Andrew Alberts' didn't have a traditional path to hockey with a dad who didn't play; he tested the waters for a couple years in the USHL before making the decision to go to Boston College. He was signed by the Boston Bruins in his senior year and that was that.
But growing up in "The State of Hockey" means that exposure to the sport is inevitable. The North Stars, the Wild, the Gophers - it was everywhere and Alberts wasn't immune to the sports' influence.
Alberts shares his tales from his journey to the NHL.
How did you get started in hockey?
I grew up watching my uncles play hockey in D1 college hockey so that got me into hockey. I would go to games and cheer on my uncles and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
My uncles played all over – Duluth, Notre Dame, Minnesota and St. John’s. One of my uncles played over in Europe and in the IHL but I was too young go see it but I remember hearing stories about them playing over there.
What was your first hockey team?
I started out just joining the youth programs in Eden Prairie – the little guys are called the Cubs so I was part of that to start, probably around four or five years old. We started out just pushing the chair around the ice learning how to skate, working on standing and stationary stuff.
I was one of those kids who took a while to get good at skating. I was a really bad skater until high school, which is when I really started working on it – I kind of just fought my way through it.
When I was little, I used to be a goal scorer - I was a centre all the time. I was one of the only kids who could skate backwards so they put me on defence and here I am today.
How old were you when you got your first pair of skates?
I think probably 3 or 4. I was lucky enough to have Red Rock lake right by my house, where my parents are still living, so we would just shovel off the lake and I was able to skate whenever we wanted.
What was hockey like growing up in your hometown?
I think being in Minnesota, it’s probably closest to how Canada is with their hockey. There’s just so much passion up here and so much knowledge about it and I think Minnesota’s kind of the same way. Kids start young and there are so many cities and so many teams around, which is great. I was lucky enough to grow up in Minnesota, where there is hockey everywhere and there is a lot of development and a lot of teams to play for - from September to March, it’s hockey, hockey, hockey.
How did you decide on the college route?
I didn’t really have any offers from anywhere, I was kind of a late bloomer and didn’t have anyone talk to me so I decided to go play Juniors for a year and see what happens. I had just an okay year in the USHL and decided to play one more year and thought if nothing happens, I’ll just go to school. I was lucky enough to have a good year and ended up going to Boston College.
I think it’s nice to know that there’s something I can do after hockey because I have my degree. When I’m done with hockey, if I want to pursue something, I have that option.
What role did your family have in your career?
They were great because they never pushed me to do anything. My dad wasn’t a hockey guy at all so I didn’t have anyone in my ear telling me to do this or that, he kind of learned with me.
My mom’s side of the family is more of the hockey family – she used to even come out and skate with us on the rink. She’d be flying around and skate a lot faster than he does. She taught me how to skate a little bit.
I have two older sisters (Libby and Gretchen), one of them didn’t play but she’d come out and put on hockey skates and come out with us all the time. We usually throw the pads on my brother, Stephen and he’d play goalie because he was the youngest.
We’d always have friends and neighbours over all the time so someone’s always out there playing. We’d play all day and then bring the lights out and play at night so we’d spent a lot of hours out there, it’s great. On Saturday and Sundays we would play all day long and then into the night under the lights.
Who was your hockey hero growing up?
I liked Mike Modano and Bobby Smith of the old North Stars = that was my team. It’s weird that I never followed any defencemen, really. It was cool to see him put on the Stars jersey again when he retired earlier this year. I remember him as an 18-year old when he played for the Stars and he was just such an exciting player to watch as a kid.
Growing up, I had Modano’s hockey card and I got a signed stick, which was pretty cool. I was maybe 10 years old and the Stars were skating at Eden Prairie’s rink for a shinny hockey game getting ready for training camp. A couple of us went to watch and I was lucky enough to get his stick.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get to the NHL?
I would say never give upon your dream even when others have put you down or told you that you can’t make it.
When I was in high school, I was cut down to the Midget B team and the coaches said I would never play high school hockey. I kind of took that to heart and said, “Alright that’s fine but I’m going to keep working as hard as I can.”
I was devastated when that happened - I got cut from Varsity, JV, Junior Gold, the Midget A team so I played Junior B. It ended up being one of the most fun years I’ve had playing because we were able to just go have fun and go out there with no pressure. The next year, I transferred to Benilde-St. Margaret's and I kind of started my career there.
Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?
Yes, all the time. Being on the ice and the Stanley Cup Finals – it’s surreal. You dream about it as a kid and when you’re there, it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling. You work hard for it and it’s a great memory.