The Islanders forward talks about growing up playing hockey in Welland, playing against Toronto teams, being drafted into the OHL, NHL and playing against Joe Sakic on his first shift.
With Kevin Kennedy
I grew up in Welland, Ontario and played my first game in the local youth hockey arena. I played there all the way up until I got drafted to the OHL and had to move to Toronto. Growing up, it wasn’t just about hockey; I was also in to baseball, golf and volleyball, but after around 16 when I got drafted, it was all hockey. I’d say that both my parents are responsible for getting me into hockey since my dad was always with me at the rink and because my mom took me out skating a lot when I was really young.
As a teenager, I worked at Sport Chek part-time for a bit in Niagara Falls and I also worked as a call center operator for MasterCard when I was around 17 or 18 years old.
I have lots of great memories from minor hockey, particularly when we got to play teams from Toronto. Those games were always a big deal for us because Toronto is obviously a big center and they have a lot more kids to pick from, plus they usually had good teams.
I remember one tournament when we ended up matched against the Toronto Marlies in the semifinal. We were definitely the underdog, but we beat them 2-0 and I scored both goals for my team. That was a really cool moment for me as a kid since they were the big bad Marlies and we took them down.
I started my OHL career with the St. Mike’s Majors and after about a season-and-a-half I was traded to the Oshawa Generals. I finished my junior career there and got drafted by the Minnesota Wild after my third season in the OHL.
I wasn’t projected to be drafted overly high so I didn’t attend the entry draft in person, I just had a party with my friends and family at my house. Eventually my agent called me just when they were saying my name early in the third round and it got pretty crazy. We had a lot of people over and it got rowdy.
Two weeks in to my pro year I got called up while the team was on a road trip. The lineup was full and I was kind of the extra forward so I got bag skated for three games while we traveled to Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. We eventually made our way over to Colorado and somebody went down with injury so at the practice the day before they sort of pulled me aside and let me know.
In my first game I played on a line with Stephane Veilleux and Wes Walz and on my first shift I lined up against Joe Sakic, my favorite player growing up. I couldn’t believe it. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.