Note: I initially had intended to do this all in one write but realized halfway how unrealistic that was. It was becoming too watered down so I have decided to separate it into two parts. I don’t know when I’ll get to the next one. I don’t blame you for not reading it all.
I’m going to do my absolute best to not turn this into a novel, as it easily could be. This is something I want to get down not only to express to others but to have a chance to sort of piece the entire four years together for myself. Something I think I will value reading fifteen years from now when life has changed. My perspective on this will never be as honest and raw as it is right now. There’s a million places I could start this story. So let’s go with early May, 2011. I’m in grade ten French class. The day of the much anticipated annual WHL bantam draft. When you’re fifteen years old this is what you know about the draft; it is the most important thing in the world and will make or break your hockey career. Five years later you usually realize you had a lot to learn at fifteen. But there’s something oddly refreshing and simple about that naive fifteen year old mind state. I remember watching the Giants as a kid. I had a shirt that read ‘Someday I’ll Be A Giant’ with the team logo on it. I would have never imagined that coming even close to true.
I was sitting in class, and hadn’t heard a single word my teacher had said that period. I was glued to my phone. The seventh round had just rolled around and in a fifteen round (give or take) draft, I was still hopeful. My brother Adam who was a much more skilled player than myself had went in the seventh round three years prior, 147th overall. He had every skill needed to be a top round guy but was slightly undersized at the time of the draft. Ironically, I was close to the opposite. I was one of the bigger kids in the league who was a little rough around the edges. Despite being a fairly fun-loving, goofy kid off the ice, I portrayed and was anticipated to be an enforcing defenseman. That was my ticket. If you check my numbers you’ll know I wasn’t making it off putting the puck in the net. We were passing the mid seventh and I figured maybe I’d have a chance in the ninth or tenth round. If Adam was a seventh rounder that made sense. I refreshed my phone and there I was. 146th overall, one selection before my brother. That proved to not mean a lot but as the little brother I had to take some pride in it. As an already established player in the league for the Kootenay Ice, I think Adam probably cracked a smile himself. My phone was having trouble loading the page so I was unable to see what team had just selected me. I knew my hometown Vancouver Giants had a pick coming up so I was understandably hopeful. As it turned out the web page loaded two picks at once and I went one selection after the Giants, to the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Moose Jaw Warriors. That may have been the only team in the draft I knew absolutely nothing about. I didn’t know if Moose Jaw was in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba. They hadn’t contacted me once prior to the draft and I didn’t know anybody who had ever went there. I didn’t even know what their logo was. That being said I was absolutely ecstatic. Seventh round to some team I didn’t know the first thing about was more than enough for me. I’ll never forget the feeling. Walking through the hallway after that period. Hugs, handshakes, people acting as though I had just won a Grammy. It’s a fairly big deal for most kids in Canada. The next few weeks transpired full of phone calls, research and thinking about the future. As if once you got drafted the rest would just figure itself out. Most players selected in the draft were faced with one of two options if they were good enough. Report to play for the team that had selected them or try their hand in junior A hockey in attempt to earn an NCAA scholarship. As much as my parents wanted me to take everything day by day and make an educated decision, my mind was made up before the draft even happened. If I was ever given the opportunity to sign and play in the WHL, I simply could not say no. A year and a half later nearing the end of my second season of midget hockey, I received a phone call. A close to undeniable offer to a kid who was already all in. I was offered to sign with the Warriors. On top of that receive an automatic free year of Canadian schooling and to fly out after Christmas to make my debut in a series of games. One of those games was to take place in Regina against my brother who had then been traded to the Pats. They made sure to include that. As appreciative as I am now for my scholarship, the brother game surely sealed the deal. I will never regret making that decision. It all happened and lived up to my every expectation. At sixteen years old I flew out to play my first four games. My entire family made the trip out to watch Adam and I play as well as see me receive my first career WHL minus (getting scored on) by who other than my brother. Just as he quietly supported me, I couldn’t help but smirk looking up to see a Rossignol name bar celebrating. I remember coming back to the bench and my coach nudging me “Do you know who scored that goal?” , “My brother.” I replied grinning slightly. “I wouldn’t be fuckin’ smiling” he said half seriously. I had to turn my head. It was an unforgettable experience.
In my third game, I played in the Saddledome against the Calgary Hitmen, in front of over ten thousand people. It was completely bizarre. The lights and sounds of a full NHL arena. Skating around in warm up looking at girls ten years older than myself watching admiringly. For any kid who is accustomed to minor hockey in front of 30-40 parents every evening, it’s kind of like becoming a rockstar over night. I was horribly anxious. My goal was to just fit in to the best of my ability, and fit in I did. I received positive feedback from the staff after my stint and returned home. I finished off my final season of minor hockey and trained harder than I ever had that off season. I was expected to be a full time WHL player that following season and didn’t want to leave it up to chance. I returned to Moose Jaw in September and continued with the process. I survived the exhibition season and earned a spot on the regular season roster. The home opener rolled around and I wasn’t penciled in to play. Although mildly disappointed, not at all surprised. Fortunately for myself, my brother was around to mentor me prior on the hardships of the league. I think ten games past until I finally saw my name on the lineup sheet. That’s about a month of bag skating every morning to stay in game shape while not actually playing games. I was already beginning to lose confidence in myself. A once borderline arrogant kid who fit in fine at sixteen could barely get in the lineup during what was supposed to be a big year for me. That game passed. I played maybe five shifts. I didn’t play the following ten some odd games and continued with my conditioning routines that were slowly wearing on me. Doing my absolute best to keep my head up and remain positive around the rink, I finally got in two games straight on a road trip against Lethbridge and Kootenay. Having a little more opportunity to showcase myself I was satisfied with how the trip went, fitting in and getting in a fight in Kootenay. We returned and several weeks passed until I was called into the GM’s office. Any junior hockey player, especially one going through what I was, can atest that that’s almost never good news. It wasn’t. I was being sent down for developmental purposes. Not to junior A but to junior B. That was an extremely humbling experience. I was back to playing in front of smaller crowds. Hockey that was much less glorified and appreciated. I joined the Abbotsford Pilots for the remainder of the 2013 season. They were hosting the Nationals for junior B, so I decided that would be my best bet for exposure and experience. As hard as it was to admit at the time, I made the wrong call. Moose Jaw initially wanted me to report to Pilots rival, the Aldergrove Kodiaks, who ended up winning the league championship that year. I was stubborn and bitter based on returning home and decided I knew better. On top of that, I wasn’t given much opportunity to develop in Abbotsford which made it difficult to prove any sort of point about being sent down. It’s funny how things work out sometimes when you think you know better than everyone else. I finished up an anticlimactic season for the Pilots and swore to myself I would never return. The Warriors continued to hold my rights counting on me taking another kick at the can the following year at camp. That was until I received a phone call in early August that summer. The GM of the Warriors telling me he no longer felt there would be an opportunity for me with their club but had found a potential opportunity for me to report to the Prince George Cougars. I was quietly heart broken as over the last three years the Moose Jaw Warriors had become a part of my identity. That being said I have absolutely no hard feelings with anyone or anything associated with that team. I loved my time there and met friends I still am in touch with to this day. I was a big kid who was rough around the edges that needed a shot. They gave me a shot. Also my dream of being a WHL regular wasn’t over. The Prince George Cougars were willing to give me an opportunity as an eighteen year old. Although I was a little late to the party I figured I might just be arriving fashionably late. They wanted me to tryout as a forward. Usually when you’re trying a big, physical, fringe defenseman out as forward you can assume that is to enforce. Through out my career I never minded fighting when it was in the heat of the moment. I could handle my own. When it came to thinking about it, my troubles began. I am someone deals with a decent level of anxiety in life to begin with. I think my roll in hockey increased it severely at times. I couldn’t help but consume myself with the idea of squaring up with someone for a fist fight in front of a huge crowd. I had a certain mental moral code. I made an agreement with myself that I would be a hockey player who could fight, not a goon. I got in three fights in Prince George camp. One of which I was dropped quickly by one of the leagues tougher customers. The other two, spirited bouts both in the same game against another established fighter. After camp concluded I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I was debating if this was something I even desired anymore. Did I want to spend the next three years brawling every night with likely no light at the end of the tunnel? Not necessarily. I played the exhibition season, didn’t fight once, and was expectedly released. That was it. Aside from getting a Portland Winterhawks camp invite, that was a half favour from my brother finishing his career there, my WHL dream had reached its finale. Immediately my brain was scattered in every which direction. I felt as though I had failed everyone around me as well as myself. I felt guilty for not caring as much as I once did. I had reached the point in which the concept of making it meant more than the actual game. For years I think it effected me in every aspect of life. When you strive so hard to make something happen in your life and it doesn’t, you come up with questions. Sometimes you come up with excuses. You look for something or someone to blame. In reality, whether you choose to believe everything happens for a reason or not, everything does happen. You get to choose how you want it to impact your life. How you want to react to it. For a long time I wanted to react negatively. Bitterness and jealousy at times consumed me. Three years have passed since I played my last regular season game in that league. Those three years allowed me to grow and mature as a person. I couldn’t be more thankful for all the opportunities I was granted. Instead of focusing on all the people who got the bounces that I didn’t, I look at those who missed the ones I got. There’s tons of guys out there. Great athletes and great people, who never got a shot. Someone asked me a while back, if my parents had been disappointed when I returned from my stint in the WHL. I replied without even thinking that I had done a lot more than them or anyone had ever assumed I could. I was never a child superstar. I was a big semi-clumsy, husky kid who decided he wanted to be like his older brother. And although not for long, I fulfilled that dream. Without compromising my well being and health. I was that guy I dreamt of being for seven regular season games. Seven was always my lucky number. In every instance it was available, I wore it. If you ever told the kid watching the Vancouver Giants he’d go seventh round in this league one day, he wouldn’t believe you. If you told him that he’d get a chance to go out there seven times, he’d be thrilled. Seven was enough for me.