Monday, July 03, 2006

On the bubble

There are few NHL players ranked as legitimate superstars. The rest spend their entire careers fighting for their jobs. There’s always someone waiting in the wings to take their place.

Player agent Brent Breeze explains why most play out their careers in the minor leagues.

“There are perhaps one or two kids that are ready to jump into the NHL at 18. Ninety-nine percent are going back to their junior team or down to the minors to work their way through the system. If you’re a center drafted by an NHL team with three top centers and two up and comers, it’s going to be very difficult for you to get your shot. You could be a goal scorer throughout your entire junior career, but when you get to the NHL, they may turn you into a checker. If you don’t want to do it, you’re out of there. They’ll just bring in the next guy. It’s all a numbers game.”

Dwayne Roloson remembers his experience. “It was my first training camp. The Calgary Flames had Trevor Kidd and that was about it. They sent me down, and I was really frustrated. We just came back from a road trip and bang! You’re in the airport with a ticket to Saint John. It’s like something blew up inside you. You’re walking on something, and it just dropped out from underneath you. You’ve got to bite the bit and go, go, go, and do what you’ve got to do every day to get back up.

“Being sent up and down is like an emotional roller coaster. Usually when you get sent down, you kind of lose a step. You have to step back and try to see what’s going on and get your mind back into where you were before. A lot of times, it’s hard to do. Even when you get called up, it’s like, ‘Well, am I coming up or coming up for a game and going back down?’ That’s probably one of the toughest parts of the game. You basically have to deal with it on your own.”

In 15 seasons as a professional player, Dallas Eakins played 120 regular season games plus five playoff games for eight NHL teams. He played for nine American Hockey League and two International Hockey League teams. When you look at his statistics, you can estimate Eakins has moved at least 25 times during the course of his professional career.

“I’ve been doing this role my whole career. At the beginning, I expected to go to the minors. How you feel about it depends on where you’re drafted and what you’re agent is telling you. I knew I wasn’t good enough to go up. I was just happy to have a job. Now when I come in, I’m relaxed. The guys are younger and give me more respect than they would if I was younger. On the ice, I’ve been in the game long enough that I’m not uncomfortable. For the 23 and 24 year olds, it’s a different story. As a player, what your agent and the media say about you can build up your ego. You have to know who you are. You always want more playing time, but you have to understand your role as a player. You have to be so disciplined.”

Dallas Eakins knows how hard you have to work to stay in the NHL. “It’s a privilege to play in this league. You can never forget that and should have it in the back of your mind. When a player is sent down to the minors from the NHL, it will either ignite him to play hard or he’ll go in the tank. A good coach will pull him out of that. You need to appreciate what you have. When I feel bad, I just look in the paper. Someone else is always having a worse day.”

Debbie Elicksen


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