In Drew Doughty’s first 10 minutes on the ball hockey floor at Twin Rinks with the Northeast Eagles atoMc Black squad, the two-time Stanley Cup champion and double-Olympic gold medallist barely touched the ball.
It was almost as if the two dozen or so nine- and 10-year olds forgot the all-star blueliner was even there.
“I told them I’d stick to D and dish the puck out,” said the 24-year-old Doughty, making his first-ever visit to Newfoundland.
“They weren’t trying to find me.”
After a few tape-to-tape passes, a little shoulder rub on one of the taller kids on the floor, and an effortless roof job for a goal, Doughty was welcomed into their game.
The scrimmage was just the second time Doughty has played any ball hockey since last August’s Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team camp in Calgary.
“That camp was a little more structured,” Doughty said.
“This is just about having a little fun, getting to know the kids — off the bat, they’re a little shy — getting them to open up and have a little fun.”
The team won the right to play with the Los Angeles Kings star defenceman through a contest offered by Northeast atom hockey sponsor MacDonald’s Canada. Each year, house league teams participating in the atoMc hockey program are entered for a chance to win an end-of-season celebration with one of the program’s ambassadors.
Other ambassadors are Pittsburgh Penguins’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and former women’s national team member Tessa Bonhomme.
“They put a big effort into applying to get this opportunity and I thought it was a great for them,” said Northeast Minor Hockey Association president Ian O’Leary.
After the game, Doughty signed autographs and posed for photos before heading for a meal with the kids and coaches at McDonald’s on Torbay Road.
“Leading up to this, the amount of excitement, the coaches have been telling me, has been tremendous,” O’Leary explained. “They were so excited. A lot of them will remember this for a long time.”
Reaction to Doughty from the kids themselves, was mixed. Caleb Evely of Middle Cove, for instance, watched Doughty play for Canada in the Sochi Olympics and while he admires his talent and appreciated the chance to play with him, the experience didn’t seem to move him as much as it did some teammates.
“I wasn’t really a big fan of his, because I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan,” Evely admitted before racing back out to the floor for his shift.
On the flipside, Torbay’s Nolan Morey admits he had a hard time keeping the big event secret when he found out some two months ago that Doughty would make an appearance.
“I told my best friend, but I didn’t know the day or anything, I just knew I was going to meet him. I was excited for the chance to meet him and have him play with my team.”
“I watched a couple of his playoff games and I thought he was pretty good.”
Sidebar: Doughty was a standout soccer goalkeeper
Growing up in London, Ont., Drew Doughty spent a good part of his summer not in hockey rinks, but on soccer pitches.
His father Paul and mother Connie were both soccer players at a high level and his sister Chelsea — named after his father’s favourite English Premier League club — plays for Niagara University.
Doughty himself was a goaltender, and a pretty good one, who had a chance to play at a provincial level before opting to focus on hockey in his early teens.
“I was probably at about the same level in both, I was just as good at soccer at the time,” Doughty said, adding that the sport helped him develop on the ice as a defenseman.
“I think it helped me see plays develop.”
Doughty, like his idol Wayne Gretzky before him, thinks playing a sport other than hockey is important for all young athletes, even those with aspirations to make to the NHL one day.
“When you focus on one sport too much, I think it kind of overtakes your life and you’re not as open to new things.
“When you’re playing hockey 12 months of the year, it seems fun at the time, but it eventually takes its toll. I think you need to play a bunch of different sports and see what you like. Playing other sports helped me become a better hockey player.”