When we left Zack Kassian Sunday night, he was tired from a long day of boating after an incredible Italian dinner.
That Kass was long gone Monday morning.
9:00 a.m. – We meet Zack at his gym, a 15-minute drive from his home. He’s in a private training room with 10 other guys, mostly OHL prospects. Trainer Dave Orton is the man in charge, he paces the room and helps guys as they lift, thrust, squat, sprint, etc.
9:43 a.m. – Kass is taking heat for the Canucks crew being there. “The boys are just jealous!” he laughed. The video of Zack working out will do it more justice than I can, but basically every excruciatingly hard exercise you can think of, he did. He’s in the gym every day of the week, lifting hard Monday, Wednesday and Friday, keeping things light Tuesday and Thursday. This was a heavy day and the amount of sweat coming off Kassian proves that. “I think I have a problem, I sweat way too much.”
10:31 a.m. – Five 30 second rounds on the assault bike are up next. It doesn’t look as hard as it clearly is, but the music is pumping as Zack tackles the first two rounds. “My Body” by Young the Giant comes on. Very timely. “My body tells me no, but I won't quit, Cause I want more, cause I want more.” Kass powers through the workout.
10:45 a.m. – Slow feet don’t eat. Those words were written atop the gym’s whiteboard by Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson, who works out at the same gym and is good buddies with Kassian. The saying rings true for Zack as improving his foot speed and overall quickness are at the top of his workout goals.
11:00 a.m. – Quick interview with trainer Dave reveals that he’s seen a lot of maturing in Zack since the pair started working together four years ago. Kassian is a mentor to the young players and his ‘get ‘er done’ attitude in the gym is greatly appreciated. Dave said he’s never seen Zack as focused as he is right now. “He’s pushing himself to new heights for sure. His strength and speed are improving and his game is going to be better because of it.”
11:50 a.m. – Time to eat. Only Zack earned this meal, but we come along anyways. His buddy Dan Maggio joins us for lunch at Vito's Pizzeria in Windsor, Olde Walkerville to be exact. Dan’s father Vito opened the restaurant five years ago and he owns another down the street. There’s no need to even look at the menu, “I’ve got you boys covered,” said Vito. “Big sample platter coming up. I hope you’re hungry.”
12:17 p.m. – As different plates of pizza, pasta and meats and cheeses are brought out, Zack and Dan talk about the good old days. Like the time in high school Kass thought he was athletic enough to just join the track team and compete in the track meet without training a lick. “The plan was for me to finish first, Dan would come in second and we’d blow them out of the water,” said Zack. “Then we get about halfway through everything,” laughed Dan, “and I’m waiting for Kass to hit another speed so we can win the race. Instead he fakes a leg cramp and pulls out of the race. Somehow he was fine for hockey practice that night though.”
12:45 p.m. – Food coma. I’ve never had a pasta dish as good as the pasta carbonara. We roll ourselves out of Vito’s in search of where we parked. Next stop: the house Kassian grew up in.
1:00 p.m. – Jessica and Jason rode with Zack in his Range Rover, interviewing him as he drove. I drove with Rory, following closely behind so Rory could get some shots of Zack driving. Or at least that was the plan. Kass isn’t the easiest driver to keep up with and within minutes Rory and I are lost. We somehow got in front of Kass and crew and went about 10 minutes the wrong way. Smooth.
1:20 p.m. – We’re back on track. We do a quick loop around the WFCU Centre where the Windsor Spitfires play. Kass has a lot of fond memories of his time playing for his hometown, especially of their quest to winning the Memorial Cup in 2010, in my hometown of Brandon, Manitoba, coincidently.
2:30 p.m. – We arrive at the home Kassian grew up in in Belle River, Ontario. A beautiful home at the dead end of a street, the house backs onto a canal filled with lilly pads; turtles sleep on a log in the sun it’s so peaceful. Waiting for us inside are his mom Shirley (who he called ‘Shirl’ as a kid), step-dad Blake, auntie Cathy, grandma Gigi (the star of the show) and his nephew Issac, who pointed out that his name is spelled Issac and I better not screw it up. Issac, Issac, Issac!
2:45 p.m. – The baby pictures are out and the laughter is flowing. Shirley grabs her favourite Mother’s Day present ever off the fridge and proudly shows us. It reads: “Mom I am sorry for acting werd now I am going to act good all day every day, love ya, Zack.” Adorable.
3:00 p.m. – Shirley is in the hot seat. As Jason interviews her about her son, Rory and Jessica get all the fancy camera shots needed. I, on the other hand, get to know grandma Gigi, who is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She’s 79-years-young and is feisty. She doesn’t hold back what she thinks and says everything in such a cute grandma way that even if she’s calling you out for something, it’s sweet. I try not to ask too many questions because the cameras aren’t rolling on her yet. That ended up being a wise move as during Gigi’s interview, she stole the show.
3:20 – Here’s a look at Gigi, who stays up to watch every Canucks game despite the three-hour time difference and has some advice for Kevin Bieksa.
3:25 p.m. – Gigi tells a story. She attended a dinner party in Montreal as part of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, which Zack went 13th overall in to the Buffalo Sabres. Gigi met a fellow named Bob McKenzie (yes that Bob McKenzie) at the dinner and the two of them had a nice chat about Zack, “I’m not sure how we ended up alone at the table, but he was a really nice guy,” said Gigi. So the family returns to the table and Bob is asked if he got any dirt on Zack. “I got a lot out of loose lips Gigi,” he replied, laughing. “Grandmas are the best to talk to, they always have the gossip.” Gigi turned and gave her new friend Bob a punch in the arm. “I gave him a good shot,” laughed Gigi. “Don’t be calling me loose lips Gigi anymore!”
3:45 p.m. – One final sit-down with Zack before we leave. He talks about figure skating as a kid and dressing up as Mickey Mouse (“That’s something I try to forget about”), about getting more involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Vancouver and his growing friendship with eight-year-old Nathan (“I stopped in three times when I was back in Vancouver a few weeks ago, I love that place”) and about the support he gets from his family (“I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They’ve been there every step of the way.”)
4:00 p.m. – All packed up we head out in search of the 401 en route to Toronto, but not before Kass and I pull a little prank on our cameraman Rory. Rory’s new nickname is Neck Pillow because he takes a grey neck pillow with him almost everywhere incase he has time for a nap. He’s the king of naps. Anyways, I took a photo of Zack wearing the neck pillow, then when we got 20 minutes outside of Windsor, I showed Rory and told him Zack had just texted it to me. He was not impressed, he got a little rowdy actually. I couldn’t hold in my laughter and gave him back his precious neck pillow. Good times.
A big thank you to Zack and Cassandra for letting us into their home, Zack for all the hospitality and to all your friends and family for treating us like family. Special shout out to grandma Gigi, who said she likes my writing, but “I need to get the Behind the Lens galleries up faster during the season.” Will do!
Off to Toronto we go.
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