By JORDAN OZER
ECHL Communications Intern
Dan Eves is starting to know his way around the ECHL. Since 2008, the forward has played in Boise, Trenton, Charleston and now, in Cincinnati. That has led to some valuable lessons along the way.
“The ECHL is a lot better league than I had anticipated,” said Eves. “Every year it seems to be getting better, and there are a lot of (NHL and AHL) contracted guys down here. It’s definitely getting better in terms of talent.”
Eves first sharpened his game at the collegiate level, playing in the CCHA with Lake Superior State. This gave him an early start on facing and playing with some top talent, including annual matchups with excellent programs, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Miami (Ohio). Eves’ roommate was Derek Smith, currently a defenseman with the Calgary Flames. Two other teammates – Simon Gysbers and Rick Shoefield, are on NHL contracts and playing in the AHL. Eves also has former teammates playing across the ECHL – including Gwinnett goaltender Jeff Jakaitis, South Carolina forward Trent Campbell and Idaho blueliner Kory Scoran.
“I’m proud of where I came from – my school, the league, there’s a lot of good players in that league,” Eves said. “We played the Michigan, Michigan States, guys with a big number of NHL draft picks and guys that will go on to the American Hockey League if not the NHL. It was a really high level of play. It definitely prepared me to go about my business every day at the rink, away from the rink, in the classroom even, to do things the right way, and do what you have to do to be successful.”
With 168 professional games now under his belt, all in the ECHL, Eves has carved out a place in the league. While he is not usually a leading goal scorer, Eves has worked on his all-around play to be an integral part of a team mentality.
“I take pride in playing in all areas of the rink”, Eves explained. “I like doing the little things, I think that’s my strong suit, and those little things that usually add up to the big difference in the game. That’s usually where I excel. I’ve become accustomed to the type of play and figured out how I need to handle myself in the rink and away from the rink as well.”
Eves’ breakout season came after he was traded from the Idaho Steelheads to the Trenton Devils. After finishing the 2008-09 season with the Devils, Eves returned to Trenton for his second professional season with a high comfort level, and flourished as a result. In 59 games, Eves shattered his career highs in scoring, netting 23 goals and adding 22 assists, for a total of 45 points, and finished as a +15, a personal best in all those categories. Trenton’s coach that season was Rick Kowalsky, who had been named ECHL Coach of the Year the previous season. Kowalsky is a longtime ECHL vet, having played 516 games in the league with the Hampton Roads Admirals, Trenton Titans and Roanoke Express before moving behind the bench. Eves credits him as a big factor for his breakout season.
“Rick Kowalsky was one of the more influential people since I’ve turned pro” Eves explained. “He gives it to you straight, but at the same time he’s been through it. Rick played for quite a few years at quite a few levels. He helped me adjust to the pro game and the lifestyle and everything. He really gave me the opportunity to be successful and I’ll forever be thankful to him for that.”
Eves describes his successful season as a combination of good coaching with hard work and being given an opportunity to succeed.
“A lot of it was the opportunity,” said Eves. “When I came in my first year I was traded there from Boise, I was still a young kid, just 22 at the time. I really didn’t know what to expect, I just tried to play every night. Second year, Rick knew what he was getting back when he re-signed me. I just kept developing and getting better every day, and he rewarded me for the hard work I put in with plenty of opportunities – playing a ton. I made it work and had a pretty successful year there.”
Eves has also become very involved with the community off the ice, participating alongside many other ECHL players in the Hockey Players for Kids charity, a foundation founded to help create a bond between hockey players and local children. Since moving to Cincinnati, Eves has taken a larger role in the administrative efforts of the organization and helping to promote its growth. As someone who has participated in these charity efforts, especially in helping children, for most of his life, joining Hockey Players for Kids was a logical step.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with kids,” Eves said. I have a lot in my life – a couple of goddaughters running around, other family friends I consider like nieces and nephews. Ever since I started playing hockey at a higher level I’ve been doing it. When I was in college we did a lot of charity work with the United Way, and visiting foster homes. I enjoy it. Working with the little kids and just seeing the smiles on the kids is pretty fulfilling.”
So far Eves has spent his entire professional career in the ECHL. He has gotten comfortable with the league, but as with most players, he aspires to play on the biggest stage.
“I still haven’t given up on the dream – I’m not afraid to say that I want to play in the NHL someday.”