By Brian Compton
NHL.com Staff Writer
For most, growing up as a hockey player in the desert is like learning to golf on a highway. It’s not really ideal.
Yet Bryan Esner not only played the game as a youngster in Arizona, he excelled at it. Come October, he’ll have the opportunity to play professionally in front of his friends and family.
After a stellar rookie season with the South Carolina Stingrays and Pensacola Ice Pilots, the 25-year-old Esner will start the 2008-09 campaign with the Phoenix Roadrunners. It’s a tremendous situation for Esner, who grew up in nearby Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Esner became a free agent when the Ice Pilots announced they would not be returning this season. After being dealt from the Stingrays to Pensacola last October, Esner had 21 goals and 28 assists in 55 games.
“It should be a good experience,” Esner told NHL.com. “I have a lot of friends and family back at home there. I’m pretty excited. Obviously I want to move up the levels, but it’s definitely a great place to play. I’m excited to be a part of the organization and I can’t wait to play in front of my friends and family. It should be a good time.”
Esner moved to Arizona from the Cleveland area when he was 8 years old. His passion for hockey unwavering, Esner was surprisingly able to remain on the ice. Ten years later, he found himself playing for the Texas Tornado in the North American Hockey League, where he scored 32 goals in two seasons. In 2003, he began his collegiate career with Northeastern University. After his senior season there, he played the final 12 games of the 2006-07 campaign with the Peoria Rivermen in the American Hockey League.
“We had a mite team that actually had a lot of good guys,” Esner said. “I think nine out of the 13 or 14 guys played Division I. We traveled every weekend to get good competition. We just kept playing and developing our skills. It kind of got to a point where you made it to juniors or college, and then you’re playing professional. It’s just sticking with it and working hard. It comes from having good parents and good people around you.”
Esner began the 2007-08 season with South Carolina, but quickly became disgruntled due to a lack of playing time. It wasn’t due to a lack of talent, but rather because of the number of prospects sent to the Stingrays by the Washington Capitals. In his first 16 games, Esner had just three goals and two assists.