Getting in the game early is often the first stride toward NHL success. Of course you need to skate before you can play, but those two skills were glove and glove for San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture.
“I first started skating when I was 3,” said Couture. “My parents put me in right away, I just loved the game early and carried on from there. I played a lot of road hockey growing up, but the first time I skated, I was 3.”
While he may have loved the game early, it wasn’t love at first sight for the Ontario native.
“The first time my parents put me on the ice, I started crying and refused to stay out there,” said Couture. “I got off right away and hated it the very first time. They sent me out there the next week and my second time out, I stayed out and enjoyed it. But my very first time out, I just cried and hated it.”
Like many that have skated before him and many that skate beside him, Couture credits his parents for their support throughout his career. They are now, and will always remain his biggest off-ice inspiration. While off-ice support is the greatest tool a player can have, it’s often the players you grew up on that fuel the biggest on-ice dreams. For a young Couture, following the “Great One” helped spark his dream to succeed in the NHL.
“Wayne Gretzky, because he’s the best player to ever play,” said Couture. “To see him or ever skate with him would be pretty cool.”
The road to success is a long one, with triumphs and difficulties lining the rink of dreams, it’s a positive mindset that gets you through.
“With hockey, it’s probably just never get too high, never get too low,” said Couture. “It’s a tough game so it can be frustrating, there can be a lot of good times, but a lot of bad times. So, try and stay even keeled, don’t get too excited and don’t get too frustrated or down on yourself.”
Harvesting his talents within the Ontario Hockey League’s [OHL] Ottawa 67’s put Couture even further on the map within the hockey community. Playing junior hockey with the 67’s was a huge factor in Couture’s growth as a player on the ice. However, it was his Head Coach Brian Kilrea that played an even larger part in Couture’s on and off ice development.
“I’d rate the Coach Brian Kilrea as a big reason why I’m in the NHL right now,” said Couture. “The four years I spent with Kilrea was huge, he taught me a lot. Not just as a player, but as a person, I really grew up in those four years that I spent around him.”
Four years in the OHL helped bring Couture’s game to the next level. In 2007 San Jose decided to make him part of the Sharks family when they took him ninth overall in the NHL Entry Draft. The 2009-10 season proved to be a beneficial one, when Couture joined the Sharks American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 42 games, he tallied 20 goals and 33 assists earning him a spot on the AHL all-rookie team. Couture’s talents transitioned to NHL ice during the 2010-11 season, where he debuted nicely as a rookie, notching 32 goals and earning him a Calder Memorial Trophy nomination. The achievements continued to come for Couture. In 2011-12, Couture traveled back to where his junior career began, this time as a member of the NHL All-Star team that faced off in Ottawa for the NHL’s annual All-Star Game.
With accomplishments and experiences a plenty at just 24-years-old, some memories stand above the rest.
“There’s been a lot of good memories, the best so far, I scored in Game 7 a couple years ago against the Red Wings and we ended up winning that in the playoffs, so that’s up there,” said Couture. “Getting picked to play in the All-Star game and then the overtime winner I scored this year against the Kings. The three of those are probably the best moments.”
Eventually playing in the big show at any capacity is the dream above all dreams for a hockey player. While the dream is now a reality for Couture, a component often lost in the dream is the possibility to become beloved by the fans you play for.
“It’s been great, the fans out in San Jose definitely love their team and they appreciate players who work hard and bring it night in and night out and that’s something that I try and do. I think that’s one of the reasons that I guess I’ve become one of the fan favorites.”
Despite being seen as a non-traditional hockey market, the undeniable support of the fans doesn’t go unnoticed by players within the organization.While the fans may peg the team as the best thing in the Bay Area, Couture has a different view on what makes San Jose, in his eyes, the best in the league.
“The fans, I think we’ve sold out over 160 straight home games out there,” said Couture. “Then the atmosphere, it’s one of the loudest buildings in the NHL. I don’t think a lot of people realize that because it’s out in California and it’s the pacific time zone, so people don’t stay up and watch those games. But it’s an awesome place to play. For me personally, I love going to the rink everyday in shorts and sandals and a t-shirt and playing in front of 17-18,000 people.”
Playing for 17-18,000 people every evening can be exhausting, but it’s the in-season grind that players truly enjoy. Preparing players for another season and a chance at glory, the off-season brings a slightly slower paced schedule.
“Wake up, eat some breakfast, go to the gym,” said Couture. “Then try to go to the golf course.”
In a world where athletes are constantly in the news for crazy antics, hockey players are often deemed the tamer, down to earth and more relateable of the group. Couture’s off-ice personality mixes nicely with that definition.
“Most of the time, pretty quiet, laid back, I’m a homebody,” said Couture. “I don’t really do too much. I like to relax during my time off.”
The changeover from off ice to on can leave fans with a skewed perception of ones personality. A players character can easily be misinterpreted at times, Couture has wrongly fallen into that category.
“Maybe being cocky?,” said Couture. “People might think that about me, but you have to be confident to be an NHL player, confident in your abilities.”
The confidence that Couture exudes on the ice has proven beneficial to the Sharks franchise, despite making an impact in the playoffs, the cup has yet to be hoisted during Couture’s time. A frustrating fact, yes, but that only makes the drive to succeed stronger. Opening night brings another chance for 30 teams to enter Lord Stanley’s season long gauntlet.
“It’s a brand new year, just another opportunity to win the Stanley Cup,” said Couture. “Once this Finals end and the trophy’s up for grabs again, I’m looking for the opportunity to win it.”
Sharks love feeding frenzies, but not free agency frenzies, slated to become a restricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, management had a different idea. According to reports, fans can look forward to #39 bringing his determination and abilities to the ice for another 5-years. Couture will reportedly be given a lengthy and well deserved extension.
With the extension comes a reassurance that he’s exactly where he belongs. A young Canadian hockey player has seen his dreams come true. Happily ensconced in the San Jose community and Sharks system, Couture will look to add continued excitement for seasons to come.