June 19, 2013
Eric Roy is the first for his hometown to play in the Western Hockey League and hopes he will not be the last.
That said, the next young man out of remote Beauval, Sask., will require a similar amount of resourcefulness. The 18-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman's community does not have its own rink. Roy, who is NHL Central Scouting's 41st-ranked North American skater, regularly faced a 300-km round trip to practise and play games in Meadow Lake, Sask., during his youth, with his parents Bill and Karen and uncle Eldon Edquist doing the chauffering.
Talk about motivation for Roy, who says he embraces being a role model for fellow Métis-Cree youth in the far north of Saskatchewan.
"I always go home and people always welcome me," says Roy, a 6-foot-2 ½, 190-pound offensive defenceman who had 17 goals and 39 points in 72 games for the rebuilding Wheat Kings. "I always go to the school and speak. It's a little disappointing we don't have a rink so no one can skate. We're hoping to build one in the near future so hopefully more kids like me can come out out of Beauval.
"I just love the game of hockey," adds Roy, who furthered his hockey career by leaving home at age 14 to play in Prince Albert, Sask., and live with his grandmother, Irene Roy. "I was out on the pond every day. Kids nowadays, they have so much technology, it's hard to get them outside, but you have to do that."
Roy, who has a late-1994 birthdate, had 53 points during his sophomore season in Brandon, when the Wheat Kings boasted high-scoring finisher Mark Stone and reached the second round of the WHL playoffs. Both he and blueline mate Ryan Pulock, ranked 12th among North American skaters, entered this season with plenty of draft hype. Being part of a Brandon team which finished last in its conference probably shone a particularly harsh light on each young D-man's defensive acumen and play without the puck. The bottom line is each would be a good project for an NHL organization which is willing to let players mature in their farm system.
The pair trained together in Brandon from the end of the season through the NHL combine earlier this month, tightening their bond.
"It's obviously difficult," Roy says. "You always want to be playing, Ryan and I have really focused over the past two months in terms of training and being ready."
1. What is one area of your games that really needs improvement?
"It would have be defensive zone awareness. That's something you have to do when you hopefully turn pro. Skating could always improve ... I'm taller, so doing that is about improving flexibility."
2. Which NHL player do you study because his style of play is close to what you aspire to do at that level?
"I would have to say [the Detroit Red Wings'] Niklas Kronwall. He's a good two-way defenceman, he hits hard and he plays on the power play ... he's a big open-ice hitter. I try to model my game after him."
3. As a defenceman, who is the toughest draft-eligible forward that you faced in the Dub?
"I would have to say Curtis Lazar. He's a good two-way forward, always a good penalty killer and on the power play. He's smart with his stick and it's hard to play against him."
4. Which Wheat Kings teammate(s) do you really credit for helping you adapt to the WHL?
"I'd have to say Mark Stone, Michael Ferland and Shayne Wiebe from my first two years. They were good leaders, captains, and really helped me out."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Favourite movie would be Horrible Bosses. TV show, Two And A Half Men — the Charlie Sheen ones. The show's not the same without him."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.