Emerson Etem is one of the more promising young forwards in the Anaheim Ducks organization and likely would be an NHL regular on any other team without the logjam of talented forwards on the Ducks roster. He was the American Hockey League Player of the Month for December.
Etem has a unique background, born from the roller hockey rinks near his hometown Long Beach, Calif., halfway between the locations the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks call home.
My parents put me in roller hockey classes at the local YMCA when I was 3. I don't know why they picked hockey. My brother Martin played and I picked it up. It was just out of curiosity. I played soccer in the summer and tennis when I was younger but I stuck with hockey. I just wanted to try it out and I liked it.
For a lot of guys like myself, you realize early on that this is what you want to do. Ever since I was young, hockey's been my career choice. It's what I wanted. Obviously, I shot for that goal. I had a four-year plan to get to the NHL and I moved to Minnesota to play at Shattuck-St. Mary's, the same school where Sidney Crosby, among others, played. That's always the goal to go to a school like that.
When I went to Shattuck-St. Mary's, I got closer to my ultimate goal. That was when I got my name on the map. At that point Tom Ward was coaching and he saw me. I definitely realized how close I was when I made the prep team. When you're name is thrown in that group you realize the dream can become a reality.
One of my teammates at Shattuck-St. Mary's was Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers. He's gone on to great things: playing at Wisconsin, the Rangers, and being picked for the U.S. Olympic team. It was impressive to see his skill. I knew he was going somewhere. With him by my side and seeing what he did, it definitely put it into perspective that I could make it to the NHL.
After my first year in the Western Hockey League, with Medicine Hat, I got drafted along with my Junior Kings teammate Beau Bennett. The draft that year was in L.A., and it was a big story that two California players got picked in the first round.
Jonathon Blum definitely paved the way for California players. It was a quick wave, and it's getting better and better every season. There are a lot of guys coming out of California.
I actually don't remember the Wayne Gretzky Era in L.A. My family never really had cable TV. It was hard to watch the games. I can't quite remember back in the day. I'm sure we talked about it. There was Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and I remember my buddy Matt Nieto of the San Jose Sharks got a photo with Kariya when he was growing up. But Gretzky was far before my time. I don't remember too much, but I know he did a lot for the game.