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Tyler Myers: Reaching New Heights

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

Ever since he was young, Tyler Myers has had an advantage.

At 6-foot-8, 229, he’s one of the most imposing figures in the field – immovable, yet graceful, with the reach of a winch and the agility of the few.

But it hasn’t always been easy. Like anything, he was forced to adapt, to learn how to make the most of his talent and those unique, natural-born qualities.

“There were definitely some advantages, but there were some drawbacks, too,” Myers said. “I would go through quite a few growth spurts growing up, so it took a while to fully understand what I was dealing with. Every six months or so I had to make a few adjustments to my skating style just to keep up with my own coordination. But once I got through that… I try to use it to my advantage as much as I can, with the reach I have.”

Myers admits he was an “awkward”-looking skater at one point. Understandable. That long and wide, smooth stride didn’t develop overnight, but as a student of the game and especially his own playing style, he was determined to make it work.

“Skating was always one of my strong suits, but growing up a lot of people wondered why I skated the way I did,” he laughed. “Like anything else, you have to determine what works for you, and for me, it was figuring out how to best use my size, my reach and my long stride to gain an advantage.

“I took a lot of power skating classes when I was younger, but the best thing for me was just getting some practice time, to learn and to see how my body responded to different techniques.”

Again: Determined.

It all began more than 20 years ago, in one of the most unlikely of places. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, the Myers family moved to Calgary, Alberta when Tyler was just 10 years old. By then he’d already developed a passion for the game, having taken interest after only one viewing south of the border.

That was all it took to set him on a prolific career path.

“My dad took me to a Houston Aeros game. It was the IHL (International Hockey League) at the time and I fell in love with it instantly. I can’t recall exactly how old I was, but I remember we were literally in the local rink’s pro shop the very next morning buying gear. The rest, they say, is history.”

Myers played junior with the Kelowna Rockets, one of the Western Hockey League’s jewel franchises. In 191 career games, he recorded 17 goals and 87 points, in a spot steadily becoming one of the key breeding grounds for Canadian elite.

You see, hockey is as big, or bigger, in the Okanagan as it is anywhere else in the country. In the short, three-and-a-half-hour journey, south on Highway 97, you’ll encounter the game at every turn. The WHL, Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, Canadian Sport School Hockey League, British Columbia Hockey League, and of course, the world-renowned Okanagan Hockey School, all preside there, within the many small towns that have helped develop some of the game’s great talent, including Myers and fellow Rocket Shea Weber – a Sicamous native.

Weber won the Memorial Cup with the Rockets back in 2004, a year before Myers made his debut as a 15-year-old. In the following four years, they remained a contender, with Myers, along with some notable names and future opponents, Tyson Barrie and Jamie Benn, leading the way.

“The Rockets have a good reputation for spitting out some good players,” Myers said. “I’ll never forget the time I spent there. It was one of the best times of my life. The best part about playing in Kelowna was winning with that team. To do it at the next level here in the NHL would be the ultimate feeling. I was fortunate to get a taste of it, and that memory – that feeling – is what drives me to do it again.”

After enjoying a career-high season with nine goals, 42 points and a plus-31 rating, Myers led the Rockets to their third WHL title back in 2009, and was named the championship MVP after scoring 20 points (5G, 15A) in just 22 post-season contests. Immediately after, he signed his first NHL contract – a three-year entry-level deal with the Buffalo Sabres, who drafted him with the 12th pick nine months earlier.

“It’s pretty strange to think about how much time has gone by and how fast it’s gone by. It honestly seems like every year goes by that much faster. I try to take advantage of it as much as I can by working as hard as I can to help put together a winning team, as cliché at that sounds. We’ll continue to do that going into the future here.”

Kelowna still holds a special place in Myers’ heart. He enjoyed his time there so much, he now lives there permanently in the off-season.

“It’s a beautiful city. I think about my time in junior pretty much every time I go home. It left such a lasting impression on me as a professional, and in my personal life.”

Fast forward to now, more than a year after the Jets acquired him from Buffalo as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian back the other way. Second only to Dustin Byfuglien, Myers averages more than 22 minutes of ice time per game and is having his best offensive season in four years. He’s flourished in a defensive capacity, too, sharing the responsibility of shutting down other teams’ top lines on a regular basis, and with a variety of partners over the course of the season.

“From the time he came in until now, his whole body of work is probably better than even we expected. He’s been that good for us,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve moved partners around for him, he changes roles, he plays against the other team’s best now very regularly, and he contributes to the offence.

“The consistency in his game has been fantastic. He doesn’t have too many off nights and even on his off nights, he’s still playing against the other team’s best and a lot of times, getting it done. He’s been very, very good.”

High praise – but it certainly isn’t the first time he’s reached heights like that.

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