Moving On

There’s a difference between dreams and goals. Dreams always seem just beyond reach, but goals are possible to attain with hard work.

When I was 14 years old, my entire family began making sacrifices so that I could realize my goal of earning a college hockey scholarship. I was determined to play for The University of Michigan. Our family moved to Brampton, Ontario so that I could commute to St. Michael’s College School, the school we thought provided me the best opportunity at a scholarship.

Getting to and from school was an ordeal, to say the least. I’d wake up at six in the morning and have my mom drive me to downtown Brampton, where I would catch a GO bus. I’d take the bus for an hour to a mall, where I’d catch a subway. I’d ride that for 30 minutes and when I got off, it was another 20 minute walk to school. I made this trip every school day for two years, convinced that the hard work would pay off later, but realistically, I was undersized for my age and not overly athletic, so reaching the NHL at that time was very much just a dream.

Looking back, I distinctly remember the exact moment, a couple of years later, when playing in the NHL went from being my dream to being my goal.

I was in the middle of first season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), when my coach sat me down for a meeting. At the time, I was 16 years old and had only recently hit a growth spurt. Up until that point, I had been playing on the fourth line, and while I knew I was a good player, I certainly wasn’t considered the best on the team. I’ll never forget that sit-down meeting: it was when my coach told me that I had the tools to play in the NHL—it was just a matter of whether I wanted to work harder than everyone else in order to get there.

The way I approached hockey fundamentally changed after that conversation. Only two years later, at age 19, I was hoisting the Stanley Cup as a member of the Boston Bruins.

Winning the Stanley Cup is so surreal—there’s a reason why a lot of people consider it the most sacred trophy in sports. It’s just something that defies words.

I remember being in the locker room afterwards and just watching the older guys react—all these tough, grown men crying tears of joy after achieving a lifelong goal. It was something I’ll never forget, but at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t fully relate to what they were feeling. Reaching that pinnacle of hockey success in my first year was a tremendous blessing, but I almost wished it had happened later, when I could fully appreciate it. Going from being a fourth liner in the OHL to a Stanley Cup winner in such a short timespan was a lot to absorb.

Ultimately, I think it took me losing in the Stanley Cup Final two seasons later to fully grasp how special it really is to win it all.

Even though I had a lot of success in Boston—we won the Eastern Conference twice in my three seasons there—unfortunately, my time with the Bruins will likely always be defined by my exit.

When I got traded to the Stars after only three seasons in Boston, there were a lot of articles and rumors about how I was pushed off the Bruins because I was some kind of immature, unfocused party animal. Looking back, based on the way the Bruins were situated at the center position and the realities of a salary cap system, it’s clear that the business side of hockey played a big part in why the trade happened.  But that doesn’t make for a very interesting headline or Tweet.

I admit that there were probably some decisions I could have made better, but I also highly doubt that anyone would endorse every choice they made in their late teens. It’s part of growing up. I was living on my own for the first time and was the only single guy on the team. On off-nights, when the other guys would go home to their wives and families, I would go out. But none of my behavior was ever malicious, and it certainly didn’t affect my play on the ice. The suggestion that it did always bothered me because I fulfilled every role that the Bruins asked of me, whether it was leading the team in scoring as a center or serving as a winger on the third line.

In the aftermath of getting traded, I was asked by a lot of media for a response. For the most part, I kept my mouth shut. I was certainly frustrated at being written off as a lost cause at the age of 20, but there’s just not much good that comes from an athlete expressing themselves to the media while they’re angry. I decided to let my play on the ice with Dallas speak for itself.

Now that it’s all completely in the past, I can give you my honest answer. Do I think the Bruins gave up on me too early? Yes, I 100 percent believe that.

I had hoped to stay in Boston for a long time. I even put a deposit down on a house there just months before I was traded. I never got to move in.

But time has given me more perspective. Just about every professional athlete has an experience in which they learn firsthand that they indeed work for a business. The Boston trade was mine.

Boston is always going to be a part of me. I love the city and without question, being a member of the Bruins organization made me a stronger hockey player. For that reason, it’s nearly impossible to look back negatively on my time there. Playing on those experienced teams gave me the confidence and structure to become part of a young leadership core on the Stars. To say I’ve embraced my new surroundings would be an understatement.

Winning that first Stanley Cup in Boston was a dream. Now winning one for Dallas is my goal.