Devils' Eric Gelinas beats ball-playing kin to Yankee Stadium | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaDevils' Eric Gelinas beats ball-playing kin to Yankee Stadium

Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | 01:31 PM

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Before he became an NHL defenceman, New Jersey's Eric Gelinas looked like he could follow the path of his baseball-playing father and brother. (Elsa/Getty Images) Before he became an NHL defenceman, New Jersey's Eric Gelinas looked like he could follow the path of his baseball-playing father and brother. (Elsa/Getty Images)

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New Jersey Devils rookie defenceman Eric Gelinas played baseball at a high level, but he chose hockey and now will play a game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday in front of his baseball-playing father and brother.

Of the three current and former pro athletes in his family, New Jersey Devils rookie defenceman Eric Gelinas seemed the least likely to be the first to play a game in Yankee Stadium.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Gelinas's father, Marc Paul, a pitcher, in 1978. He spent four seasons in the Pirates' system, but never advanced past double-A ball before he retired.

Eric's 30-year-old brother Karl, who has pitched for the Quebec Capitales of the independent CanAm league the past few seasons, has been invited to the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp next month.

Although the youngest Gelinas played baseball at a high level until age 15, he chose hockey and now will suit up for the Devils when they meet the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Sunday as part of the NHL's outdoor Stadium Series (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 12:30 p.m. ET).

"My father and brother are not going to like this, but I found baseball a little too boring," says the 22-year-old Gelinas. "I just liked hockey better."

Impact rookie

Karl actually was the reason Eric began playing hockey. The younger Gelinas remembers watching his brother play in a minor hockey game and he wanted to be like Karl. So Eric began playing the game in the Ottawa area before the family moved to Saint-Jean-sur-Richileau, Que., just south of Montreal.

Karl gave up hockey after a concussion in bantam and began to focus on his baseball career.

The Anaheim Angels drafted Karl in 2003, and later the Devils selected Eric in the second round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. He went on to win the Memorial Cup after a trade-deadline deal with the 2010-11 Saint John Seadogs and he showed in his first two seasons of pro that he was ready for the NHL.

In Eric's rookie season with the AHL's Albany Devils, he scored 16 goals. He had never scored more than a dozen in junior. Last season, he took a puck in the mouth in the final pre-season game and was sidelined for two months. But he managed to rebound for a 22-point year in 57 games.

Remarkably, his production has not dropped off in his rookie NHL season. Among freshmen defencemen, only Boston Bruins blue-liner Torey Krug has been better offensively with 11 goals and 25 points in 49 games to Gelinas's six goals and 22 points in 40 games.

"The Memorial Cup was a good experience for my development," Eric said. "It was just so nice to win something after playing on some not very good teams in junior.

"You look at that Saint John team and more than half are playing pro."

From that team, Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Tomas Jurco (Detroit), Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal) and Simon Despres (Pittsburgh) already have had a taste of the NHL.

Switching to D

Even though Gelinas idolized former NHLer Chris Pronger and studied his game, Gelinas is more offensive-minded. But he comes by his scoring prowess honestly. He was a forward growing up, before switching to defence in his bantam season.

"I wasn't going to make the [minor hockey] triple-A St-Jean-sur-Richeleau Aigles team and I didn't want to go down to a lower level," Eric explained. "They told me I could stay if I was willing to play defence, and that's how I became a defenceman."

A few weeks ago, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer toyed with the idea of using Gelinas at forward. He was slumping. But even though DeBoer dressed seven defencemen for several games, Gelinas only saw a few shifts up front on the power play.

"I hit a rough patch," Gelinas said. "I wasn't creating enough and they hoped this would get me back on track. It woke me up and got me straightened out.

"I'm keeping my game simple and that's what I need to do to be successful."

Gelinas has checked in with two goals and six points in his past five games, including a three-point night in the Devils' impressive 7-1 win at home against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

He's heading in the right direction as the Devils skate into their game at Yankee Stadium -- the place where his father and brother dreamed of one day playing.

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