If you thought the Edmonton Oil Kings’ season was tough last year, try living in the skates of defenceman Jesse Pearson.
Two years ago, Pearson came into Oil Kings training camp undrafted and was looking to make his mark as a 17-year-old rookie.
He literally fought his way on to the team, taking on all comers throughout rookie and main camp and the Oil Kings preseason tournament.
He provided the team with something it lacked from its inaugural season — toughness, heart and soul.
He was the type of player that would never go out of his way to pick fights, but he willingly stood up for his teammates and many times through his first rookie campaign he found himself throwing a bone-crushing hit that would lead to him getting challenged by the opposition’s tough guy.
He had his fair share of injuries in his rookie year. He played in only 35 games due to a broken thumb and a separated shoulder, and during a Feb. 28, 2009 game in Moose Jaw, Pearson’s hockey career was put into question.
With the Oil Kings’ playoff lives at stake and the game tied in the third period, there was a breakdown that allowed then Warriors defenceman Travis Hamonic to step in from the blueline and let go a rocket.
Pearson went down to block the shot, and he took the Hamonic blast from point-blank range, breaking his jaw and giving him a severe concussion.
Pearson’s blocked shot took away a sure goal, and his team managed to salvage a point that helped them later clinch their one and only playoff berth in their soon to be four-year history.
Some believed Pearson would have been a late-round draft pick in the 2009 NHL draft, but he was passed over after suffering such a devastating injury.
The Winnipeg native missed the entire 2009-10 season, and now on Friday night at Rexall Place against the Red Deer Rebels, the 19-year-old will be back manning the blueline for the Oil Kings.
“I don’t really remember a whole lot from the incident. I really just remember rolling over on to my stomach and it felt like I had rocks in my mouth, but they were my teeth,” said Pearson.
“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to go through as a hockey player. Every day I think about what I went through, and now that I’m back I just want to have fun not only in hockey, but life in general.”
Pearson’s jaw was shattered, but the real damage came with the concussion he sustained. He suffered migraine headaches for several months and he dealt with a lot of depression not knowing if he’d be able to play the game he loved so much again.
“I had migraine headaches, all day everyday, and I felt like I couldn’t get rid of them. At times they were unbearable,” he recalled.
“I initially didn’t tell anyone about my headaches. My stubborn attitude got in the way, and I just thought they would go away, but they didn’t and I knew I was going to have to deal with it, because it was making me more and more depressed.”
At the beginning of last summer, Pearson finally came clean about his major concussion, and then the recovery period began.
He couldn’t watch TV, he couldn’t do any physical activity. All he could do was be at home and rest and relax for an extended period of time and it was tough on him both mentally and physically.
“That was the hardest thing to deal with, because I couldn’t be around the team. I couldn’t even watch their games on web TV. All I wanted during that time last year was to be around the guys. They were like a second family to me in my second year, and I was missing that,” added Pearson.
“You never want to go through anything like this as a hockey player, but the time I spent away from the game made me think of everything that was going on in my life. Being away from the game for this past year made me want to play the game more and I have more drive than I ever did before.”
Pearson’s game hasn’t changed at all, and he’s looking to get back what was taken away from him as a 17-year-old — a chance to get drafted and become a leader on the Oil Kings.
“I don’t feel cheated, it’s just how it goes. If you think about it like that, then you’re not getting any better. Then you just focus on the bad things,” he said.
That’s what everyone is here for. I want to get better and move to the next level. I’m only 19, and I want to try and get some attention and see where it goes. That time away from the game allowed me to mature as a person and as a hockey player. I realized just how important hockey was to me, and I’m not going to take anything for granted.”
Even if you’re not a junior hockey fan, or an Oil Kings fan, how can you not cheer for a hockey player like Pearson?
Jason Hills is an Edmonton-based freelance writer whose column appears every second Wednesday in the Advocate