With Kevin Kennedy
I played my first game in my hometown of Vernon, B.C., which is where it all started for me. I think I had those skates with two blades and I just pushed a chair around the rink. It was my dad who got me into hockey and he also coached me until I was around 16 years old. He still plays rec league. Him and my mom played a big role in my hockey life and they are definitely the reason why I’m where I am today.
My dad’s been an auto electrician for more than 40 years and my mom worked an office job, but they always found time to get me to the rink. And if they couldn’t make it for whatever reason, my grandmother would step in and get me there.
My dad taught me a lot about work ethic and positive thinking. We’d butt heads every once in a while and there were definitely some heated arguments on the ride home from the game. Thinking back, I feel kind of bad for my mom and my sister for having to listen to that stuff all the time. I thought I was a goal scorer and I’d just float around and stuff like that, but my dad knew I could be a better all around player. He still gives me advice every time I call home. He’ll tell me what I should’ve done on a certain shift and he’s still very involved in the game.
I remember it was a lot of travel and my parents would spend their vacation days in cold rinks instead of sunny beaches, but I looked forward to all the out of town tournaments. I mean, any time you could get out of Vernon and go on a road trip was great. You’d be with your buddies all the time causing trouble and most of the best memories weren’t even about hockey.
Growing up we always had competitive teams in Vernon. We weren’t a huge city so we didn’t have a large pool of players to draw from, but we always had a decent squad, though we were never good enough to make it to provincials. I’m still buddies with a lot of guys from those teams and when we get together we definitely reminisce about those days.
My parents kept me very busy as a kid and I didn’t have a lot of time to get into trouble. I played a lot of baseball and so did a lot of the other hockey guys and we had a good team for sure, but once I got a bit older and started taking hockey more seriously I moved on to golf as my summer sport. Nowadays it’s pretty much the only other sport I do besides training and hockey. I get out as much as I can in the off-season for sure.
I’ve thought about what I’d do after hockey and it would be great to stay in the sport in some way. Vernon is a great hockey city with a fantastic Junior A team that’s always competitive and the minor hockey program in general is great so it would be cool to find a role within the local hockey community. If I didn’t make it as a hockey player I probably would’ve become a policeman or a firefighter. I love being part of a team and those two jobs seem to have a similar team mentality to hockey.
As a teenager I had all kinds of part-time jobs since you don’t really make anything playing junior. I remember one year, my dad volunteered me to work on a farm as a hay baler. I didn’t have a lot of strength back then and was a skinny kid so that was interesting. One year I had a job filling water bottles at a glass plant and it really just made me want to be a hockey player that much more. I definitely thank my parents for forcing me to do that because it taught me about real life and work ethic.
I was never drafted in to junior, but I was picked up by the Calgary Hitmen and made the team as a 16-year-old and ended up playing there for five years. I was also never drafted into the NHL and was signed as a 20-year-old by the Los Angeles Kings. I remember I found out I got signed when we were on the road in Portland. The coach kind of pulled me aside and I was afraid I was getting traded or something, but he gave me the news and it caught me right off guard. I mean I was never drafted so I kind of thought it could be my last season.
My first year as a professional was pretty rough. I had two shoulder surgeries and it wasn’t a great year for me, but I’m glad I got those out of the way. I only played half a season in my first year and the next season I played entirely in the AHL.
I remember the day I found out I was getting called up. It was a game day and I was getting ready to go down for a nap and I had my cell phone off. The house phone started ringing and I decided to let it go to the answering machine. It was actually Bruce Boudreau (coach of AHL Manchester at the time) who was calling and he was yelling so I could hear the message all the way on the other side of the house. So I gave him a call back real quick and he gave me the news and I was off to L.A. that afternoon.
I met the team at practice and then we flew to Colorado where I played my first ever NHL game. It was in 2003 so the Avalanche had a bunch of Hall of Fame guys like Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic and I remember during the warm up I was getting kind of queasy for sure. But after my first shift, I was fine. My linemates were Kip Brennan and Brad Norton so it was definitely a physical line with not a lot of pretty plays, but they were great guys. Norton and Ian Laperriere specifically helped me out so much by teaching me the little tricks of the game like how to play faceoffs and how to work the walls. They taught me how to be a pro.