The Anaheim Ducks defenseman talks about finding the game in Farmingham, Mich., traveling to the Quebec peewee tournament, falling in the NHL draft and more.
With Kevin Kennedy
I first got on the ice back in Farmington, Michigan where I’m from. I guess you could call it hockey, but it was more of a clinic and we’d just skate around with our sticks trying to make it work. I think I was four years old.
It was my dad who got me in to hockey. He grew up in Canada and has always been a big hockey fan. We have pictures and videos of me as a young kid and it seems like I always had a stick and ball with me. My dad works for Ford and has logged a lot of hours just so I could play this game. My mom would take me to the games and practices during the week and on the weekends; my dad would take Friday off to take me to tournaments.
It’s kind of a passion for my dad. He enjoyed watching me play and traveling with us. I still talk to him after every game and he’s still definitely my biggest supporter and critic. He knows my game better than most people and he can tell when I have an off game or when I’m playing to my potential.
I guess calling or texting him after the game is like our modern version of the car rides home after hockey. We had some pretty heated moments on those rides, especially if I had a bad game. He would never yell or scream, but he was very passionate about the fundamentals of the game and putting in the effort.
I played in so many tournaments as a kid that they all kind of blend together now, but the one that sticks out is the Quebec peewee tournament. When you were there you would stay with a billet family and play in front of 10,000 people and I’ll never forget those moments.
I had a lot of great coaches growing up, but Doug Itami and Pat Peake stand out as two very strong mentors for me. They coached me when I played for Honey Baked, and I still communicate with Peake every once in a while and we had some good workouts a couple summers ago. He played in the NHL and he understands how to prepare for the game.
As a kid, every time the summer came around, I put the hockey equipment away and focused on baseball. Baseball was kind of an outlet for me. It was way different than hockey and I loved being outside and loved playing the game. I was a decent middle infielder and there are definitely some skills that transfer to hockey like hand-eye coordination and quick feet. You see a lot of kids playing hockey 10 months of the year and sometimes more and that’s all good, but for me it was important to get away from the game for a bit and my parents supported me in that.
I didn’t really get a chance to get a part-time job in my teens because I was playing midget hockey in eighth grade and then I went right into the U.S. Development program. But if it wasn’t for hockey I think I’d be involved in advertising and marketing. I was good at it in school and I’ve always thought of myself as a creative guy.
When I got to junior, I was rated pretty high for the entry draft so I knew I had an opportunity to play in the NHL. I had what I thought was a good year, but for whatever reason I fell in the draft and I ended up coming to a team that wanted me and needed me and I was able to step in right away. Looking back, I was upset when I fell in the draft, but now I’m 21 and I’m in my fourth year in the NHL so there’s not much to complain about, everything worked out.
On the day I found out I was getting in my first NHL game, Randy Carlyle called me into his office and told me I’d been playing well in camp and you’re going to be in the lineup for game one in Detroit in front of all my friends and family. I don’t remember much from that game except that my defence partner was Paul Mara, that’s about it.