My Story... Begins at Age 3... In Yorkton, Saskatchewan...
We moved there from Neudorf, which has a population of around 250 people and is about 30 minutes from Melville, the town of around 5,000 that I was born in.
I skated for the first time at 3 and I first played organized hockey when I was 4. I played with my older brother and all of his friends. We had to make the ice. Everyone’s family would go and flood the rink, take turns flooding and shoveling to make the ice, and we had it for four or five months in the winter and that was it. So we took advantage of it. I remember the rink was so cold all of the time because it was minus 40, minus 50 back there and I wouldn’t wear hockey gloves. Instead I wore like mittens and kept my hands warm and big wool socks, and a hat.
As a kid I think I played every position. I actually started off playing defense probably my first two or three years of hockey then moved to forward where I’ve stayed since.. My first couple years of skating I remember I had a figure skating coach. That’s how I learned how to skate. So it was kind of a different aspect there, but it definitely taught me how to go on your edges and turn and stop and accelerate and stuff like that.
I think hockey came pretty natural to me. It was one of those things where it wasn’t easy by any means, but it was comfortable. You are stick handling and raising the puck at an early age and a lot of kids have trouble with that. I just had access to the rink all the time, as pretty much every family in the town had a key to the rink, so we could go whenever we wanted to and work on stuff. You would go to school, you would go to church and you would go to the rink, and that was kind of the things that we did.
In addition to hockey I played baseball a lot. I played baseball right until I was 16 and played two national tournaments and in a couple summer camps for major league scouts. I thought about seriously pursuing it but I always knew that hockey was number one for me and that never changed.
As a kid I would follow Brian Propp, who my Dad went to school with. He played in Minnesota, Philadelphia and Boston. Wherever he played, whenever they went to Winnipeg, when the Jets were there, we would always go and see him. We would go for dinner with them and then go to the game and kind of just be around the team at the hotel and stuff. I remember when he was with Philly, I met Ron Hextall in the elevator at the Westin in Winnipeg when I was a little kid and got a picture with him. It’s pretty funny now that he’s one of the managers here. Lyle Odeline, he was playing for Montreal at the time so it was kind of a big deal because the Canadiens were a huge deal anywhere in Canada. That was about it.
Playing we had a pretty good team in Bantam Triple-A and we won the whole thing as far as we could go. You win out of your province -- they’re called provincials – and you win your provincials and then every team, every province kind of comes together with their team and you have a Canadian tournament that we actually won. So that was kind of the next step. You get out of your province and you see other teams and other provinces and how good they are.
In Yorkton, where I grew up, the city was small so we had to travel a lot to play hockey. There were a lot of bus trips, a lot of carpooling with families and kids, and a lot of money spent by our parents to go to these tournaments and to stay in the hotels. We did well in some of these tournaments and you realize that you can come from these little small towns and be competitive and beat teams from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. In Bantam we played some teams from Detroit and Chicago and its pretty exciting when you’re that age to play teams like that and players from across the country and different countries.
As I was getting older I was getting better. I played in the Western Hockey League and everybody from where I am from wanted to play in the Western Hockey League. That was kind of a goal. College was thought about but the Western Hockey League was kind of the route that I wanted to go. I went first overall in the draft when I was about 14 or 15. When you’re noticed like that scouts take a chance on you, a team takes a chance on you. That was the first time that I thought I could really do this.
As I got older the World Juniors was the big thing for me. You play against other countries and other players that you’ve never heard of, or you’ve heard of, and there’s a lot of talk about certain guys and the NHL Draft is coming up. You hear names about who’s going to go in the first round, who’s going to go first overall, and you play against these guys and that was pretty interesting. To play that kind of hockey too overseas in their culture and in their atmosphere was another thing that comes to mind.
From there it was to the NHL Draft. I got drafted by Calgary and I went to my training camp and I see Jarome Iginla, Phil Housley and Grant Fuhr. It was pretty cool just to be able to be on the same ice, same dressing room, that was something you’re always in awe of. Training with these guys and seeing how hard they work was great too. I was with Calgary for two years and then got drafted by Edmonton and played in their system before signing a pro contract. That was pretty exciting at the time. You realize that all your hard work is slowly paying off.
You try to do the things that can get you to that next level and you hope to take off from there. Playing in the minors for a year and then playing in some exhibition games. At training camp playing against other NHL teams you know it’s not their full team, but still, to put on that jersey and see your name and number on the back and be in the dressing room, hanging out with the guys, it’s something they can never take away, and it is something you never forget it.