When I was younger, my parents moved me to Meadow Lake, SK to play hockey and pursue it. I played there until Bantam and got drafted by Brandon, then I got drafted by Calgary. Now I'm here. It's been a long drive, but it's been good. - Eric Roy
ABBOTSFORD, BC -- Make no mistake about it, Eric Roy knows his path to the NHL will be a long one - if it weren't, it just wouldn't feel right.
Growing up in Beauval, SK - a small community of just under 800 people - the local Charles Gauthier Arena was the social heartbeat of the town. The next nearest arena was well over an hour's drive away, which made hockey games against neighbouring communities a bit of a trek.
Then, in late April of 2011, Beauval's figurative heartbeat stopped.
"Unfortunately, [the arena] burned down. A lot of memories there were burned down with it," said Roy.
But the demise of his home rink didn't pull the plug on his dreams of hopefully one day being drafted to play in the NHL.
"When I was younger, my parents moved me to Meadow Lake, SK to play hockey and pursue it. I played there until Bantam and got drafted by Brandon, then I got drafted by Calgary. Now I'm here. It's been a long drive, but it's been good."
The Flames' 2013 fifth-rounder's motivation to play in the NHL has been heavily fueled by the revered status he carries in the tiny village. To be the first person from Beauval to accomplish such a thing would be monumental - not just individually, but communally.
"It'd be really good," Roy explained.
"The kids there in Beauval really look up to me. I'm a huge role model there. To play an NHL game, for them, would be really really exciting. My parents would be really excited for me, especially coming from a small community like that. It's going to be a long road, but I'm going to work hard for it."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound blueliner was once considered somewhat of a one-dimensional offensive defenceman. In what was a tough year for the 2012-13 Brandon Wheat Kings, Roy's minus-32 rating epitomized the team's struggles. It's something that Roy wasn't proud of and wanted to make sure everyone knew it was merely a bump in the road.
So he put his nose to the grindstone the following summer and worked extensively on coverage in his own zone, ultimately resulting a drastically different plus-minus stat line of minus-9.
"I took huge steps. It's hard to learn D-zone, but you have to take it a day at a time - and that's what I did. My coaches David Anning and Kelly McCrimmon in Brandon have really helped me along the way. I brought my plus-minus up a lot.
"You gotta do the little things in the D-zone and that's something I've been working on since day one. I'll just keep getting better with time."
In 66 games for the Wheat Kings, the offensive-minded rearguard posted 11 goals and 51 points, helping his team to the second round of the WHL playoffs - a feat that seemed unimaginable as they sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference just one season ago.
The past couple of weeks, the 19-year-old has skated alongside a handful of black aces in Abbotsford. The young players practice nearly every day, learn the tricks of the trade and become accustomed to what the professional game has to offer.
"The pace is a lot different. It's the pro ranks and we do a lot of video. There's a lot of learning here, as Coach Ward would say. It's a lot of teaching here for us new guys. There's a lot of experience to gain, especially over the summer - to learn what to do and what not to do. I've just got to keep coming here and work hard."
"I noticed that you have to work a lot harder in the pro ranks. It's really a good learning experience for me. I've been here for two weeks now and it's been a lot of fun. A lot of practices, a lot of working out."
While Roy has not yet signed an entry-level deal with the Flames, he knows the only thing he can control is the hard work and dedication it will take to earn it.
It's been a long road and a long drive, and he wouldn't have it any other way.