As a former NHL player, I have some great memories and some classic stories, and I am really looking forward to sharing these. I can remember one night in Raleigh, North Carolina playing for the Carolina Hurricanes when Paul Coffey looked over to me and said, “Kid, watch this. I am going to score from the red line.”He hopped on the ice for a power play and in classic Paul Coffey fashion went back to get the puck behind the net by taking two strides and shuffling his skates the rest of the way. Rounding the net I had never seen anything like it, world class speed and a world class skater. He got to the red line and took a half slapper over the shoulder of the goalie. The crowd erupted. I sat there in amazement as he came back to the bench and winked at me. I was nineteen years old at the time.
Today, I appreciate it more than I did then. I was too busy back then trying to do whatever it took to “be a player”. This idea of “being a player” was something infused in me by Jeff Jackson at the National Development Team just two years before. As a member of the inaugural season in Ann Arbor, we were taught to do whatever it took to become better at hockey. I can remember the reason I went in the first place was because the current manager of the USA Hockey American Development Model, Bob Mancini, challenged me. He looked me in the eyes and said, “You think you are better than you are.” I made it my mission to prove him wrong. One statement by one coach, talk about knowing how to motivate. I left home and my social life behind to prove that I could play the game. That program did not disappoint. Only today do I realize that the level of practice, attention to detail, and coaching in Ann Arbor was NHL level.
In that first year we played seemingly everyone including the USHL, NAHL, Eastern Junior Hockey League, and the Ontario Hockey League.In a four year span, I would go from playing in a Minnesota State High School Tournament, several junior leagues, the University of Wisconsin, the minors (IHL) and the NHL. Talk about a whirlwind! Things didn’t slow down for me in the National Hockey League over eight seasons. I played with several Hall of Fame players, competed in a Youngstars NHL All-star game, went through many contract negotiations and the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Perhaps the greatest gift was getting paid to be a student of the game. I spent countless hours watching game tape, training, practicing, and playing.
In 2008, my career was ended by a concussion. This hot topic has been something that I never really wanted to talk about simply because I always wanted to be remembered as a player even if it was for deficiencies in my game, but I will touch on this subject because it will help to advance the game. That is my goal of this column, to do whatever it takes to give back to the game. While I would love to simply be politically correct, I don’t believe that doing so is always the best thing. I will write about hockey tactics, life in the various leagues, coaching, and about hot topic issues. Thank you for taking time to read and I look forward to sharing with you!