My first skating experience was when my dad would take me every Saturday to this outdoor rink and he just made me skate. I was obviously young then so all I can really remember is having a great time out on the ice. My dad would come out onto the ice with me though he wasn’t the greatest skater, but we had a lot of fun together.
My parents always pushed me to play sports and it was always a good thing. They always supported me no matter what. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I was today Though I loved hockey right away I didn’t get involved in league play right away. I played my first season when I was 6 years old. All a sudden I just wanted to play hockey and my parents just put me in it.
I remember my first year I played defense. I was a defenseman and I was the worst stopper in the world. When I would stop, I would just run into the boards.
I lived in an area called West Hill in Scarborough, where pretty much every rink had its own house league and rep team. I started playing for them when I was 6 years old. I played two years of house league and then I actually switched teams to a rival team called the Vipers.
Besides playing hockey, I also played basketball while growing up. When I got into middle school I started to play volleyball and soccer too. I was good at both hockey and basketball and I just played volleyball and soccer as recreation for fun.
As a kid I followed the Detroit Red Wings. I think the Red Wings have always been my favorite team because they had Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan. Those are three guys who I looked to when I was younger and thought, ‘these guys are amazing.’ All the kids in my area were Toronto fans but I didn’t really care. Just because I’m from Toronto doesn’t mean I have to be a Maple Leafs fan and they didn’t really bother me about that.
As I got older, around 9, I started to travel. My first year of SHA, the Scarborough Hockey Association, I had my first away tournament in Ottawa. We won that tournament so I have really good memories of that. I also won the fastest skater contest as it was like a little mini All-Star Game.
I never really went to watch games live. I think my first live hockey game was during that trip to Ottawa as the Senators played the New York Rangers. Our whole team got tickets for the game. I remember Ottawa won but I don’t remember the score. My best memory is probably Theo Fleury in that game because he went nuts and got kicked out.
When I was a kid I also loved the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). They would always show St. Mike’s games on TV every Sunday at 2 p.m. It would be St. Mikes or the Oshawa Generals. I’d be glued to the TV from 2-5 every single Sunday.
My first encounter with someone big in hockey came when I went to Kevin Weekes’ Hockey Camp. I was about 13 or 14 and he came out along with Brad Richards and Anson Carter. When I go to clinics now and meet kids it takes me back to those days. I know my eyes were probably like saucers looking at those guys and I realize now that I’m somewhat of a role model so it’s nice to make the kids happy.
As I kept playing the game I was always a pretty good player in every league I played in, except my first year. I’m pretty sure I was worst player in the league then. Then the second year I won the scoring title. After that I was always top two on my team in points until I played juniors.
The opportunity to play junior hockey came during my major midget year. I played the first year of Triple A and I played Double A the year before, which was my OHL draft year. Obviously I wasn’t picked because I was playing Double A. When I started playing Triple A and I started talking to Junior A teams I realized that I could do something with hockey and ever since then I’ve just been going as hard as I could.
My two years in the OHL really helped me develop. I think it was huge for me because coming from juniors to the OHL is a huge step. Guys are bigger, there’s a lot more fighting, it’s just a more physical game. But I’ve always played physical my whole life so I just stepped into that and I think I just kept improving.
After that my goal was purely the NHL. I think anything other than that would have been a disappointment for me. Luckily it worked out for me and I’m just grateful. I was drafted by the Kings when the draft was in Columbus but I didn’t attend. That summer I was living in Anaheim and working out in Venice Beach with T.R. Goodman. Mike Futa called to tell me I was drafted while I was on my way to the gym. I remember I missed two exits because I was driving and I was so excited. I didn’t really know what to do so I called my parents and I remember speaking with my mom and she was crying.
The fact that I was familiar with Los Angeles really helped my transition here. I drove for three months straight from Anaheim to Venice Beach so I knew the exact area I was going to be playing in. I was excited to be drafted by L.A. because it’s such a great organization. All I was thinking then was hopefully I could start as soon as possible and I was lucky enough to make the team right away.
That first training camp with the Kings I just tried to worry about myself. I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on around me. I just worked as hard as I could and did everything in my power to make the team and it ended up working out for the best.
Heading into that first game I was nervous, very nervous. It was in San Jose and I remember my line started the game but I didn’t start. They put someone else on the right side there. All I can remember was being in the dressing room and just shaking. I was looking at fellow rookies Drew Doughty
and Oscar Moller and there was sweat dripping from my palms before that game. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into but I had fun with it.