For many young hockey fans, the first time you strap on a pair of skates is a memory ebbed in your mind. But sometimes that first desire to be a part of the ice presents itself in other ways. For 23 year-old Edmonton Oilers Jordan Eberle, socks made a decent substitute for skates during the early stages of life.
“I was about 2 years old, we had a linoleum floor in our house and I used to wear socks and pretend like I was skating around,” said Eberle. “I showed an interest in hockey at that age and my parents decided to put me in – so I was fairly young.”
With interest in the sport at a young age, players often need the guidance to make it through to the next level. With a tight knit hockey family behind him, it was the extensive support from both his parents, that helped develop the player that fans see today.
“My Dad had a lot to do with where I’ve gotten. He coached me all the way up until about peewee. He was always there to motivate me,” said Eberle. “Obviously it was both my parents, my mom drove me to the rink all the time – although that’s probably like most hockey players.”
Many hockey players are rightfully quick to place recognition in their families support and sacrifice throughout the years. But it’s often influences at their home away from home, the rink, that facilitate a greater success within a player.
“I’ve had a lot of great coaches. In Junior Curtis Hunt and another guy Dale Derkatch,” said Eberle. “When you’re a young kid, you really soak up a lot, those guys definitely had a lot to teach me and they helped me along the way.”
Now, at 5’11″, Eberle stands in a similar height range to many of his NHL peers. However, in a sport where size is often a selling point for a players ability, smaller players talents may go overlooked. While some may have found size as a negative, Eberle converted it into a powerful tool, motivation.
“Growing up I was a small kid. We have a Bantam draft here in Canada where you get drafted to Junior teams and I was the 7th round pick. I was overlooked just because of my size;” said Eberle. “I think the biggest piece of advice I was given was don’t really read into the paper, don’t let people roll you out, people can say what they want. At the end of the day it’s what you do. I kind of just used that as motivation from what people said and used it to move forward. It’s obviously a big reason why I am where I am today.”
Another opportunity that launched Eberle into his current success, was found where many other NHL players got their start, the world of Junior Hockey. A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Eberle grew up watching the hometown team Regina Pats throughout his childhood. Being granted the opportunity to play for a team you’ve loved your entire life is a game changer – literally. Spending 4 years with the Pats was a positive experience for the forward on many levels.
“The Pats, that’s where I grew up, in Regina. To be honest, I probably would have gone and played college if I had been drafted by any other team than the Pats,” said Eberle. “I got a chance to play for a team that I grew up watching, it was amazing. A lot of kids at a young age are leaving home and it’s tough. For me, it wasn’t that tough because I was already home. Junior hockey is really a stepping stone to the NHL – I learned at a young age how to play the game. I played there for 4 years, I really gained confidence and worked on my game to get to the NHL, it definitely helped me a ton.”
From one dream team to another, Eberle was picked in the first round, 22nd overall during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers and it’s been a successful ride ever since. The start of 2012 put Eberle on the NHL All Star map, where he competed in Ottawa among a star studded roster of his peers. Showcasing an outstanding season offensively, while managing to stay away from the penalty box, put Eberle as a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Despite losing out to Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, it gave Eberle a trip to Vegas for the NHL Awards and an impressive accomplishment to look back on. It’s safe to say that the star forward ended the 2011-12 season on a high note.
While many players were suffering from the lockout at the start of the 2012-13 season, Eberle continued his success when he hit the ice for the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. During his time with the Barons, Eberle was named the CCM/AHL Player of the month in both November and December 2012. Impressive statistics to say the least, for Eberle it was an exciting opportunity to further his game.
“It was the lockout, it would have been a waste not to play hockey. I’m a young kid, I know some of the other guys take time off, but they have families and situations and they’re a little older so it makes sense. For me, I’m only 23, to miss half a season would have been a waste,” said Eberle. “I have a lot to learn within the game and a lot to get better with. Going down there, it was enjoyable. I got to play hockey and to play with a lot of players that will be in Edmonton soon enough. I think it was good for us, you developed your game and you gained some confidence for sure. You get to continue playing hockey, so I was happy that I got to go down there.”
At such a young age, with a list of accomplishments longer than many players see in their entire careers, you’d think it may be hard to pick a favorite. For Eberle, two specific achievements have stood out among the rest.
“World Juniors was great, anytime you get the chance to win, it’s always memorable,” said Eberle. “Or, I think every kid probably remembers their first NHL game, that was a pretty special moment for me. Not to mention, I scored in the game too, so I remember that. Both of those I’d rate pretty highly.”
It’s true that Eberle is currently skating on a roster full of young talent, but there’s always that one player that you’d like the opportunity to skate with at some point in your career.
“It goes without saying, Sidney Crosby,” said Eberle. “He’s the best player in the game, if you get the chance to be on the ice with him- he’s pretty amazing. I would love the chance to play with him someday.”
Despite wishing that someday he’ll share a line with Crosby, it’s clear that Eberle appreciates the lineup he currently shares. Perhaps it’s that appreciation that has earned him the “A” on his sweater. Although the “A” bears a certain amount of responsibility, it hasn’t changed the type of personality Eberle brings to the locker room.
“I’m definitely a guy that likes to have fun and joke around. The guys appreciate that and they give it back, I think that’s what hockey is all about,” said Eberle. “You probably ask a million guys who are retired about what they miss the most and they’ll wind up answering the banter in the locker room and camaraderie. I’m definitely involved in that, I get along with my teammates and just enjoy being around there.”
Being an active member of the Oilers community, has allowed Eberle the opportunity to partake in many events both on and off the ice. One thing that he’s seen is the amount of females joining the sport of ice hockey.
“I think it’s definitely growing. I was at a function last week in Edmonton for the Oilers Skills Camp for Kids, half the kids on the ice there were girls,” said Eberle. “It’s great to see that it’s expanding – I was asked a question last week, if I think girls can play in the NHL. I’ve played with some of the best ones, Wickenheiser, I’ve played against her when we were playing Team Canada. Just the way they’re developing, I can see the possibility one day.”
Spreading the sport to both males and females of any age or gender has become a widespread phenomenon throughout the hockey community. But the concept of both sexes playing the sport has been a part of the Eberle family for years. One of four children, Eberle has a brother and two sisters all of whom have hit the ice at some point.
“My older sister played and was really into it. She was actually very good too, she had a scholarship lined up as well but chose to take medical schooling in Canada,” said Eberle. “But she was a very good hockey player, she grew up playing for a long while. My mom played for a bit too, later on, she didn’t grow up playing, she started playing later. Hockey is definitely huge in my family.”
Family hockey dynamic aside and an off-season ahead has Eberle preparing for another season in the NHL come October. Despite a calculated training regime, mixing in a little off-season fun has become part of the daily routine.
“I usually get up pretty early to work out, I hate working out in the afternoon, it seems like you just wake up to waste the day. I like to get up and train, go to the gym from 9-11:30 or 12,” said Eberle. “Golfing is a big hobby of mine, I like to play a ton of golf. I usually like to take in a round most days if I’m not too tired. I love to fish too, I live in Calgary now, so I just go out in my backyard. I love to go fly fishing.”
While Calgary is home during the off-season, his in-season place of residence is never far from his mind or his heart.
“It always leaves a bitter taste when you don’t make the playoffs, but the best part for sure is playing in a Canadian city,” said Eberle. “As a Canadian, you grow up watching hockey and you root for a Canadian team – you don’t really understand what it means to the fans and what it means to the city when you win and when you play there.”
A city is just a city, until a player makes it a home and they say, home is where the heart is. Eberle hopes to bring heart to the ice in Edmonton for seasons to come.
“I love playing there, the atmosphere, the fans, everything about it, it’s great. We need to hopefully make some moves this summer to improve our team and give the fans something to cheer about. I look forward to hopefully winning there someday.”
If past accomplishment is any indication, the success of Edmonton isn’t far off. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that #14 helps to prove to the hockey world what Oilers fans already know: It’s good to be a part of “Oil Country.”