By: Jake Reiser
If one wants to make it to the NHL, there are two distinct paths to take: play college hockey or go to juniors. Traditionally, being a Canadian, junior hockey is the easiest route, and for Americans, college is the way to go.
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson, a native of Lethbridge, Alberta, took the more conventional route, deciding at age 18 to play with the Regina Pats of the WHL.
“I was a little older when I decided I was going to pursue hockey and I think that I needed to speed the process up,” said Davidson. “That was a main factor in my decision between college and junior. Junior did wonders for me and I think that was the right choice.”
British Columbian forward Jujhar Khaira split his time between the two, playing one year with Michigan Tech before switching to the WHL’s Everett Silvertips.
“I had a good experience with both,” said Khaira. “I enjoyed college when I was there and I really liked juniors. I made the switch because the WHL is more of a professional league, the way it’s scheduled and coached. Both routes are really successful, but for myself, playing more games would be better.”
But Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba broke the mold, as a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan born-and-bread player, he decided to commit to playing at Boston University.
“I was leaning towards playing collegiate hockey. I ended up getting college interest and I had a great visit to Boston, and I went from there,” Gryba said.
Upon his arrival, his game took a 180° spin. Instead of being a point scoring defenseman, he became a physical grinder, a change Gryba credits to the game itself.
“It was adapting to different leagues, playing with older players, just trying to find your way, fight and claw to get to the next level, and that’s what it turned into.”
In four years on Commonwealth Avenue, the defenseman racked up 354 penalty minutes, a Terrier record Gryba thinks will go untouched.
Being tough and clawing his way through is very emblematic of Gryba’s career post-Boston University. After his collegiate career ended, the 6-foot-4, 227lb defenseman found himself fighting for time with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, the affiliate of the team who drafted him in 2006, the Ottawa Senators. He played six games at the tail end of the 2009-10 season after finishing with Boston University, then spent two full seasons with the minor league club.
He finally broke into “the show” on February 16, 2013 against the Toronto Maple Leads, scoring his first goal a little over a month later on March 23, 2013 versus the Tampa Bay Lighting. Last offseason, he was traded from the Senators to the Oilers, and Gryba likes the experience he’s had in Edmonton so far.
“Edmonton has been a great city, very welcoming, die-hard fans, and it’s been a good experience so far,” Gryba said.
Davidson also appreciates having the stalwart skate with him as his linemate.
“He takes care of me back there,” said Davidson. “I think he’s definitely the physical force between us two, and I think we really compliment each other well in the fact that he’s able to shut players down and give me some room to move up, I think I do the same for him as well. It’s just been a really good relationship so far, and I think that as we continue to play here, it’ll keep growing.”
While Gryba’s clearly found success in the National Hockey League and has to focus on a big game against the Bruins Monday evening, there’s still a little sentimentality to being back in Boston.
“It was nice to go back, a lot of memories there. I spent four great years in that building, it was good to be back,” said Gryba.
And as for Gryba’s stance on college versus juniors? It all depends on who you are.
“Each player’s different, some guys are going to excel playing in major-juniors, some guys are gonna benefit from going to college,” Gryba said.
“There’s no right way to do it, it’s what’s right for you.”