TORONTO – If there was, in fact, a silver lining to the disappointment of a year ago, Cody Franson appears to have found it.
His first season in Toronto went sour early and never recovered. The 25-year-old played in just 57 games, routinely visiting the press box under former Leafs coach Ron Wilson. In a one-on-one conversation, Franson explains where he went wrong and what he learned from the “toughest year mentally I had ever had.”
I wanted to start with what you talked about when you first came back [from Sweden] on Tuesday. You talked about learning something from last year. What was the biggest lesson that you looked back on over the summer and said ‘I've got to do this better?
My big thing [after] last year was really focusing on what I could control and not focusing on what I can't - lineup decisions, thought processes going into games, all that kind of stuff, that's for other people to decide. I can only control how I play in practice, how I compete, and try and put myself in the best position possible to be in the lineup the next night. I've wanted to focus more on being able to separate my work life from my home life a little bit more. I found a lot of the times last year I was taking my work home with me. I was frustrated throughout the course of the day and it [didn't allow] me to be positive when I was at the rink. I want to be able to be a more positive influence around the rink. Just trying to have more fun with things than I did last year and be able to go home and just be with family or whatever and not be thinking about the game.
How did you come to that conclusion? What allows you to come to that conclusion and say this is something that I have to change? How do you get to that point when you identify those things?
I was actually talking with my dad for a bit one day when I was at home. We were sitting on the deck. I talk to him throughout the course of the year and a lot of the times when I talked to him he knew I was frustrated. He just said, ‘You've got to be able to separate the two'. He said, ‘You can't be so frustrated all the time. All it does is build up stress, you never relax, you never have fun if you're always thinking about what's not going your way'. It made a lot of sense. He played [and] he still plays hockey. It was a very good piece of information. That was something that I really thought about after we talked about it and thought it would actually make a real big impact in how I can be able to portray myself at the rink and actually have fun and enjoy the game.
So do you think you became a person that you really weren't last year? Did it consume you a little bit and then your personality gets away from the person you actually are?
Yes. Last year was the toughest year mentally I had ever had. I didn't deal with it very well. I'd have what I thought were good days and for some reason it wouldn't quite work out the way I wanted it to. I let the frustration keep building and building rather than taking a deep breath and trying to forget about it and just focus on the next day. I was still focusing on what I couldn't control and if I just focused on what I did myself every day - and whatever happens happens - I would've been a lot fresher mentally.
Would you have done something different in hindsight with Ron? Maybe talking it out or something to move it forward rather letting it simmer?
Maybe, yeah. That's one of the things I had a tough time with last year; I didn't know how to handle that type of situation. Looking back on it now, maybe I should've went in and talked to him and seen what his thoughts were and what he wanted me to do, what he wanted me to change. It's one of those things where you learn from your mistakes and you move on and you try and improve upon them. That was my big thing over the course of the summer: taking this year and taking the experience from it, learning from it, and being able to make sure it doesn't happen again for one and be able to produce knowing what you did wrong.
And you said you wanted to be able to separate the two, what it was like away from the rink last year and where do you want it go now?
Well, last year the small little details in everything just got to me. We would do power-play stuff in practice and I'd be penalty killing, just small little things that shouldn't bother you I let bother me and I shouldn't have. It affected me in how I portrayed myself around the rink. I'm a very positive, easy-going person and last year I didn't do a very good job of showing that. I was too frustrated all the time to let myself be me I guess you could say. I just tried to figure out a way for myself to not let that happen again. I had a very tough time not being frustrated.
In hindsight, you hate going through it, but it might end up making you a better player and a better personality going forward just in terms of being around the room. You learn.
I had a good family friend of ours, Ron Flockhart, who played for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, a couple other [NHL] teams when he played, say, ‘playing in a sport like this is 90% mental'. And he said ‘There's going to be bumps along the road'. He said ‘If the road was flat the whole way and smooth', he said 'everybody would do it'. He said ‘It's just a matter of how you deal with those bumps and those hurdles and those setbacks, being able to learn from how it happened, why it happened and move forward with it and be able to improve upon it. It's just information that I've got, good advice that I've gotten from friends and family and stuff that made sense in trying to approach this year the way I want to approach it.
So when you look at this year under Randy, what do you want to show him as far as everything is concerned?
Main thing for me is showing that I'm a dedicated kid. This is what I want, this is where I want to be, I don't want to be anywhere else than here. I want to be a key factor in this team having success. I don't want to be a question mark. I want to be somebody that they can count on situations in games. I want to be somebody that they can feel comfortable putting on the ice. In order to do that, I've got to be a leader, go out there and work every day and show that I'm willing to do what it takes. I want to portray myself around the guys and around the coaches, better. If I can control the two things, I feel like my work life to my home life, [if] I can control that better I won't have a problem being positive, it'll just be natural like it always has been.
From my perspective, what drove your frustration last year was you wanted to do more. It wasn't anything else, but 'I want to take advantage of this opportunity, I want to show that I can do more with more opportunity'. And that's what the opportunity at hand is now.
Yeah, exactly. It's the competitive nature in you. When you do get your chance you want to take advantage of it and if you don't take advantage of it you're mad at yourself. Last year was just an all-around frustrating year for me. I want to right a lot of wrongs.