NHL Players Reflect On Their Beginnings

Try Hockey For Free is Saturday

Before they possessed the skill to become role models in their respective pockets of the nation, before they glistened highlight reels with memorizing goals, hits, and breathtaking plays, before they worked their way to play the game they loved for a living, they started with a single step on the ice. 


In the ninth season of Try Hockey For Free, we gather insight from various NHLers around the league on what inspired them to try out hockey, and what about the sport has kept them playing it still to this day.


Carolina Hurricanes


Justin Faulk

Defensemen – South St. Paul, Minn.

“I’m from Minnesota, so if you don’t skate, you’re kind of the odd man out. And I know my brother played hockey and he’s older than me, so I’m sure that had something to do with it. It’s just pretty natural in Minnesota to play hockey, and I liked it from the get-go.”


“Skating outdoors, the freedom. Just going out and playing. The most natural state is outside, even on the rink or indoors, just being on your own and having fun, trying things out the way you want out there. And I think that’s how kids can really find the love for the game, doing things their way instead of being directed, though I guess some guidance is helpful at times. Skating outdoors is the best way to do it.”


Trevor van Riemsdyk

Defenseman – Middletown Township, N.J.

“Well my dad growing up, he was born in Montreal, and he was always into it. And obviously my older brother started playing. We played a lot of sports, pretty much every one, but I think right from the start my dad could tell that [hockey] was one of our favorites. And then you see your older brother doing it and you want to copy him, so I got into it there, probably around four or five, and just loved it ever since. It’s probably a similar story to a lot of guys, but my dad loved it and he wanted to pass it on.”


“My dad was always one of the instructors, and then being out there with my brother and him, and seeing how much he enjoyed it, and then I had friends that did it. As a little kid that’s all you’re thinking about, being with your friends, and dad, and brother. So from the start, that was pretty much the appeal of it, and then as you get older and older, it’s that bond that a lot of hockey players have.”

 A three-time NHL All-Star, Faulk represented the U.S. at the 2014 Olympics.A three-time NHL All-Star, Faulk represented the U.S. at the 2014 Olympics.

Colorado Avalanche


Matt Nieto

Forward – Long Beach, Calif.

“I think just being at the rink, being around teammates that played well. I think the most fun times that hockey players remember are times in the locker room, traveling with friends for hockey tournaments. Playing mini-sticks in the hotels, all of that is a fun part of it and things I’ll always remember.


JT Compher

Forward – Northbrook, Ill.

“Growing up in Chicago and the rise of the Blackhawks, it was a lot of fun to play hockey as a kid. The competitiveness and getting out there with your friends. It was a friend who convinced me to skate for the first time. I fell in love with it and I’ve been playing it my whole life.”


Ian Cole

Defenseman – Ann Arbor, Mich.

“All sports were options, but when you lived in a state, Michigan, where it was definitely very common and certainly a beloved sport. My dad played his whole life, never at a high level but he played his whole life. He got me into it early, as far as getting skates, getting me on the ice. [I think you’re right], I think once kids get on the ice and are able to get on the ice and watch their NHL team, and keep on going back between those two aspects of it, they fall in love with hockey. I know I certainly did around 3 or 4 years old, and it was obviously a good decision on my dad’s part to give me some skates.”


Minnesota Wild


Ryan Suter 

Defenseman – Madison, Wis.

“Basically, just growing up around the rink. Watching my uncle play in the Olympics, hearing about my dad—I never got to watch it—but hearing stories about him. Always being around it. I grew up at the rink and I wanted to be a part of it. “


“I never dreamed of playing in the NHL, it was always play college hockey at Wisconsin like my uncles and play on the Olympic team, that was always a thing. I really didn’t have a choice—I did, but I was always at the rink and that’s all I ever wanted.”


“We grew up on the lake, so we would always, that was my job, the guy who had to shovel the rink off and get it ready for all my brothers and us to skate. The first time was a little park in Madison, just outside Madison. It’s neat seeing how far it’s come. I’m sure they’ve always had these outdoor rinks but just driving around and now having kids, I was outside last night with my son playing, and my daughters were out there too, so it’s fun and it’s pretty neat seeing how far it’s come.”


Luke Kunin

Forward – Chesterfield, Mo.

I think just my dad was a big hockey fan. He played—nothing really special just some high school and club college—but he loved the game, loved being around it. He had my brother and I on skates I think before we could walk, just messing around, and we always had a hockey stick in our hands. I think just him loving the game, that’s kind of how that started.”


“I think it’s great to see how, especially being a kid from Missouri, how much the game’s grown in some of these non-hockey hotbed places and how it’s kind of turned around and seeing more kids play. Guys like Auston Matthews from Arizona and how much hockey’s grown there and it’s just great to see.”


Jordan Greenway

Forward – Canton, N.Y.

“Where I’m from, everyone plays hockey. A lot of my family members did, so that’s really what started it. “


“I think USA Hockey has done a lot to try and get everyone to play and expand hockey to other parts of the country that wouldn’t see it that often. With that, I think it’s getting more diverse—everyone playing from different races and male and female—so I think they’ve done a great job.”


“Keith Tkachuk I watched a lot. Growing up he was a pretty big influence, he had a big influence on me, always was there to talk to me and stuff like that, so it’s always good to have someone like that and have them in your corner.”


Vancouver Canucks


Brock Boeser

Forward – Burnsville, Minn.

“I loved just about everything [playing]. Just getting to grow up with some of your best friends playing hockey growing up. All of us would get on the outdoor rinks in the winter. It was things like that, I really enjoyed growing up in Minnesota and really cherished my time there.”

Earlier this month, Boeser became the second-fastest player to 50 goals in Canucks history, behind Pavel Bure.Earlier this month, Boeser became the second-fastest player to 50 goals in Canucks history, behind Pavel Bure.

Thatcher Demko

Goaltender – San Diego, Calif.

“I’ve always just been drawn to the sport. My dad got me on the ice really early, and I’ve always excited to get on the ice. It’s such a fun game, it’s the best sport in the world. I think the big thing for me is just being part of the team. I’ve always enjoyed being in the locker room with these guys, and any guys I’ve played with, being on the ice and grinding with them. The team aspect is a big thing for me and I had a lot of fun with it growing up.”


Tyler Motte

Forward – Port Huron, Mich.

“Just, it was a little different than a lot of sports other kids were playing. My brother is the real reason I got into hockey. Having the opportunity to play even at a house level was something that gave me and a lot of other kids the opportunity to try it. Obviously, everyone ends up picking a sport that they love the most, but to be exposed to it and give kids the opportunity to make that decision themselves I think is important. Obviously, basketball, football, soccer are a lot of sports kids play at a young age. To get kids in the mix, it can only strengthen our fanbase at this level, but can also get kids active on a whole another level at a young age.”


Vegas Golden Knights


Alex Tuch

Forward – Syracuse, N.Y.

My dad [got me started]. He thought it was a great way to teach me good morals and good characteristics such as teamwork, dedication and hard work. So that year he fell in love with hockey playing men’s league around town with some work buddies, so he decided to build a hockey rink in the back yard and teach me how to skate.”


“I loved being on the ice. I loved playing with my friends. Being a young player, scoring goals. Scoring goals was awesome. It was great growing up. It’s also something that brought my dad and I closer together. We shared a lot of special moments and times together through the years because of hockey.”


Jon Merrill

Defenseman – Oklahoma City, Okla

I’d have to credit my brother [for my start]. I have a brother, he is two year’s older and he loved hockey and wanted to go to the rink all the time. So, it was easy for my parents to just bring us both to the rink and then eventually we both fell in love with it.”


To be honest, [loved] the Detroit Red Wings. I was born in 1992 and that was right when they were building their dynasty to back-to-back Cups in 97’ and 98’. So, as a 6/7-year-old kid to be able to experience that and watch them play, they had so many good players on that team. I think that kept all of us young kids in the Detroit area involved in hockey and wanting to be just like them.”

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