Before the Saturday night game against the South Carolina Stingrays, I had the pleasure of talking with defenseman Robert “Robbie” Calisti. The 22-year-old Toronto native recently became a member of the Atlanta Gladiators, and so far has contributed one goal and one assist, accumulating a total of two points. As the team enters the second half of the season, Calisti remains eager to maintain a positive impact on the team. During our initial interaction, I inquired about how things had been going, and later on, I posed some questions from a pair of young hockey enthusiasts.
Zehner: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, how have things been going so far for you?
Calisti: It’s been going good, just enjoying it. It’s always a little bit of a change getting traded and all, but it’s been great so far.
Zehner: Have you been getting settled okay?
Calisti: Yeah, the first little bit is always a little bit confusing and a little bit much, but it’s been good. I was in Florida at the beginning of last year (with the Everblades). I played my first pro game here, and scored my first goal in the spring.
Zehner: Before you were at Kalamazoo, you were with the Florida Everblades. Has it been interesting for you to play against them?
Calisti: I love that, actually, any time you can play against your former team. And I scored a big goal against them, which is cool. So it’s always fun. Yeah, looking forward to playing them again.
Zehner: How has it been living down this area?
Calisti: It’s a little bit warmer than it was in Michigan. Definitely not as warm as it was in Florida but ultimately the weather is great and it’s supposed to get a little warmer, so looking forward to that.
Zehner: The last couple of weeks I know have been kind of up and down with the way that the games have been going. How are you guys all kind of trying to talk yourselves through all of that, and what are some of the things that you guys are trying to do as a team?
Calisti: I think we’re just trying to play meaningful hockey. I know in the room we’ve been talking about it a lot. Every game matters for us now. Just trying to build one game at a time, get good starts, and finish games hard. We’re always in every game for the most part. Just that consistent effort and not making the wrong play at the wrong time, that costs us. But ultimately, just wanted to play competitive hockey from here on out. It starts now, and it’s for the rest of the year.
Zehner: Tonight is Star Wars night. Are you a big Star Wars fan at all?
Calisti: I like Star Wars, but I’m not as crazy as some fans. I know there are a lot of people out there who are hardcore, but I like them all. I’ve seen them all. Yeah, I hear it’s going to be pretty good tonight.
Zehner: I do have a couple of questions from some of our younger hockey fans. We have Olivia up first, age 12. She wanted to know if when you were younger and you were learning hockey, you ever got a chance to play with girls on your team or against girls’ teams, and what did you think of that experience? Now that we especially have the professional women’s hockey league happening, what do you think about women in sports in particular with hockey?
Calisti: I think it’s great. Yeah, when I was younger, obviously just growing up, you play with girls, they’re always good. In Kalamazoo there we had our goalie; we signed the first pro-girl goalie who ever played a game with us. So, it was cool, she ended up getting the win for us in overtime. It was a cool experience; it brought a lot of new attention to the game that I think the game needs. It was cool, I think the game is growing in a positive direction from that.
Zehner: Especially with young fans too, I know myself included, grew up watching just about every sport. My mom watched just about everything, so to be able to see women get more involved with sports, in particular with hockey, is cool for me.
Zehner: The next question is one from my nephew Logan, who is age 10. He is a huge Golden Knights fan. Probably shouldn’t admit that today because I’m a Penguins fan. He wanted to know if you had any professional sports heroes or any sports idols growing up. Why is that important for you as a player?
Calisti: I was a Leafs fan growing up. When I was younger, the Leafs weren’t necessarily the greatest, but I looked up to guys on that team. They had Mats Sundin there, who was not on the best team, but he’s led by example, did things the right way, and he’s in the Hall of Fame for that. It’s always good to look up to someone who almost seems like they’re bigger than the game, but they always do things the right way, carry themselves right on and off the ice.
Zehner: We’re seeing a lot of players like Sidney Crosby, who is now 36, “Geno” Malkin, & Kris Letang, continue to have long NHL careers. Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years progressing in the sport?
Calisti: I just think trying to develop my game. I feel like what I can bring to the table is kind of that newer way of defenseman, you know, good skater, like to handle the puck, jump into play but just try to take care of your end first, not try to do too much. The game can kind of put you in a pretzel sometimes if you try to do too much, so just keep it simple. Jump in when you can, help in when you can, and be a good teammate. I think that’s huge, being a good teammate, especially at the pro levels. Everyone wants to be a good player, but that only brings you so far. You’ve got to be a good person on the ice, off the ice, to everyone that you meet. I’m just trying to find my way and help the team in any way I can.
Zehner: The Gladiators are painting the ice tonight after the game for Stick It to Cancer night. Do you have a personal connection with that at all?
Calisti: I don’t, luckily. No one in my family has been targeted by cancer or anything like that. But, you know, I know it’s huge, it’s horrible, but it’s just the reality of life. [The event] is cool for the fans, cool for the players, and gets everyone involved, so it brings good attention and awareness to [the cause as well as] our game.
Zehner: Anything else that you want fans to know about you in particular, since you’re new to the team, to help them get to know you a bit better?
Calisti: Nothing crazy, honestly. I just want to win. I like winning. I like playing a fun, exciting game. I like making plays. But yeah, like I said, we just want to play competitive hockey, and that’s all I want to do. We’re looking to have a good second half of the season here and hopefully make some noise.