The Devils defenseman talks about having his dad as coach, getting a surprise call that he’d been drafted, and how he received news of his first NHL call-up.
With Kevin Kennedy
My dad got me into hockey back where I grew up in Bourne, Massachusetts. He played a little in college and he pretty much coached me right up until Grade 8 when he said his hockey knowledge ran out. My dad is the quiet intense type. Not a lot of yelling or showmanship, but he meant business when it came to hockey and as a parent he was kind of the same. He was strict, but not overbearing. Nowadays he’s just super happy to come to games and see me play and he’s definitely still comfortable giving me feedback after games.
A big moment for me in minor hockey was when I played in the state finals in Hingham, Mass. I was 10 years old and we won the tournament in double overtime. It was my first overtime experience and to be able to win in that way was pretty cool. Back then, I wore No. 5 and wore that my whole life until I got to college when I switched to 4. I remember I chose 5 at the beginning because that’s how old I was when I started playing. As far as a favorite player, it was definitely Ray Bourque. I was a big Bruins fan growing up.
I played a lot of sports as a kid. I played a lot of tennis in the summer, always played baseball, and picked up lacrosse and football when I got to high school. I was a boarding student in high school so I’d live there five days a week and then I’d go home on the weekend. During the summer, I’d work for my uncle down at the marina, running day camps and stuff like that.
Once I got to high school I started thinking about whether or not I could make it to pro hockey. The high school team was really good and once I made that team I thought maybe I could take this somewhere and started taking it pretty seriously. Oddly enough I used to get more football letters from college recruiters than hockey. That kind of threw me off, but I ended up getting drafted after my junior year in high school.
On the day of the draft, I was just at a friend’s house and I wasn’t thinking I was going to get drafted. I was still in high school and I felt I was pretty unknown. Next thing I knew, I was on the phone with my agent and he told me the Devils had drafted me in the fifth round. My parents actually found out first because they called my house so they were pretty excited when I finally got a chance to talk to them.
It was interesting because I still had to finish my last year of high school and also decide where to go for college. I ended up choosing to go to Providence College and played there for four years. After leaving school, I had it in my head that I’d be spending at least one season in the AHL, but after 16 games I got called up to the big club.
When I found out I was going up it was kind of funny. The night before I took a shot off the knee and it was swollen and sore. The next day the GM in Albany called me and asked how it was doing and I told him it was good because it was starting to move better. All of a sudden I’m on the phone with Lou Lamoriello and he’s like “let’s get you down here today.” It was an emergency call up due to injuries.
I remember I was in Albany on a Sunday night and I made the two-hour drive to the rink with my gear. We played Washington the very next night. It was pretty surreal to say the least.
Back in training camp I was pretty segregated with the younger guys so I didn’t interact with a lot of the veteran guys until the morning skate on game day. I never really had those moments where I was getting dressed next to Brodeur and just being on the ice with them that morning and knowing that I was going to be in the game later that day was pretty intense.
By game time I was much more relaxed and comfortable, but it didn’t help that all my friends and family kept calling me and it really got built up which was kind of intimidating. But after a shift or two you realize it’s still just a hockey game. Plus we won that game 5-0 and that made it a little easier.
In my first game and actually for most of the rest of the season I played with Henrik Tallinder. He really helped me out a ton that year on and off the ice. He was real good at settling me down on the bench because I used to get worked up if I messed up. He kept reminding me that it’s a long season and everybody makes mistakes.