MY STORY…BEGINS AT AGE 5…IN BELLEVILLE, ONTARIO, CANADA…
That was when I first got my skates. They were those ‘bob’ skates because they had two blades on each one.
I learned how to skate from a woman who ran a local program. I remember we would wear our helmets, and if you did well skating you got a sticker on your helmet. The goal was to get as many stickers on there as you could.
When you get good at something, it generally seems to be something you start doing at a young age. I learned young, but I naturally picked up skating. I fell in love with it. I remember my grandma would take me to practice all the time.
When I got older and actually started playing hockey, I instantly loved that too. At that age you don’t really think about making it pro, but I knew I had a real passion and love for the game. I knew that I would like to do this as long as I could, but I didn’t really think about the NHL. But as you get older you start realizing you’re pretty good, and then you start saying, ‘Wow, I would like to play in the NHL one day.’
I continued through the ranks, and once I was 11 or 12-years-old, I remember I started playing minor hockey. My dad coached me pretty much up until juniors. Those are great memories. Going to travel tournaments was fun. Everyone would load up the vans and we would stay in a hotel room for a few nights. I remember playing ball hockey with friends and teammates in the hallways of hotels. Those are the memories that always stick with me when thinking back to minor hockey.
The first time I started playing left wing was when I entered the NHL. I was pretty much always a center before. But back when I very first started, while playing in house leagues, they played me at every position. That was really fun. They’ll throw you at center or wing for one game, then defense, and then the next game you’re in goal. I think that was helpful because it’s when you find out what position you like. Actually, I loved playing in net but I just wasn’t very good at it.
In my hometown we have a junior team called the Belleville Bulls. My grandparents had season tickets so we were lucky enough to get to go with my grandma or grandfather to the games. They would take me and my brother to a lot of their games, and I really loved that. I liked the Bellville Bulls more than anything as a kid.
Growing up my hockey memories are mostly of the Bulls. We had our place in Belleville and my parents had an unfinished basement with a smooth cement floor. After a Bulls game, I would head home and shoot pucks down there and pretend I was a Bull player. I really looked up to those guys.
Hockey is big in my hometown. Competition was great, and once you started getting older, it became even more competitive. That is just the thing to do if you are from Canada. My friends, for the most part, were or wanted to be hockey players. They at least skated or wanted to have some involvement in hockey.
In Bellville the highest level you could play in minor hockey was Triple-A. We had a Bellville regional team and a bunch of other cities within an hour radius. The Bellville team was pretty good. I always played against players a year older than me. I made the older team when I was young, and I stayed with them until I went to the Ontario Hockey League.
Getting to play in the OHL was a huge deal for me. That is what I aspired to do, especially since I grew up in a junior town. I mean I thought college was intriguing for a possible free education, but playing juniors was the way for me.
My family knew going into my draft year that I was probably going to be a fairly high OHL pick. Basically, they thought it was going to be somewhere where I could play as an underage; if you get drafted in the first two rounds you can play as a 16-year-old. At the time I was 16 so I was considered an underage. Well my dad and I talked about it, and decided school would be a good option, too. As the draft came around we said if I wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds of the OHL draft, I would go to college. Luckily I got drafted in the first round and I went to Owen Sound from there.
I had a good year in the OHL so I knew I would get drafted in the NHL. Just attending the 2003 Draft in Nashville was exciting. During the process my agent said I was anywhere from an early second to third round selection. I ended up going in the fifth round, which was kind of disappointing at the time. But Colorado selected me and they were one of my favorite teams growing up. I idolized Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. I remember celebrating the occasion with my family and friends; it was a great day overall and something that I will never forget.
When I went to training camp that year, I wasn’t physically ready at all. I went back for Owen Sound for my third year of juniors and ended up missing basically the whole year with shoulder surgery. Then I entered my fourth year, which was pivotal in my career. If I had a good year I could sign with Colorado. I finished third in the scoring race in the OHL and the team did very well so I signed with Colorado. It was really amazing knowing I was going to be a pro for the next three seasons.
I remember having a good camp with Colorado, but they were pretty full. They had a veteran team, a lot of guys who were established already there. I knew going there it was a long shot to make the Avalanche, but going down to the American League was fine.
In 2005-06 I was in Lowell and got called up about 15 games into the season. That was a huge shock and a lot of fun. Walking onto the ice prior to my first game is something I will never forget. It was that “finally made it” moment, I guess you could say. It was very satisfying.