In the 1980’s, every kid who played hockey’s dream was to play with Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. The flipside of that dream was to play against Wayne Gretzky, and Alberni Valley Bulldogs head coach Paul Esdale did just that.
It was early in Esdale’s career when, as a goalie, he stopped two shots taken by the Great One.
Esdale was in his teens and playing roller hockey at the house of boyhood friend Mike Commerie, whose father Bill was friends with Gretzky. “He scored on me, he was good, but I stopped a couple – we had fun,” Esdale said.
Edmonton, Alta. was where Esdale, 32, and his two older sisters were born. His earliest memory there was being bundled up and skating on an outdoor rink at the age of two.
“I didn’t have a stick in my hand yet but I was close.”
Esdale went to Centennial Elementary School then to St. Francis Xavier High School.
His favourite course was phys-ed and his favourite teacher his phys-ed teacher – Frank Soporitio. “There were a lot of guys into hockey in his class and he related well to us,” Esdale said.
All Esdale ever wanted to be growing up was a hockey player. He did however play competitive tennis until he was 18. “It’s great for the hand-eye coordination,” he said.
After graduating from high school in 1997 he played junior hockey for one year before going on to play hockey at Brown University at Providence, Rhode Island, where he majored in business and economics.
After finishing university Esdale played pro hockey with Cincinnati in the AHL then with Florida in the ECHL.
Esdale has his own bibliography of hockey moments stored away in his memory. His first college game stands out most.
“My first shift was on the power play and I played for two minutes,” he said. “I won a bantam championship and played in Germany but playing in college was the pinnacle,” he said.
Esdale’s father Peter coached hockey and a young Paul would often help out. That experience and others paved he way for him to land his first coaching stint as an assistant with the Alberni Valley Bulldog’s in 2009. He was named head coach in 2010.
The Good Will Hunting fan doesn’t have much time for reading anything other than rosters and stats, he said. But he just finished reading Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff And It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.
The best advice was ever given was “Work hard and believe in yourself and anything is possible. “My dad told me that,” Esdale said. “I’m still working on getting there.”