By Adam Brady
The six-hour ride from Bakersfield to San Diego is never a fun one, but for Shea Theodore, this one had a nice wrinkle added to it.
Just before stepping on the bus with his San Diego Gulls teammates (following a loss to the Bakersfield Condors), the Theodore was told by Gulls GM Bob Ferguson he was getting called up to the Ducks. That bus was forced to make an unscheduled stop at a hotel near Honda Center to drop off Theodore and his equipment.
Of course, Theodore had been through this kind of thing before. Two different times this season the 20-year-old defenseman had been summoned by the big club, only to take part in a couple of practices before being shuttled back to San Diego.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time, I understood the reasoning behind it and it wasn’t like I was going back to San Diego [ticked] off,” says Theodore, sporting a week’s worth of beard growth that is in stark contrast to the baby-faced teenager who was taken by the Ducks in the first round (26th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft. “It was good to be around the team a little bit and get in a couple practices, so that when I finally got called up to actually get in the lineup I was more comfortable and felt good out there.”
|Theodore says he shook off the nervousness of that first NHL game in Calgary, “Probably about 10 seconds into the first shift. At first it’s like, I’m actually out here and then it’s more like, I’ve played this game before.” |
This time, however, was different. With Cam Fowler suffering a sprained knee in a December 27 win over Philadelphia that would ultimately keep him out for four to six weeks, all signs pointed to Theodore finally suiting up for a game. When his time finally came, it wasn’t one of the Ducks coaches who told him he was in the lineup – it was his younger sister, Alyssa.
The Theodore family had gotten some intel from Ducks Director of Player Development Todd Marchant, since they were hoping to catch the team’s December 29 game in Calgary, just an hour’s flight from the Theodores’ home just outside of Vancouver.
“I was talking to my sister and she said, ‘Oh yeah, our flights are booked tomorrow,” and I said, “For what?” She said, “You’re playing” and I was like, “Oh nice.”
Soon afterward, Theodore went into the visitor’s locker room at Scotiabank Saddledome and sure enough saw his number 53 scribbled with the rest of the Ducks lineup on the whiteboard.
“It was cool, Theodore says. “I know the first couple games, you’re kind of nervous, but it was definitely special.”
Theodore had played in that arena twice before as a junior player with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but never in front of a soldout crowd of 18,000-plus like they had that night. The nerves that crept in during the pregame went away, “Probably about 10 seconds into the first shift,” he says. “At first it’s like, I’m actually out here and then it’s more like, I’ve played this game before.”
Of course, things are much different at the NHL level, and Theodore admits that the speed and sheer strength of the guys he’s going up against is an adjustment. “But mostly, it’s probably the magnitude of just about everything,” he says. “The scoring chances are a lot bigger and everyone is fighting for goals so much more. Especially when you’re struggling to score goals, there is more pressure on every play that you make because that could be a crucial part of changing the atmosphere of the game.”
|“I just have to go with my instincts,” he says. “I’ve been playing the game for a long time, and you can’t really get away from your own game. You’ve got to go with your gut as long as you can, and right now it’s working for me.” |
While Theodore tries to learn as much as he can about the NHL game, his character off the ice is already clearly polished. After a recent win at Honda Center, he was whisked from the locker room upstairs to a postgame radio interview and was told by a Ducks staffer there were fans waiting up there.
“Probably not that many,” he said with a laugh, but he was pleasantly surprised to see a couple hundred fans who had waited around to see him.
After a recent practice he was his typically affable self while doing a 15-minute interview, after which he firmly shook the reporter’s hand and gave him a sincere, “Nice to meet you” before signing dozens of pieces of memorabilia for the Anaheim Ducks Foundation.
“I’m just trying,” he says, “to embrace every second I can get.”
Theodore has tried to make the most of his time away from the rink while living in that hotel room in Anaheim. He’s been over to The Outlets at Orange a couple times for meals and an occasional movie, spending most of his time with young goalie John Gibson, his former teammate in San Diego. When Gibson inevitably moves into a more permanent home, Theodore says he might lean on defenseman Josh Manson for a place to stay. In the meantime, most of the focus is on his game and staying in Anaheim as long as he can.
“I just have to go with my instincts,” he says. “I’ve been playing the game for a long time, and you can’t really get away from your own game. You might second-guess whether you’re throwing it through the middle to a guy through a seam. Yeah, it might get picked off, but at the same time, I’ve done it hundreds of times before. You’ve got to go with your gut as long as you can, and right now it’s working for me.”