepared for the hockey season.
Based on your story, you’re probably that much more appreciative about being in the NHL than maybe a lot of players might be.
I definitely took the road less traveled. I’m only here because of my attitude and my work ethic. Because those are the only two things I can really control. If anyone’s going to beat me out of my job, then you know it’s going to be because they’re that much better than me, not because they ever worked harder than me, because I never took anything for granted. I still don’t in year 10, and that’s the only reason why I’m still where I am.
When you were backing up Lundqvist in New York, when did you transition from “Just happy to be there” to “I want as many starts as possible.”
I think it was probably in my second year. Lundqvist ended up getting injured and I got the net the entire time he was gone. Considering where we were in the standings, (it was great) for them to have the faith in me to not go out and get another veteran guy to replace him. Because he was out for 25 or 30 games. So they let me kind of roll with it and I was able to take the net.
I think I went 16-4-3 during his absence. And I think that was the time where I was like, ‘You know what? I can be an everyday starting goalie in this league.’ And I was lucky enough to get that opportunity when he was hurt. Then Edmonton took notice and I was lucky enough for them to trade for me that summer and give me that opportunity to be a starting goalie in the league.
What was Henrik Lundqvist like? Was he supportive? Was he a mentor? Or did he view you as a threat?
Oh, no, he was very supportive. I mean, we both wanted the same thing. We both wanted to win. The one thing I will say about him is there was always that competitiveness, that drive, and I think that was one of the things that I took notice of. It wasn’t like we were competing with each other. He was competing with everybody, you know? It wasn’t just me versus him. It was me versus the other guys. It was him versus the guys in practice. And that was one of the main things I took away from him.
He had the same drive during practice as he did in the game, and I think that’s what made him so great. And if he let a puck in, in practice, or didn’t finish a drill properly or end on a save, he’d make the guys go back and do the drill again, just so that he could do it properly and end on a save. You see the work that he puts in and it’s like, okay, if I want to get to that level, if I want to be one of the best, this is the mindset that I have to have.
So now you’re in Edmonton. Did being a starting goalie for the first time change your mindset?
I tried not to let it change my mindset at all, to be honest, whether I was playing every two weeks in New York my first year or every night in Edmonton, when I played 73 games. I put enough pressure on myself every game, so it didn’t matter how many I was playing. The pressure, the nerves, they’re always still there. So whether I was playing 20 or 50 or 70 games, it didn’t matter. It was just, ‘Go out there and give your team a chance to win.’
No one’s harder on me than me.
What’s your favorite moment so far in your NHL career?
Oh, man. I’d say one of the best for me was probably my first year in the league. Growing up a Patrick Roy fan, and a Montreal Canadiens fan, my first career shutout came at the Bell Centre against Carey Price. I think we won 1-0 in that game. So that was a pretty cool moment for me.
After that, I’d say probably the second game after my twins were born. I didn’t even get to take them home from the hospital. They were born on a Wednesday. I left Friday for the outdoor game at Winnipeg, the Heritage Classic. And getting a shutout in that game too. So that was pretty cool. And a couple days after the kids were born, I brought home a couple pucks for them. You know, I finally got to see them at home. So that was cool too.
You certainly had some highs and some lows in Minnesota last season. On the one hand, you played great and went to the 2022 NHL all-star game. But then the Wild brought in veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at the deadline and started him in the playoffs. How will you remember your final season with the Wild?
I still remember my time there fondly. It’s just one of those things, Like you alluded to before, you’ve two guys, one net. It’s tough when they go out and get a guy like Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury). You kind of see the writing on the wall. But I like to think that I did everything I could down the stretch there to make their decision tough. But, basically how it was said to me is he’s got three Cups, you’ve got none, so he’s the starting goalie in the playoffs.
So I mean, that kind of hurts but I made so many great friendships and they gave me an opportunity to prove that I could still be a starting goalie in the league after a down year and a half or so. They did what they thought was right. We did what we thought was right. And I’ll look back on that as another great time in my career, where I was able to start a bunch of games, play in the playoffs my first year, and help lead Minnesota to one of the best franchise years that they’ve ever had. So, I’ll still look back on it very fondly.
So that brings us to Ottawa. Obviously, with your injury, Anton Forsberg started the year as a clear number one. Did DJ Smith sit you and Anton Forsberg down at some point and talk about how the net here will be shared this season?
I think it’s basically if you’re playing well, you’re going to keep playing. The Senators have said all along that this year is going to be different. They want a good start, number one. They don’t want to end up behind the eight ball and playing catch up, coming down the stretch. So, I think they’ll go with whoever is playing the best. And there’s going to be that internal competition. And that’s good. Last year when the Wild brought in Flower, I played some of the best hockey I’ve played (Talbot finished last season with a 12-4 record). That internal competition is good for not only the goalies, but good for the rest of the guys in the room. And you want that. You don’t want anyone too comfortable. So I’m looking forward to the challenge this season.
And what are your thoughts on your new team so far?
I mean, from a skill level, I don’t know if there are too many teams that have as much young, talented skill as we have. So the practices aren’t goalie-friendly, that’s for sure. These guys are looking to score on pretty much every shot. But it challenges me, makes me better, makes them better. So that’s fun to be a part of.
That’s one of the other things I like is their energy – their excitement when they come to the rink. They’re not only ready to work, they want to get better, and you can tell they’re sick of losing here. So they’re ready to take the next step, win some hockey games and hopefully make the playoffs. So it seems like a good group to be around in that sense. And hopefully it keeps me young too.
Let’s close with some fun questions. You have a new mask for this season. Why did you decide to pay tribute to the TV series, “Stranger Things” with your new artwork?
I just finished watching the fourth season when I got traded. So I was like, well, the colors kind of work with the red and the black and The Upside Down and stuff like that. So I thought this would be a pretty cool concept to go with. It’s a fun show to watch but that fourth season scared the crap outta me. I think I watched that first episode when all the bones were breaking on the ceiling. I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t go to bed. I gotta watch something funny first, lighten it up a little bit.’
Have any of your fans pushed back that you finally abandoned the Ghostbusters theme you’ve run with for over a decade?
No, and I was surprised at that because everyone loved Ghostbusters. But we were running out of ideas and ways to make these Ghostbusters masks. So I think it was time to switch it up. This just made sense.
How does your schedule look on a game day?
The kids are usually up around 7am. They don’t even set an alarm anymore, which is nice. They’re my alarm clock. So they’ll come running in and I’ll help make them breakfast, then shoot off to the rink for the pregame skate. I won’t eat lunch at the rink. I’ll come home. My wife usually makes me my pre-game meal. It’s chicken, gluten-free pasta, broccoli, pretty standard, some avocado on the side.
Then I’ll usually play with the kids for about an hour. I’ll lay down, take a nap from 2pm until about 3:15. Sometimes I don’t even nap. Just close my eyes, lay in bed, just kind of relax and have some quiet. And then I wake up. I’m usually at the rink about two and a half hours before puck drop. Once I get there, I’m getting so old now there’s a lot more prep work to be done before warm up, I get my long warm up in and get on with the game.
Are you one of those twitchy goalies that teammates can’t even talk to before a game?
No, no. I hate that. Too serious! I’d rather just walk around and have conversations. I can’t just shut myself from the world. I’ll have my headphones on for about 10 minutes, just after I’ve got my pads on, just to get in the zone before warm up, but that’s about it.
Besides hockey, what’s your favorite sport, player or team to watch?
Probably football. I’m a big NFL guy. It seems like D.J. gives us a lot of the Sundays off, which is nice. So I spend the day on the couch. My son’s getting into it with me, which is good. I just kind of cheer for my fantasy team players. If I had to pick a team, I’d probably say the Bills, just because they’re the closest. They’re an exciting team to watch now, and their fan base is nuts, so it’s fun to watch their tailgates.
What are your fantasy football team names? Are they awesome?
No comment. You wouldn’t be able to print them [laughs].
What was your favourite purchase after you first started making serious NHL money?
Probably my first car. Yeah. Never owned a first car. So with my signing bonus from the Rangers that summer I bought a brand-new Toyota 4Runner. I guess you could say the engagement ring that I bought that summer too. My wife would kill me if I didn’t say that one. But I like the car [laughs]!
Speaking of family, with the holidays coming up, tell us about the Talbot Family Christmas.
My wife loves to decorate. My kids love to decorate the house. Our house is always full of decorations everywhere. Usually, we kind of just stick around home if family wants to come in. Now that we’ve got the kids. We usually get three days off, so I don’t want to spend two of them traveling. So it’s kind of tough. You only get Christmas Eve to Boxing Day off (from the NHL schedule). So we pretty much just tell our family if anyone wants to come over, feel free. But we just kind of stick around home and do our own thing.
Have you and the family found anything about Ottawa you like so far?
Yeah. Before we moved into our place, we had to stay downtown for a few nights until our furniture arrived. So we got to walk around the Byward Market, see the Parliament buildings and everything, which I’d never even seen before. Every time you come into town, you stay out in Kanata at the Brookstreet. Downtown is really nice, good restaurants. It’d be nice to get out there without the kids for a night, but we haven’t been able to do that yet. Just kind of getting around here, going to farmers’ markets, going to the Carp Fair. All those little things that you want to see when you get in town.
One of the things we want to do is begin work with Ottawa’s children’s hospital (CHEO). We’re in the process of getting something done with that, maybe bringing kids to a game every once in a while. We’ve been throwing around the idea of “Talbots Tots” or something like that. We’ve done that kind of thing in the past with the Oilers. We worked a lot with Ronald McDonald House through the team. But this would be kind of separate, on our own. My wife and I always love doing it, especially around the holidays. It’s nice to go and lift the spirits of kids that aren’t as fortunate or are going through a tough time.
In recent seasons, Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion has put a strong emphasis on filling his roster with high character players. Whether Talbot is here longer term or not remains to be seen. Stranger things have happened. But Dorion definitely found another good one in Cam Talbot.
By Steve Warne
Photography by Sean Sisk