With Kevin Kennedy
I played my first hockey game in a house league in Edmonton. I can still remember my first goal, not because it was good, but because it was on my own net.
My dad got me into hockey at first and he put me on skates early, around three years old, and I just loved it. I grew up with Jared Spurgeon who is now a defenseman with the Minnesota Wild and both our dads coached us throughout minor hockey We were both little guys and it’s pretty cool that we both made it.
I remember being really active as a kid. I played tons of sports, but always came back to hockey. My dad made me a nice little hockey station in the basement and we played hockey all the time, sometimes on the street, sometimes in the basement. I also played a lot of basketball and golf as a kid.
It’s kind of weird, but my favourite time of the year to play hockey was the summer. When I was in novice I played on Team Brick and I remember we played in the big tournament against guys like Kyle Turris, Luke Schenn and P.K. Subban. We didn’t win, but it was a lot of fun. Only Jared and I made it to the NHL from that team, but there were definitely a lot of great players. I remember looking at team photos of the past Brick squads and each team had a couple guys who made it to the NHL so I figured I had a shot as well. To be honest, it actually wasn’t until peewee that I had any real success. That year we won everything – the league, the provincials – it was awesome.
I played junior close to home in Medicine Hat and I got a chance to play in the Memorial Cup and the world juniors where we won the gold medal. The next big day was the draft and I remember I wasn’t sure if I was going to be drafted in the first round and didn’t know if I was going to go to the draft. I was with my agent and my family and they convinced me to go and said it would a fun experience either way.
Buffalo called me at 26 and the feeling was unbelievable. I was very proud and happy to be able to celebrate with my parents. My brother was vacationing in Thailand at the time and I remember that he texted me about it that night. Everyone was just really proud.
On the day I got called up to the NHL team for the first time, I remember I was at the morning skate in Portland because we had a game that night. My coach called me into his office after the skate and told me I might be going up to Buffalo because a player had gotten hurt and was getting checked out. He just told me to keep my phone on and on the way home he called me and said, “Ya you’re going up for sure.” I quickly grabbed my stuff and ripped on to the plane, barely making it on time and I arrived in Buffalo just before the pre-game skate.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any friends or family there on such short notice, but they were all watching at home and got everybody together. It was so cool and I even scored in my first game!