The 30-Year-Old Rookie

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Ryan Kesler, Center / Anaheim Ducks  - The Players' Tribune

Let’s call it awkward. It’s part of the business. You tell yourself you’re a grown man and you’re prepared for it. But walking into a locker room for the first time and seeing guys across the room who have punched you in the face before … yeah, it’s a bit awkward.

It’s especially challenging when those guys are Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. When I was in Vancouver, we were mortal enemies. These were the guys I was trying to troll by any means necessary. Anything to get them off their game. I actually fought Perry twice in the pre-season. The pre-season, man … I can’t even imagine what we were saying to one another to spark a tussle.

To be fair to Getzy, I’m not sure our battle really counts as a fight. He just sort of mushed me into the ice. The guy is a monster.

I wanted a trade out of Vancouver this offseason for several reasons. That’s no disrespect to the fans, my teammates, or Canucks ownership, but I think both sides needed a change. I’ve got three kids at home; I just wanted a more normal life for them away from the rink. Playing in Canada can be a fishbowl not just for players but for families, too. That said, this was really hard. I know you read that all the time, but Vancouver was my home since I was 19. I grew up with Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, and the Sedins. These guys will always be my close friends. One day you wake up and you realize, Wow, I’m really leaving my buddies. It’s weird because I spent all summer preparing for a move, but when I actually got the call from my agent that I was headed to Anaheim, a little bit of anxiety rushed in.

My first thought was: Sunshine. Shorts and flip flops. Nice.

My second thought was: Getzlaf and Perry. Interesting.

Then came a rush of really complicated thoughts: How am I going to tell my 6-year-old daughter that she has to say goodbye to her best friends? What happens with my Canadian bank account? How do those taxes work? Where do I live? How do you even move furniture and stuff?

I had spent my entire career in Vancouver. I probably called my agent 20 times that week with some variation of, “Uh, Kurt, this is really embarrassing, but how do I do [this thing]?”

There are 54 guys who were just moved at the trade deadline, who are going through those same anxieties right now. This is the part in every article where a bunch of people write comments like, “Hey, you guys are millionaires! Just shut up!” Thankfully, I don’t think The Players’ Tribune has a comments section. But hockey players have feelings, too. Or at least our families do.

I remember the moment when it hit me hardest — I had to break the news to my 4-year-old son that we were moving to the U.S. He was born in Canada. It’s all he knows. He loves to sing the national anthem before my games. When I realized that he only knew the words to “O’ Canada,” I got a little choked up.

Thankfully, Americans love a good photobomb, so I think he’s going to do just fine here.

We got settled in Orange County in August, and the Ducks rolled out the red carpet for me. I’ll never forget the feeling of that first day at training camp, though. There I am, a 30-year-old man, and it felt like the first day of school. Everybody knows that I’m a talker. I love to chirp. I love to keep things loose. But that first week, I sat there, getting dressed, not saying a peep.

Getzy, Perry and the rest of the team couldn’t have been more welcoming, but we’re talking 10-plus years of battling against these guys. I’m thinking, I better just shut up and try to absorb how things are done here. Pro-tip for the guys who just got moved at the deadline: Don’t come into the locker room guns blazing. Don’t try to make any jokes the first week. Feel the room out first. Be respectful.

It would be easy to say that everything gelled instantly, and we all became best friends. But any hockey player who’s ever gotten traded will call me on that B. S. right away. That’s not how it works. You have to prove yourself. It takes time to form that bond.

When you’re the new guy, all you want is for the boys to start giving you shit; That’s when it stops being weird. When they’re treating you with kid gloves, it’s the worst feeling. Once you get hit with that first good chirp (in my case, it usually involves my big nose), things feel normal again.

The turning point for me was in late October when we all got together for a team Halloween party at Getzlaf’s house. True to form, I came dressed head-to-toe as a gorilla. (My wife picked it out.) Corey Perry came as a Mountie. We had a Dumb and Dumber combo. Someone was Will Ferrell from Semi-Pro — short shorts and all. It’s one thing to get to know the guys at the rink, but it’s another thing when you’re away from hockey. After a few pops, guys’ personalities start to come out. Playing darts dressed as a gorilla in Getzy’s backyard — that was when it started to feel like I was part of a family.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Washington Capitals

Fortunately, things have gone really well for us on the ice this season. We’re a big, heavy team who loves to grind, which is perfect for my style. It’s a lot easier to line up on the same side as Getzy and Perry. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t strange how it’s all worked out. We were sitting on the team bus on the way to practice the other day, laughing about it. I told them I’d pay so much money to be on that same bus a year ago, to hear all the crazy stuff they were probably saying about me.

We had a good chuckle about the nicknames we used to have for one another — most of which can’t be printed here. My 6-year-old already knows how to Google.

I’ll never forget the day Perry asked me if I wanted to carpool to the rink with him. Never in a million years would I have guessed that we’d be carpool buddies. I’m sure he’d say the same about me. But getting to know him — we’re very similar people. Well, he drives a much nicer car. I still have my old Ford F-150 that I bought with my first real NHL contract.

There we are, two guys who used to beat the hell out of each other, sitting in a beat-up old pickup truck trying to figure out who has the DJ privileges. I won that one, but once I fired up the truck, Perry gives me a funny look. He starts sniffing the air like something’s on fire.

“This thing is rattling,” he says. “You better get the alignment fixed. Actually, get a new car, bud. This is terrible.”

Now that kind of banter is every day. So to all you guys freaking out about getting traded this week — just know that it gets easier. Soon, you’re going to wish the guys would treat you like New Kid again.

Oh, and final pro-tip: Never, ever pose for an underwear photoshoot. It won’t disappear.

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