By Jonathan Quick | Special to LAKings.com
Hamden is where I have lived my whole life. Most of my memories at an early age revolve around the second year I skated. I played defense then and I wondered if I would still remember how to skate. I was nervous as heck going out there, but I took one step on the ice and was pleased that I still remembered how.
I played defense for only two years. I grew up with many kids my age and we played street hockey. I always wanted to play goalie during street hockey. Later I told my parents I wasn’t going to play hockey unless they let me be goalie.
For the first maybe four or five years, the parks and recreation place in our town had goalie equipment. It was old, beat up equipment that they would let kids use, so I would go to the cages there and they would hand me a glove, blocker, pants, pads and other equipment.
My hometown has a strong hockey tradition. We had the Hartford Whalers for a few years, but I grew up watching the New York Rangers. I wasn’t a huge Whalers fan and I liked that the Rangers had Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves. Plus they had Mike Richter in net.
The first time I went to an NHL game was with my buddy and his parents. They had tickets to a Whalers-Detroit Red Wings game. I was 13 when I went to my second game. It happened while I was playing with the Junior Rangers in the Pee Wee World Championship Quebec Tournament. In between periods we got to go out and have a shoot out during the intermission. So we were able to hang out and watch the game and meet a few of the players. When I see the kids at an NHL game today go out there during intermission I kind of think back to that. I was in their shoes 10-12 years ago.
I always liked to play travel hockey. I played for an organization growing up that was about 45 minutes away, so I would trek down there to practice. When we played the majority of our games were in New York and New Jersey. My summer team traveled to Canada a lot for tournaments in Ottawa, Quebec and Toronto. We traveled at least once or twice a month, and would participate in tournaments around the country.
It was tough for my family with the travel because I have three other siblings in my family. My mother took care of them and my father usually worked seven days a week. A lot of the time I would end up going to tournaments with my teammates. But all the games in-state and within driving distance my family went to.
At home the closest I got to the NHL was through a player named Matt Martin, who played with the Leafs for a bit, and Todd Hall, who was more of an American League guy most of his career. Hall played in Hartford when they won the Calder Cup a few years back and then he ended up being one of the assistant coaches when I was at Hamden High.
My prep school team had a great season my junior year. That is when there was talk that pro scouts were looking at me and I ended up having a few interviews going into the draft my senior year. At that point I knew that college was a definite possibility. Then after my senior year I was drafted and it was more plausible that maybe I will have an opportunity after college. But I was taking it one step at a time.
I decided to go to UMASS-Amherst and I was just focused on playing there. At the time I just wanted to play and I felt that going there I would have a huge opportunity to play. Their starting goalie was going into his senior year so I knew even if I didn’t play much at first, my sophomore year would give me an opportunity to be one of the top contenders for the job.
I made the decision after my sophomore year to turn pro. The Kings had drafted me after my senior year in high school, and this is what I wanted to do. The opportunity presented itself and I wanted to take advantage of it. At the same time, though, it was a journey. I started out in the East Coast League and played about 45 games there. Looking back on it, it was definitely the best thing for me and it definitely helped me out. They made me work my way up as opposed to just handing me something that wasn’t earned.
At the beginning of December I got called up to Manchester because of an injury. I was in Manchester for a week and then got called up to L.A. because of an injury. I was in L.A. for two weeks and then Jason LaBarbera got healthy so I was sent back down to Manchester. Then a week later Dan Cloutier got healthy and I was back down in the East Coast League. Within a month I played all three levels, so that was an interesting month.
I ended up doing a few more months in Reading and then I went up to Manchester for the first round of the playoffs. The following year I would have a better chance of making L.A. out of camp and I had a pretty good camp but it didn’t happen. I ended up in Manchester for the first half of the season. Erik Ersberg got hurt in December and I got an opportunity to play there and they ended up trading LaBarbera. It was me and Ersberg there for the rest of the year.
It has been a bit of a journey and I think it happened a lot quicker for me than most guys at the goaltending position. I feel fortunate for the opportunities that have been given to me.