From broken man to heartbreaking trade, Aaron Ekblad rolls with punches

Aaron Ekblad hinges on the other end of the phone. He says he’s lost his chain of thoughts, as he navigates in a chorus of angry hustle, stuck in traffic. He ignores the command, keeps any road simmering and resumes the conversation.

It would take a lot more than someone cutting it down on the highway to shake it up. This is Eblad for you. Since his early teenage years, his life has offered nothing but change and/or unexpected barriers. as mentioned daily confrontation, He left home for good at the age of 15 when he became the second player ever to earn exceptional status in OHL and play there as a student. To borrow an expression he uses: he rolled with punches. After the Florida Panthers made him the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, he suffered a concussion at Canada’s World Junior Development Camp in August, putting his health in doubt weeks before his first NHL training camp. Roll with punches. He suffered another concussion in the spring of 2017 and that season ended in March for him. Roll with punches.

Even when he suffered a devastating leg fracture in a bizarre game late in the 2020-21 season, he found a way to get back in time for 2021-22 training camp. He did the same last season when he suffered another leg injury, costing him the final quarter of a regular season that broke records for the Panthers and his best shot so far in the Norris Cup. Eckblad’s career total tells us he’s one of the NHL’s elite defenders, a Calder Cup winner and a notable contributor to the Presidents Cup winner’s franchise, but getting to where he is today meant being ousted and resurfacing again and again.

But at the age of 26, he can handle haymakers. As it has become a trademark for him since his freshman year, he carries himself with a grizzly. He looks back at the beginning of his career and scoffs, “I was a kid then and still a kid,” a ridiculously mature remark. He says he is comfortable with his own skin, knows who he is and feels lucky to have bounced back from adversity.

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“Anyone who’s been in my situation with multiple injuries years back, it comes with an area of ​​what we’re playing,” he said. Daily confrontation. “There are times when I’m not the most professional or the most perfect with my attitude about it. There are times when I like, ‘Fuck this.’ When you’re getting injured or you’re constantly rehabilitating, it’s easy to say, ‘Fuck this,’ or ‘I don’t want to I do this.” But at the end of the day, it’s what you love, strength is through, and good things come from it.

“A lot of guys have gone through it and a lot of guys have been a lot worse than me, and that’s how I look at it. I’m fortunate to play a game that I love and make money that I do, and I try to maintain that attitude when I’m in those situations. At this point, I’m kind He’s a pro when it comes to battling injuries and knowing what I have to do to stay in shape and come back stronger.”

In Ekeblad’s view, the recoveries were a war of attrition, fought through any defeatist tendencies, but the conflict was largely internal. For those around him, he outlined the design required to restore it. This allowed him to return to the Panthers in time for the 2021-22 qualifiers and scored nearly 24 minutes into the game across two rounds.

“His uniqueness, attention to detail, and work ethic, both in the rigors of work when he worked here, indecision and discipline were remarkable,” said Panthers director Bill Zito. “And he never complained. He never felt sorry for himself. He just said, look, it happened, OK, I’m going to do everything I can to come back and help the team. And that was impressive.”

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It is this mental strength and adaptability that makes Eckblad a natural leader. Zito is called a “magnet” that attracts others to him and will naturally take a leadership role in any situation. In the words of Ekblad, “I don’t think driving is such a heavy burden.” He doesn’t feel burdened when he rallies his mates for a group chat or takes them out to enjoy his many hobbies, from golf to deep-sea fishing.

But even a born leader like Iqbal was not prepared for the news that blew his world apart this summer. It changed things for the Panthers on a deeper level than any injury. The trade call came through Friday night, July 22. The Panthers were reeling after being swept away by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 2 of the postseason, and they all went over a personnel overhaul, earning the power of star striker Matthew Tkachuk of Calgary Flames. The excitement over acquiring a Tkachuk was palpable, but for a Panther’s career as Ekblad, the pain of losing left winger Jonathan Huberdeau and strongman MacKenzie Weegar in the trade outweighs any euphoria at the moment. They weren’t just teammates he tolerated professionally. They were two of his best friends on the team.

Huberdeau debuted in 2012-13, two seasons before Ekblad, and the two overlapped as teammates for eight seasons. Eckblad said that when he arrived in any new city, he and “Heppy” would immediately put their bags and find a place to have dinner together. Weegar was Ekblad’s most common defensive partner. Now he wonders ‘Who am I going to spend time with now that the Huby and the Weegs are gone?’ So how did Eckblad find a way to address such an unexpected change?

“There’s a correct way to answer that question, and that would be, ‘It’s a business and I’m sad to see them go but happy to be back. Realistically speaking, yes, I am very happy with Matthew as a player. I think it would be great for us. But sad doesn’t even cover it when it comes to the two men we lost. They are great friends of mine. I’ve played with them for a really long time. It’s all part of the job, but at the end of the day it was surprising to see them go and lose them as team members. I will try to stay as close as possible to these guys. They are great friends, good people and I will miss them very much.”

Eckblad almost longingly talks about who Huberdow is I wasIt’s not like he’s sad for a friend he’ll never see again. But Ekblad knows he has to let go of grief and welcome change. This is where his natural leadership comes in. And here Zito counted on the admission of men who wore the letters on their shirts, from Ekeblad to Alexander Barkov.

“I think it is important at some point to the success of the group that leaders embrace change as a positive thing,” Zito said. Daily confrontation. “I don’t think I needed their permission, but I certainly feel that I respect them as human beings first and as leaders and as important movers of culture. So it is important for them to understand and embrace change.”

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Adapt to difficulties. Get rid of that, launch the group chat and start getting acquainted with new cheetahs, because there are a lot of them. Notable names removed from the Florida Presidents’ Awards list include Huberdeau, Weegar, Mason Marchment, and rentals on trade deadlines Claude Giroud and Ben Shearot. Newcomers include Tkachuk, Colin White, Rudolphs Balcher, Nick Cousins, Mark Stahl and Chris Tierney. So it will be a busy training camp for Ekblad, as he speeds up his new teammates and forges a relationship with new head coach Paul Maurice.

All after a summer that was equally busy away from the sport of Ekblad. In late July, he married his partner, Dr. Dina Mastronardi, in Miami. It was a wedding between two people that inadvertently grew up about 20 minutes from each other: Matronardi in Leamington, Ont. , and Ekblad in nearby Belle River, Ont. They met about 1,100 miles away in Florida, at a bar in Fort Lauderdale when she was on a family trip. He said she did all the planning for the wedding and, according to his mantra, dealt with the unexpected and had a great time.

Well, the question had to be asked: for someone who tends to be unlucky with injuries and has to learn a lot about his body, does it help to marry a doctor? Are Eckblad and Matronardi trying to keep their professions separate, or does he come up with anatomical questions?

“We have anatomical talks,” Ekblad said. “In some cases where I went to the doctor and got the surgeon and they diagnosed me, I could go to her and say, ‘Does that make sense? Explain it to me at a deeper level that I can understand in layman’s terms. This is usually where it helps.

“Obviously I’m not OldI’m not saying I’m old, but as you get older you start to feel random aches in places where you don’t really know what this thing is. And I just asked her, and she said, “Oh, that’s your liver.” Or, “This is your kidney.” And I’ll say, “Oh, interesting, I wouldn’t have known that otherwise.”

He even points out that if he needs stitches or something simple like that, they can save him a trip to the emergency room. Marriage seems to be a perfect fit to help him adjust to whatever ailments come his way.

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The way he sees it, he’s lucky, not unlucky. Yes, untimely injuries cost him a chance in some individual machines, and he has been an off-season disruption. But he has found a partner he loves, plays the game he loves and feels his star rise.

“I am happy with my career,” he said. “I’ve never been perfect, and I’ll never be perfect. I’m never satisfied. I’m working my ass to get better every year. Path wise for the past five years, it’s been better and better every season. And I’m just going to try and keep it going until this year. I never pressure myself – I’ve never done that no need The pressure on myself is too much or more than I can handle. I just set goals for points, assists, goals and what I want to achieve as a defensive man.”

And there’s nothing the current version of Ekblad can accomplish in an entire season. He was dominant enough last season that he finished sixth in Norris’ vote despite playing only 61 games. For every natural trickover the past three seasons in a 5-on-5 game, graduated at 94The tenth Percentage with goals for all 60, 95th percentile in first aid for all 60 and 97The tenth Percentage of points per 60. He’s right there with the game’s elite.

So did Iqbal’s real star season finally happen in 2022-23? Can. It is definitely good enough. But if it doesn’t, and you run into more obstacles, he’ll roll with punches. This is what real leaders do.

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