"He's got dynamic skills. There's a big difference between Oren and most skill guys. He is so determined to score every time he gets the puck. He goes to those hard areas consistently to get the puck."
-- Stockton coach Matt Thomas
Stockton Thunder coach Matt Thomas and center Oren Eizenman
have what can best be called a give-and-take relationship.
Thomas might draw up a drill for the Thunder to run in practice, and Eizenman has been known to suggest a way to tweak it. As the one in the position of authority, Thomas could tell Eizenman to zip it and follow directions. But since Eizenman seems to be full of natural wonder, Thomas appreciates his curiosity and will occasionally try something Eizenman's way.
So who winds up being right more often?
"Well, come on, I'm the coach. It has to be at least 70-30 (my way)," Thomas said. "He might tell you otherwise, that it's 90-10 his way. It's tough to sway him. You need to show the results to him. He might even be right more than me. I'm not going to admit that to anyone."
Traces of Eizenman's intelligence are easily found. One of the most obvious is his realization that publicly claiming a strategic edge over his coach is a dicey career move.
"'We're at the point where we have a close enough relationship that if I think something can be better, I bring it to him," Eizenman said. "But I must say at this point, he's been right much more often than I am."
That's the way it should be, though when Eizenman sticks to what he does best he has to be regarded as an authority in his field, as well. For the past couple of seasons, Eizenman, 24, has been one of the most dangerous scorers in the ECHL. In 2007-08, he went 27-39 in 53 games with Fresno. Last season, he was 3-10 in 12 games with that team.
"He's got dynamic skills. There's a big difference between Oren and most skill guys," Thomas said. "He is so determined to score every time he gets the puck. He goes to those hard areas consistently to get the puck."
Yet for all of Eizenman's thirst for information and answers, here's one question that has him stumped: when will the player who obviously has skills above the ECHL shelf get a long chance at a higher level? Last season he got trials with three AHL teams, including 20 regular-season and four playoff games with Milwaukee. This year, he didn't even get a look in an AHL camp before heading to Stockton.
"If it doesn't make you stronger for this season, it will make you stronger for anything to come," he said. "You can learn something from wherever you are."
The knowledge, both profound and banal, can flow from anywhere. One afternoon last week, Eizenman was wrapped up in the show "Cash Cab," where unwitting passengers win money or get booted out of the cab depending upon how they answer questions.
"It's a great show. I'm hot and cold (answering the questions)," he said. "Sometimes I'd knock them out of the park, and sometimes I'd be out of there after three questions. It's a cut throat game."
Eizenman can turn serious on you, too. He's got a degree in business from RPI and loves to pass long bus rides by reading up on the latest world economic news. And, naturally, he enjoys discussing his Jewish heritage to anyone who might be curious.
"It's kind of a crazy background for a hockey player. But it's something I'm proud of," he said. "If an Israeli guy can come over and play professional hockey, I'm pretty sure anyone can do anything."
Eizenman is from Toronto, but his mother, Ronit, and his father, Moshe, migrated to that city from Israel. Moshe is a professor of bio-medical engineering at the University of Toronto. He is also an international expert in researching how to track eye movement, a field that helps doctors diagnose and treat eye ailments.
"My dad is probably the hardest worker I know," Oren said. "It's definitely something I can take from him. It's definitely a trait that runs in the family. It translates to everything."
Thomas sees that habit virtually tattooed on Eizenman's forehead. Many players who do something well, the coach said, often fall into the trap of doing it again and again to the detriment of becoming well rounded.
Eizenman, Thomas said, seeks out the soft spots in his game and pounds away at them. For example, in order to become a more trusted defensive player, Eizenman spent the past couple of summers working out with Kris Draper
"He's a guy who is willing to adapt his game. You can tell a lot of guys (what to do), but they revert to what made them successful," Thomas said.
"It would be nice if I could get called up (to the AHL) and put on the top line," Eizenman said. "That happens to maybe one or two guys a year. From the coach's perspective, he's not going to trust a guy he's never seen play before, who is new to the level. You never know how you are going to fit in with a team."
In Stockton, Eizenman fits in like an answer buzzer on a game show. His curiosity and competitiveness put him squarely in line with what he said are a bunch of teammates who enjoy a little trivia trash talk. Here's a tip for those unsuspecting marks in the locker room: "Cash Cab" is just warmup stuff for Eizenman. When he throws down the Jeopardy challenge, change the channel.
"Jeopardy, I'm usually the champion. It's young in the season now. We (the players) are just watching it together," he said. "Eventually, it (a competition) is going to happen. Those kinds of things are right up my alley."