| For Kevin Bieksa, getting to the NHL didn't come over night. It took years and hours of hard work to get where he is right now in his fourth season with the Vancouver Canucks after being drafted 151st overall in the 2001 NHL Entry draft.
Few people know but he's been a Canuck from the very start. While he chose to take the college path to pursue his education, he never strayed from the place that makes him feel most at home and where he is most comfortable.
Growing up with a hockey dad, two brothers, a town that's all about hockey, there's no way to escape it and just the natural route for the 6'0 native of Grimsby, Ontario.
Bieksa shares his tales on the road to the NHL.
|How old were you when you received your first pair of skates? |
I can't remember that but my first time skating was 18 months on a frozen Bay or a point of Lake Ontario at Princess Point. That was my first recollection of skating.
I was so young so I don't remember but I've seen pictures. I've been told that I only had the skates on for a little bit and then right to the sneakers afterwards. I didn't have them on for long.
How did you get into hockey?
My dad played a lot when he was growing up. He put me and my older brother in power skating when we were young and we both seemed to enjoy it. We've played organized hockey as early as we could.
It was kind of where we both went in at the same time so it wasn't – my brother's only 18 months older than me and being very close in age, we both started at the same time so it was more my dad, more my dad having a passion for it and wanting us to get a feel for it as well.
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional hockey player growing up?
No, you don't even care at that point, you just go out and have fun and enjoy it and that's what keeps you coming back.
You don't think about [being a hockey professional hockey player] until you're a bit older.
When did you know that this was the right path for you?
I think when I had to make a decision when I was 16 to go to college or go to the OHL and that's when I started to think more along the lines of 'Is this something I want to do as a career?'. That's probably the first time I ever really sat down and thought about it.
What was your first hockey team?
My first hockey team was... Lawfield... Lawfield Canucks, actually. I'm thinking about it now and my first team was the Canucks. It's in Hamilton, where I grew up for the first seven or eight years of my life. That's ironic – I never even thought about that.
What position did you start out as on that team?
You play everything. Your coach would tell you what position you were and you'd go out and ask the referee, 'where do I line up?' So, if you were told you're a left winger, you'd go out and ask, 'I'm a left winger, where do I stand?'
Growing up, the hockey rink was my...
Home away from home.
Hanging out at the arena, we'd play and when my older brother would go on the ice, I would hang out. It was kind of where we lived, we'd go to school, come home, and then usually head to the hockey rink all night.
What was hockey like growing up in your hometown?
It was huge. In the summer, you're playing ball hockey in the streets and I had two brothers and a bunch of friend in the neighbourhood so we're always playing ball hockey in the street. Between the three of us, we're probably at the arena for three to five hours a night.
Pretty much everybody you go to high school with, you play hockey with someone or your brother did. There weren't too many people who didn't play hockey in our town growing up.
| What is your proudest hockey moment? |
Probably playing in my first NHL game. It kind of kicked later on because you don't really think about it at the time because you're so nervous about it. Right now, just looking back at it, I know it took a lot of hard work and a lot of years so it was my proudest moment.
I was actually in Winnipeg, we just played our last game before the Christmas break and I was heading home for five days back to Ontario. I was having dinner with Mike Keane and his wife after the game and I got the call from Dave [Nonis], and he said 'you're coming up tomorrow'.
Right away I thought, is this a joke because obviously I didn't know if it was Dave or not, he said it was but it could've been easily, Alex Burrows or somebody playing a joke on me. I remember that call still and the next day I was in Vancouver.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
My dad always said, 'if you're going to do a job, do it to the best of your ability, no matter what it is.' That's probably the best piece of advice, not only for hockey but for life. If you're going to do something, do it as good as you can.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to play professional hockey?
Don't give up your dream. It takes a lot of hard work, there are a lot of setbacks. A lot of times, for myself, there were a couple years where I wasn't one of the better players and I started to doubt myself, so believe in yourself, work hard and you'll achieve your goals.
You just keep going, keep plugging away and you always try to get better, that's the main thing. When you're younger, pretty much everything you can work on, you can get faster, you can get stronger, the only thing you can't do is grow. If you're a short guy, make sure you're one of the strongest guys.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get to the NHL?
I came out of college and I didn't really have high profile name or anything and I had to work my way up. Probably just working my way up the system was my biggest challenge. I wasn't given a spot, much like Alex [Burrows] and Rick Rypien, I had to go and prove I could play in this league.
I remember when I signed my first contract two and half years ago, I kind of felt that up until then, I played games but I could be sent down at any time. It felt more real when I signed that contract, it felt good and I could take a breath and now I can concentrate on just getting better.
Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?
Absolutely, when you talk to some of your friends that you play hockey with growing up and you see them in the summer time. Even going home in the summer and just seeing some of the people you went to high school with, everyone's so excited for you and they're happy and watch you on tv all the time so it's surreal to hear that.