Thursday November 20, 2014

Love of the game never ending

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John Odgers

Hockey certainly flows through the veins of John Odgers.

His father had a 12-season, near 900-game, National Hockey League career, including wearing the Captain’s ‘C’ with San Jose.

So it’s not surprising the younger Odgers was a player, making it the Junior ranks with the Yorkton Terriers playing his first game as a 17-year-old.

Odgers said he recalls the situation well, getting the call from Terrier head coach Trent Cassan to join the Terriers as an affiliated player on a road swing to Flin Flon and Nipawin, the second game of the trip also being the first appearance of Chase and Brady Norrish in Terrier uniforms as APs.

Odgers would go on to play a stint in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with Prince George following his Midget days.

“Playing in Prince George was obviously something I always wanted. I dreamed of playing in the WHL,” he said.

But ending up with the Terriers was not a bad thing either.

“For a farm boy from Spy Hill you couldn’t play on a better team than the home town Yorkton Terriers,” said Odgers, adding it meant having family in the rink watching every game, including father Jeff.

So what is it like playing in front of a father with years of NHL experience.

The younger Odgers said while many might think his dad a “hard ass” based on the way he played, he added “my dad was never somebody to be over you to get to the gym, or to get out on the ice. He said if I didn’t want to work out that was up to me. He said wanting to get out on the ice, or lift weights, that should be something you want to do for yourself.

That said having Jeff Odgers to turn to for help was an asset.

“I was extremely lucky to have somebody as knowledgeable about the game,” he said, adding it helped his father played the same rugged style so could relate to what his son was doing on the ice.

Now 20, you might expect Odgers to be a Terrier leader in their bid for the RBC Cup, and he is, just not in the way he had expected when the season launched last fall.

Odgers was looking forward to his final Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League when an injury changed everything.

One hit, 23-games into the campaign, and Odgers’ shoulder was out of commission, an injury which would end his playing days.

“For me it was pretty tough,” said Odgers, who said he had been looking forward to the season. “I was kind of playing the year for myself. I wasn’t eligible to play at some big time school. Instead I was playing for myself to finish off my Junior career with some of my best friends.”

Odgers had played five seasons with the likes of Terrier Captain Devon McMullen and goaltender Kale Thomson, time stretching back to his AAA Midget days with the Yorkton Harvest.

So Odgers admitted he took the injury hard.

“When I got hurt and realized I couldn’t be a player anymore, there was a period where I was pretty upset,” he said.

The injury to his shoulder was one Odgers might have tried to play with, but made the decision not to risk more permanent damage should another injury occur.

“I could probably have played with a brace, but one wrong hit, one bad fight,” he said.

Odgers said he knew he couldn’t play to avoid contact, because that was not his game.

“It (the shoulder) was just not stable enough to take the way I have to play the game to be effective,” he said. “I wasn’t going to play the game half-assed. If I was going to play I was going to play the way I always played.”

Odgers said a player like Brett Boehm doesn’t have to be physical to be effective. Players like himself, Josh Ellis and Daylan Gatzke have to be physical.

“That’s the role you take on,” said Odgers.

However, for Odgers that role was gone with his shoulder injury.

His time with the Terriers, however was not, as he would evolve into an assistant coach.

Asked if that was his idea, he replied “it was kind of a two-way street.”

Cassan, and assistant Terrier coach Casey O’Brien had suggested Odgers get out of town after the injury to help get away from things.

Odgers said younger brother Dakota was playing in Swift Current with the WHL Broncos.

“Dad and I took the long, boring drive from Yorkton to Swift,” he said.

It was on the trip Odgers made the final decision not to risk playing again.

“I made up my mind to stop playing and to take care of my shoulder,” he said, adding “I made a phone call to Trent that I wasn’t going to play anymore.”

Odgers also let the Terrier coach know he wanted to still be involved with the team in some way.

“I knew the group of guys in the room. What I thought would happen has happened,” he said sitting across the table of a restaurant in Vernon.

“I wanted to be part of the team still. I loved all the guys in the room. I loved Trent and Casey for being so good to me,” he said.

And the Odgers’ story stops once more in Flin Flon. Cassan asks Odgers to go on the bench as “another set of eyes” a set of eyes perhaps more reflective of a player since he was so freshly removed from the game.

Converting from player to coach mid season at age 20 wasn’t necessarily easy.

“There was a feeling out process,” he said, especially as his relationship with the players evolved from teammate to coach.

But eventually Odgers said he became sort of the middle ground, a place the coaches could ask for a viewpoint perhaps more attuned to a player, and players could approach without it being the head coach they were talking to.

Odgers also had to adapt quickly to looking at the game in a bigger picture sort of way, rather than the narrow confines of playing his role within a team system.

“When I get to the rink to watch a game, I’m watching it as a coach now,” he said, adding he looks for break-out patterns, powerplay set-ups. “You watch for tendencies. Think how to adjust.”

The RBC will bring to an end Odgers Junior career, and his taste of coaching. He plans to use his WHL scholarship dollars to take kinesiology and with a degree do some traveling outside Saskatchewan.

If at that time he longs to be involved in the game he has focused exclusively on since he was 14, then coaching “is definitely a possibility,” he said. “It’s an opportunity. I may come to love this side of the game. It would still keep me part of this world.”

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