Jim Vandermeer has recorded two goals & 14 points in 57 games this season (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
Most NHL players would agree that the road to the NHL could be a long and winding path, including numerous roadblocks and memorable moments that underline an unforgettable voyage.
Veteran rearguard Jim Vandermeer is the picture of that storybook ending. Growing up as a small-town Alberta boy, his humble beginning with a stick and puck provided the early opportunity to build the foundation of a thriving future career.
"I grew up in a big family. I had three older brothers and two younger," Vandermeer said. "The older guys were playing hockey when they were younger. I think any kid wants to be like their big brother and I was no different. I started out playing floor hockey and as soon as I could throw on some skates, I was out there."
While his career started with early morning practices in chilly community rinks, his calling began to blossom when he traveled east from Caroline, AB to begin a four-year stint with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.
"It was an absolutely great experience," Vandermeer said of his junior career. "In my first year, I was actually playing forward and played half a year there, and the next three years went back to play D."
"In a small town you kind of play every position so it wasn't too hard of a transition for me. I think in the Western League, the first five-ten games was a big adjustment."
The WHL experience provided a terrific learning opportunity, to which Vandermeer was quick to understand through his four seasons with the Rebels.
"I started out fighting a lot and then just kind of progressively worked on my skills and got better," he said.
Getting better, although seen as a basic portrayal of his development curve, was exactly what the 31-year-old defenceman did en route to his WHL graduation a decade ago.
In the 2000-01 season, Vandermeer captained his Red Deer squad to a WHL championship and eventual Memorial Cup victory later that spring. On a personal level, he set career highs with 21 goals and 65 points in 72 regular season games. In 22 post-season matches, Vandermeer marked an additional three goals and 16 points.
"It's one of things that I'll remember that for the rest of my life," Vandermeer recalled. "I met a ton of great friends from those years that I was there, and to win at the highest level of junior was an absolutely wonderful feeling."
In an instant, a promising career had now kicked into overdrive.
Vandermeer’s professional expedition began later that year after he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers. He played the entire 2001-02 season with the AHL’s Phantoms, based in the same location.
As Vandermeer explains, his NHL opportunity arose through similar circumstances to Edmonton’s current predicament.
"As luck would have it, I think there were four guys hurt and a couple other guys sick, so that's when I got my chance," he said. "When I got the opportunity to play, I made the best of it and things have worked out pretty good ever since. I started out as a 12-13 minute defenceman and just progressively got more and more."
The rest, they say, is history. Vandermeer continued to improve as he aimed to establish a consistent NHL career. His outstanding defensive play created a lasting impression on many, as he was eventually brought back to Alberta to play parts of two seasons with the rival Calgary Flames four years ago.
Following a season in Phoenix, Vandermeer was shipped back to Alberta last summer in exchange for Patrick O’Sullivan. This time, the 6’1" 214-pound blueliner was on the proper side of the timeless provincial rivalry.
I grew up an Oilers fan, so to throw on the jersey was an unbelievable feeling and a dream come true. - Vandermeer
"I grew up an Oilers fan, so to throw on the jersey was an unbelievable feeling and a dream come true," Vandermeer said. "You watch them growing up and as a kid you kind of picture yourself in that jersey. When you're playing road hockey and things like that, you're one of the Oilers."
The reality of his childhood dream has now leaped to create new opportunities in Edmonton. With injuries on the backend, Vandermeer has assumed an increased role. He now anchors the blueline, regularly topping the Oilers ice-time chart and leading the way with his calming defensive presence.
Although Vandermeer has been the model of dependability as the team’s grizzled veteran, he still sees opportunity to make his mark as the season winds down.
"I'm no different than the young guys. I’m just trying to take advantage of the situation," Vandermeer said. "Who knows what's going to happen next year. Guys are going to be healthy next year, so you've kind of got to establish yourself and really dictate the role that you want to be in."
Even with a decade of professional hockey on his resume, Vandermeer continues to value a presented opportunity. It’s the map he followed on his road to Edmonton, and it will continue to be his trademark as his NHL career continues with the Oilers. Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com