As many players began to depart from last Saturday’s morning skate prior to their game against Rochester that night, a few Binghamton Senators remained on the ice for some extra work.
One of those players, rookie forward Patrick Eaves, could be seen firing one-timers from captain Denis Hamel into an open net for almost 15 minutes following the conclusion of practice.
It is that form of commitment and strong desire to improve his game that has transformed Eaves from one of the millions of children playing hockey into something that each and every one of them dreams of; a top National Hockey League prospect.
Eaves, 21, is one of the Ottawa Senators’ top prospects and if you’ve had the opportunity to watch him play it is not difficult to see why. The humble Eaves is a true student of the game and has been learning lessons from an accomplished group of teachers since an early age.
His father, Mike, made a name for himself as a standout at the University of Wisconsin from 1974-78. From there the patriarch of the Eaves family went on to enjoy eight seasons in the National Hockey League with the Minnesota North Stars (1978-83) and the Calgary Flames (1983-86).
Following his playing career, Mike served as an assistant coach with the Flames, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. He also took the reins of the AHL’s Hershey Bears from 1990-93. Mike now mans the bench for his alma mater in Madison, Wisc., and his club is currently ranked #1 nationally.
Patrick knows his father will always be there to lend a hand in any fashion that he can throughout his career.
“He’s always been there for me to bounce questions off and fortunately he knows the game at different levels so he’s been able to give me good feedback throughout,” Eaves remarked.
In addition to his father’s success, Eaves’ older brother Ben, who was his teammate for two years in college, is currently with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, while uncle Murray had a most productive AHL career, piling up 680 points and winning two Calder Cups.
Patrick Eaves has built quite an impressive resume of his own to this point in his career. The former Boston College standout donned the maroon and gold for three seasons and served as an assistant captain for prolific coach Jerry York’s squad during his junior year. That season, Eaves garnered first-team All-American, first-team All-Conference and All-New England honors. He was named Hockey East’s Player of the Year and was one of 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists.
During his tenure at BC, Eaves amassed 47 goals and 60 assists for 107 points. He had little trouble adjusting to the collegiate game, partly in thanks to the comfort of skating on the same line as his brother. Eaves knew all along that BC was his school of choice and once he arrived in Chestnut Hill that sentiment was reiterated.
“BC was it,” Eaves said. “My brother was there and once I got there it was just was a perfect match for me with the city and the school.”
The youngster also has a tremendous amount of international experience. In 2004 he was a key member of the U.S. team that captured the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Finland. He also served as an assistant captain for the U.S. National Under-18 team that brought home the gold medal at the 2002 World Under-18 Championships.
Eaves credits the uniformity of the guys he played with as a main component to both team’s achievement.
“We had pretty much the same group of guys at both (tournaments). We played together for two years in the U.S. program and we got reunited for the World Juniors. It was nice being back with your buddies and fortunately we had great leadership and skill throughout the whole line-up. We were a real team and that’s what pushed us over the edge to win.”
Along with all of the success Eaves has enjoyed he has also endured his share of anguish. On Dec. 7, 2002, Eaves, a freshman at BC at the time, was inadvertently clotheslined by a teammate’s stick and suffered a fracture of his C-5 vertebra. He missed 20 games that season due to the injury, but never lost the belief that he would play again.
“I was never afraid that it would end my career. I just knew that it was going to be a setback and the challenge was to get my body back to where it is now, but that kind of stuff only makes you stronger once you get through it,” recalled Eaves.
Unfortunately, the challenges during his freshman season did not end with his injury. In his first game back from the broken neck, Eaves was involved in a collision with Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter. The play left Exter with a serious head injury and postponed Eaves’ return to the ice when he was slapped with a four-game suspension.
Eaves was at the hospital the following day and Exter’s parents never showed any ill will towards him whatsoever.
“I went the next day to see how Joe was doing and his parents were really good to me,” Eaves recalled. “It was a tough situation, but Joe’s back and playing and fortunately he’s got a great family and great support.”
Eaves also missed four games in each his sophomore and junior seasons with the Eagles due to injury. Furthermore, a back ailment forced him out of the line-up for the semi-final and championship rounds of the Hockey East Tournament during his junior year.
Now, with his college playing days behind him, Eaves is optimistic about an equally successful, but hopefully healthier professional career. So far he has had just that. In 18 games with Binghamton this season he has racked up 13 points (5g, 8a) and even got a taste of life in the NHL with seven games in Ottawa’s lineup under his belt.
He scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 24, just 14 seconds into a game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It was pretty cool. I went to see it go over the line and you’ve been waiting your whole life for that so it was really exciting,” said Eaves.
Ottawa’s former first-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (29th overall) has been a fundamental part of the B-Sens’ game plan this year. Eaves has impressed the coaching staff in Binghamton during the first quarter of this season.
“Versatility is a big part of Patrick’s game,” remarked head coach Dave Cameron. “He’s played both wings for us and he’s played the point on the power play. Usually when you’re that versatile as a rookie, it says a lot about how smart you are.
“He’s the type of guy, you tell him something once or twice and he’s got it. You don’t have to swamp him with a lot of video. You show him, you explain to him and he’s smart enough to pick it up,” Cameron added.
With hopes of returning to the NHL before long, right now Eaves is intent on improving all facets of his game in Binghamton. “I think I just need to improve on everything,” he said. “Coach Cameron and Coach Buzzy (assistant coach Mike Busniuk), they work with me as well as everyone, on improving the overall game. I just have to keep going out there and working hard and hopefully get called up soon.”
If Eaves continues to demonstrate the same emotion and grit that he has displayed during the early portion of this season, that call may be closer than anyone anticipated.