|Kurtis Foster with the Tampa Bay Lightning
The career of Oilers defenceman Kurtis Foster could accurately be described as one of resilience.
The 28-year old is coming off a career year with the Tampa Bay Lightning where he set career highs in all offensive categories. His strong performance a year ago made him one of the most sought after free agent defencemen this past summer; a tremendous value for a player that could play top-four minutes and, more importantly inject an element of confidence through a seemingly natural offensive gift.
Having a rocket for a shot doesn’t hurt either.Watch our interview with Foster
But the life of an NHL player doesn’t begin and end in everlasting glory. Foster began his career as a young Ontario kid looking to make a career in the sport he loved so much. A divide in the seasons provided him with the opportunity to explore other options, but the eventual winner turned out to be the right choice moving forward.
“Being a kid, I think in the winter it was always hockey and in the summer it was always baseball. It didn't matter which way I went, it was something that I loved both pretty equally,” said Foster.
“When I was drafted into the OHL at 16, it kind of helped make my decision on what I wanted to do. Playing in the OHL was always a dream of mine; being from Ottawa, watching the Ottawa 67's growing up and when I was drafted by Peterborough, it was kind of a new beginning -- didn't really know what to expect -- but it was four and-a-half great years and I never want to take back those years. It was probably one of the best times of my life.”
Such is the life of countless others in his position; life after major junior hockey is when the pro-hockey experience truly takes shape. Foster believed in his ability at a young age, and perhaps his inner drive was the leading factor in his eventual success. Players that struggle to make an immediate impact can often get frustrated and potentially lose sight of their end goal.
That wasn’t the case for Foster. After working his way through the better part of five seasons in the American Hockey League with only a few cups of coffee in the big leagues to show for it, Foster was finally given his opportunity with the Minnesota Wild; his driving factor of motivation and passion to succeed simply couldn’t be denied.
“It was tough. I played four and-a-half years, parts of five seasons and by the end I wasn't really sure if I was going to get my chance. When I signed in Minnesota, all they said is come and play well and we always give the guys who play the best in the minors the opportunity to play up. I got called up and scored a couple goals in my first game, and from there it's been up ever since."
Offensive defencemen will always have a place in the NHL, but according to Foster his goal-scoring ability was something that developed naturally. Growing up he tried to play as complete a game as possible, while the offensive mindedness grew exponentially as he continued at every level.
“I think growing up I really didn't know that I had the offence in me. I think a lot of it was a confidence thing; trusting myself that I can make the plays and my last few years in junior it started to click a little bit and get a few more points -- and in pro I've always been a powerplay guy. I'm trying to evolve my game where I can play both ways and I think that's one of the reasons why I came here this year.”
“It's always fun scoring goals and helping guys win games,” Foster said with a smile.
After finally establishing himself in the NHL, it seemed that nothing could turn back the struggle of playing so many seasons in the minors. After three successful seasons with the Wild, Foster suffered a traumatic leg injury early in the 2008-09 campaign. He was taken heavily into the end-boards, where his leg was broken and needed several hours of surgery to repair.
Foster didn’t quit. He took the opportunity to further test that drive and mental stamina that got him to the NHL in the first place. After nearly a full year of rehab, Foster returned to the NHL with the Lightning and eventually found his way to Edmonton a season after that triumphant return.
"I'm pretty lucky that after my injury I'm able to come back and still play the game I love to play. It's just a dream playing in the NHL," said a soft-spoken Foster.
|Kurtis Foster is currently enjoying his new life in Edmonton. |
It seemed that the opportunity was knocking for a number of reasons. The Edmonton Oilers were undergoing significant change throughout the organization as the team looked to re-establish itself as one of the league’s current championship clubs.
Likewise, despite his career year with Tampa Bay on that one-year deal, Foster wanted to re-define himself a player; to help his career to get back on track as he looked to play in integral role in the building process of a winning team.
“That's probably the main reason I signed here. There were other opportunities, but nothing with the situation like this where it was a young team that was ready to grow. For them to bring me in and show confidence in me to be a key piece of the program going forward, I couldn't ask for anything more. My wife and I are happy to be here and just excited to be along for the ride.”
And now that he’s here, things couldn’t be better for the Carp, Ontario native. Foster is being counted on to provide top-four minutes, play in key defensive situations, and be a staple for the team’s offensive attack as he provides an excellent first-pass and quarterbacking abilities with the man-advantage.
Foster admits he sets a few personal goals coming into a new season as most players do, but ensures that the true goal should be building a winning environment both on and off the ice; something that he can most certainly assist in.
“I think everybody sets modest goals. Goals that you want to shoot for individually, but basically I wanted to come in here and be a good guy. Be a guy that the young guys look up to and try to do the right things every day. I think the stuff on the ice, whether it's stats or individual accomplishments, those things come when the team wins. And when the team's winning, usually it means good things for everybody.”
The player affectionately known as “Fozzy” has built a career on resilience and building towards something better. His inner drive and overall passion to succeed have brought him to this point; but it certainly doesn’t stop there. There’s more work to be done for both the player and organization. Now he and the Oilers hope to accomplish that process together.