EDMONTON – One of the most important aspects of the U20 is watching the development of players. Going against the best from the rest of the world is an important gauge. Case in point, Team USA forward Emerson Etem, playing in his second U20.
“Last year I was really the 13th or 14th forward on the team and I embraced that, but this year I think I’m a lot more stronger and I finish my checks. I use stops and starts more often, and don’t curl away, just try to finish every one of my checks. I think that’s been the biggest difference.”
At 6’, 192 lbs. (1.83m, 87 kg), he’s not big, but he is feisty and determined, and after being selected 29th overall by Anaheim at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft he’s also headed to the NHL at some point. No one knows whether he’ll play one game or a thousand, but he’ll be there at some point. He’s too good not to be given a try.
Etem is an unlikely player. Born in Long Beach, California, his first idea of skating was in the form of rollerblades. “I started at a YMCA roller rink right down the street. I wanted to try it out when I was three, and I enjoyed it a lot and stuck with it. When I was six I switched to hockey and continued to enjoy it. My good friend Matt Nieto, who plays for Boston University now, was on my first team. We started out together and it’s good to see him succeed now.”
There is only one reason why Etem was remotely interested in hockey to start with – number 99. “Wayne Gretzky more or less brought hockey to southern California with the Kings, and I followed his success,” Etem explained. Although he was only four years old when Gretzky signed with the Rangers and seven when Gretzky retired altogether, the Great One’s legacy lived long past his playing days.
Etem had an older brother, Martin, who also played, and it was through Martin that Emerson took a big step in his hockey life when he was only 14. “My brother played hockey in Long Beach, and his team went to Maryland to play in a tournament. Sidney Crosby was playing for Shattuck, with Jack Johnson, and some other big name stars and I just wanted to try it out as well. I went there for a year but liked it so much I stayed another year and played under Tom Ward at the Shattuck prep team. It worked out really well.”
Of course, players from Canada move to play in NCAA all the time, and the reverse is also common. Etem decided he wanted to make hockey his life so decided to play in the Western Hockey League rather than college hockey. Currently in his third year with Medicine Hat, he has gone from being a marginal 16-year-old to being a dominant 19-year-old, this year averaging nearly a goal a game and two points a game.
He made the American U20 team last year when the event was held in Buffalo, but he made a large personal gaffe when he used Twitter to say bad things about Buffalo by insulting Medicine Hat as well.
“You’ve got to stay away from the social media,” he admitted. “You don’t want people misunderstanding what you’re saying, especially at a big tournament like this. I’ve decided not to use social networking and focus on my on-ice capabilities.”
Because he’s played for the Tigers for three seasons, Etem has seen his fair share of the Rexall Centre and knows the Alberta crowds. “I play in this barn three or four times a year, and I’m used to the ice, used to the glass, the boards – they’re pretty fast here. And it’s great ice. The atmosphere is great, especially when the fans are rooting against you. You try to block it out but at the same time it kind of gives you motivation to do well. It’s going to be twice as bad when we play Canada, so we’re trying to get used to it.”
He has four days to get used to the booing. On New Year’s Eve, it will reach a crescendo – and that should make for a great game.”