The uncle of Canadian forward Cody Eakin, left, played at the 1982 world junior hockey championship. (Canadian Press)
BUFFALO - Emerson Etem may not like Buffalo, but Bruce Eakin is having a blast in the Queen City.
Etem is the California-raised United States forward who bashed Buffalo with an entry on his Twitter account earlier this week. He wrote the location of the 2011 world junior hockey championship is "the worst city ever" and that it "makes Medicine Hat [where he plays junior] look like paradise, never thought ide [sic] say that."
The Anaheim Ducks prospect later apologized for his brain cramp, but the damage was done. When he scored in the U.S. win over Slovakia the hometown fans jeered him at HSBC Arena on Tuesday.
Eakin, on the other hand, applauds his time in Buffalo, and why not? He has returned to the world junior tournament almost three decades after he helped Canada win its first gold medal in 1982. What has brought the former Calgary Flames forward back to the world under-20 championship 29 years later? His nephew is Canadian junior forward Cody Eakin.
The elder Eakin and his sons Myles, 13, and Taylor, 17, have been staying at the home of Buffalo Sabres assistant coach James Patrick. The two Winnipeggers played together on the 1982 Canadian junior team. Myles has been wearing his father's threadbare No. 24 sweater from the 1982 tournament to the games and cheer on his cousin.
Out of the hockey loop
"I've been out of the [hockey] loop for some time living in Florida," said Eakin, who runs a TCBY yoghurt shop in Universal City near Orlando. "It has been almost overwhelming for me to take this in. Even the wind whipping off the lake reminds me being a kid in Winnipeg. It takes you back. It makes you feel like putting on skates and playing again."
Eakin could not help but rewind his memory bank back to 1982, when he watched Cody and the rest of this edition of the Canadian junior team handle Russia 6-3 on Sunday.
Back in 1982, the world junior was hosted by the state of Minnesota, but Canada opened the tournament with a few games in Eakin's hometown, including a 7-0 victory over Russia in a jam-packed and rockin' Winnipeg Arena.
Eakin played on a line with Paul Cyr and Mark Morrison. The three scored "three or four goals" against Russia.
"That game is one of my best memories from that tournament," Eakin said. "The place was so loud and it was so exciting. It was tough, being a teenager, to calm myself down. I couldn't help but think during the game against Russia here the other night the similar feeling that the Canadian kids must have been going through."
Another favourite memory for Eakin and most players from that team is Canada's tournament finale in Rochester, Minn., when Canada managed a 3-3 draw against the former Czechoslovakia. The result gave Canada the gold, but tournament organizers forgot to bring a recording of O Canada to the small 3,000-seat venue. So the Canadian kids lined up on the blue line arm-in-arm and sang the national anthem a cappella. That's where the tradition began of the Canadian juniors singing O'Canada whey they win gold.
Played in Europe
Eakin, now 48, went on to play 13 NHL games with the Flames and Detroit Red Wings, and finished his pro career with a dozen seasons in Europe, mostly in Germany.
He marvels at the differences in the game both when he played in the world junior and since he retired in 1999. The size, speed, the reaction time required and the equipment of today's game has improved so much.
"No wonder people in Florida who haven't grown up with the game have trouble following the flow," Eakin said.
Eakin remarked that he doesn't offer too much advice to his nephew, a Washington Capitals prospect, because the game is so different now and Cody has enough coaches and personal trainers to listen to.
"He gets enough advice," Bruce said. "I just tell him don't be late and don't miss curfew. He can be stupid after his 10 or 15 year career is over."
Cody, however, states that his uncle has had a hand in shaping him as a player.
"He and my dad were a big influence on me," said the 19-year-old redhead, whose father Grant also played pro hockey. "They were always there for me. [Bruce] reminded me all the time about passing the puck, being unselfish and stuff. He was a skilled guy so it was always great to talk to him growing up."
Cody has watched a highlight video of the 1982 tournament, the first year of Hockey Canada's junior program of excellence, and is aware of his uncle's exploits 29 years ago.
"It is definitely special, being the first ever to win gold and the first national team with the program of excellence," Cody said. "We talk about it a lot. He shows off his ring a lot and reminds me of what he did. He is very proud of it and he should be. It is pretty special."
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