By Jake Muzzin
MY STORY…BEGINS AT AGE 6 …IN WOODSTOCK, ONTARIO, CANADA…
Woodstock is an hour outside of Toronto and it is mostly farming country. It’s the dairy capital of Ontario, or maybe Canada even. There’s a lot of farming events and other than that it’s a pretty small city.
Hockey was a thing to do with all of my friends. Being from Canada every young boy played. My dad enjoyed watching hockey and I enjoyed playing it, so we liked being around our friends that we played hockey with.
Back then hockey was fun, and to this day it is still fun of course. The only difference now is there is a lot more to playing. Being that young I didn’t really think about playing at a higher level too much then.
Growing up in Woodstock, a lot of people played hockey and soccer. For me, I played hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer. When I was 13-years-old, I played Triple-A in Branford. I started to garner some attention in Woodstock because I skated up with the older kids. So that same year I had to decide whether or not to pursue playing hockey or playing soccer. Obviously I picked hockey and as a Canadian it was probably the best decision to make. I really started taking hockey seriously that year.
Being close to Toronto I was definitely a Maple Leafs fan. My favorite Leafs players growing up were Doug Gilmore, Mats Sundin, Wendel Clark and Felix Potvin in net. Those were the guys we pretended to be on the ice sometimes.
My dad and I went to one Leaf game together. They were playing Chicago. So I didn’t get the opportunity to go to too many, but I have one game under my belt. Other than that, while playing in the OHL, we went to a couple of NHL games on the road. We stopped and watched Detroit play and also went to an Ottawa game.
In my OHL draft year I was playing Triple-A in Branford and didn’t really think about the OHL that much at the start of the year. But by the end of the year there were agents contacting me and teams talking to me. I had to make a decision to either play in the NCAA or go the OHL road. After weighing my options, I thought that it was best for me to stay in Ontario and play in the OHL. Luckily I went in the first round of the draft to Sault St. Marie, so I was only playing about seven hours from Woodstock.
My billet family from Sault Ste. Marie made the transition a lot easier for the young kids to come in. They were great with us and made us feel a part of the family. I was fortunate to have two really good billet families. They looked after me like I was their own and I am grateful for that.
During my first year with the Ste. Marie Greyhounds I didn’t play at all because I had back problems. I had two herniated discs. It was hard on me especially because I was 15 and away from home. Talking to the surgeons and the doctors, they said I would likely make a full recovery and be back to playing hockey. But it was pretty frustrating. At first we tried to rehab my back for a year and it wasn’t progressing much. Finally we started talking to surgeons and they said we could do the surgery and that I would back within a year. We decided to do that during February of that season. I remember it took the whole summer and a couple months to get back into shape. It was alright, though. Everyone has their own road and mine was a little harder.
My second year I returned and played 37 games. The transition was a little bit harder for me because of my injury. Going from Triple-A, and missing a year, and then playing in the OHL with much bigger guys was hard. I think that’s why they have the over-age year in the OHL, for instances like mine. Overall, though, the transition to the OHL was OK.
After the 37 games I was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fifth round. I was with them for two years and then I didn’t sign. Then I was an unrestricted free agent and I went back into the draft. This time I wasn’t picked up. Last year, though, I had a good year in Sault Ste. Marie, my over-age year. After that I became a free agent and I talked with multiple teams.
There were quite a few teams asking and talking to me about signing, but Los Angeles stepped up. They are great at developing young guys and they have a really good AHL team. Plus, just talking with Dean Lombardi and Ron Hextall, they made it an easy decision for me. They seemed like they really wanted me. It was an easy decision.
Going to Manchester from there was a great experience for me. The transition from the OHL to pro hockey was a little bit different. For one, living on your own and looking after yourself is a lot different. Learning the Monarchs systems and getting to know a bunch of players and management was good for me because, during training camp that first year, there were some familiar faces around the room. That was really helpful for me. I knew the systems so it was an easy transition coming to that first camp thanks to going to Manchester and playing games with them.
Coming back to an NHL camp was also a little bit different than the first two training camps I participated in with Pittsburgh. I was a lot more confident and physically I was in better shape and mentally ready. So for me it was kind of a different camp because I was a lot more confident in myself. At that time the training camp then was my best camp to date.
Making the Kings out of camp was great and I then started thinking about my first NHL game. I knew I would be nervous but I think most guys feel that way. I had hoped the nerves wouldn’t be too much and that I wouldn’t lose the puck or over stick handle.
But there are great teammates in L.A. and I knew would help me out and keep me calm. Really I think it is one of those things that you have to experience and you just hope to do well.
Jake Muzzin currently plays for the Manchester Monarchs. The 23-year-old defenseman originally signed with the Kings organization in 2010 and he played in his first 11 NHL games during the 2010-11 campaign. His NHL debut came on October 9 against Vancouver.
Muzzin has appeared in 14 games on the blue line for the Manchester Monarchs this season tallying a goal and six assists for seven points and eight penalty minutes. The defenseman started the season with fours assists in his first four games. Muzzin missed four games due to illness but has tallied a goal and an assist in three games since returning to the line-up. The Monarchs earned six of a possible eight points in four games last week including two points in a shootout victory against the Northeast Division leading Springfield Falcons (CBJ) who are off to their best start in franchise history with a record of 10-3-1-3 (24 points, 2nd most in Eastern Conference). The Monarchs currently lead the Atlantic Division with 21 points (9-6-2-1).
Check back to LAKings.com on Thursday to read another MY STORY account…this one featuring forward Richard Clune.
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