Some players tend to stand out more than others. Occasionally, it’s a certain attribute or characteristic, while other times it’s for leadership or charisma in the locker room. For Kansas City Mavericks forward, C.J. Eick, it is everything listed above and more. A champion on and off the ice, Eick has quickly endeared himself to the Mavericks faithful for his ferocious intensity, knack for scoring big goals, and energy he brings each and every shift. However, his off ice passion for music defines Eick as much as anything he does on the ice.
"There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and dark of night." -Jerry Garcia
The hockey road has been a winding road, as many are, to this point in Eick’s career. A youngster that played many sports, he eventually gravitated towards hockey as his sport of choice. Following youth and junior play in Wisconsin and St. Louis, Eick was drafted into the United States Hockey League (USHL) by the Green Bay Gamblers. After winning a championship with the Gamblers, Eick embarked on four years of college hockey at Michigan Tech before joining the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL for a playoff run in 2015-16.
After a full professional season with the Grizzlies, Eick donned the captain’s “C” for the 2017-18 campaign with Utah. While not finding the twine as much as he’d like, the leadership and championship mentality that he brought to a young Grizzlies squad didn’t go unnoticed. Eick was traded to the Mavericks mid-season and brought an instant fire to the Mavericks as they made a run towards a playoff berth. While the playoffs ended up just out of their reach, Eick became a priority signing in the offseason for the Mavericks for his style of play and the little things that he brings to the ice each time he jumps over the boards.
“You see the older guys when you first get into juniors that are willing to block shots and fighting. They’re willing to sacrifice for the good of the team and that’s the mentality that everyone takes on when you’re on a championship run and you’re deep into the playoffs. It takes that big blocked shot or getting hit to get the puck out of the zone; just doing whatever it takes.”
That sacrificial mentality of team first play is a staple of the Mavericks and something that can keep a guy playing in Kansas City for a very long time.
Well there’s no need for you to be worryin’ about all those people,
You never see those people anyway. -Grateful Dead
Eick, at a height that maybe isn’t “prototypical” in today’s game, has never let that perceived obstacle stand in the way of playing an impactful brand of hockey. In fact, his size becomes his greatest advantage game in and game out.
“If you ever start to play with a little fear, your game is going to be weak; you’re not going to be productive out there. You have to find different ways to get to the puck. Basically, you have to beat guys to the puck because you’re probably not going to knock a guy off the puck that’s one hundred pounds heavier than you. So, it’s trying to use speed and quickness to anticipate where the puck is going to go and try to get there before the other player. I try to put myself in good situations,” Eick says with a smile.
"It’s not enough to be the best at what you do. You must be perceived as the only one who does what you do." -Jerry Garcia
Growing up in Wisconsin, which isn’t necessarily a hot bed of the music industry, Eick was exposed to a variety of musical genres as his father performed in a band. With some drum lessons under his belt, Eick took up guitar playing to round out his musical palette.
“My dad was in a band when I was growing up. So, I had access to all the equipment around the house; drumset was in the basement and he had guitars all around. Throughout high school, I played percussion and then when I moved down to St. Louis and was staying with a billet family was when I really started to focus more on guitar as opposed to drums. It’s a lot easier to take an acoustic guitar to someone’s house than a drumset.”
Fortunately for Eick, the daily grind of a professional hockey season allows for some free time to explore talents outside of hockey.
“Ever since college, your days are at the rink early, you work out, you skate, and then you have the afternoon to yourself if you’re not travelling. So, I’ve taken the past few years to learn more music theory, scales, and lead playing. The Grateful Dead has been my favorite band, that’s what my dad played when I was young, so everyday I’m looking at and learning different Jerry Garcia stuff.”
While many players search their entire professional careers for something they can be as passionate about as hockey, the Mavericks young winger has his goals on and off the ice well in hand.
“It’s the cool thing about music. In any instrument you never reach the end; there’s always room to get better and it’s something you can do your whole life. It’s definitely a great escape outside the rink. You know, you have a bad game and then you can pick up a guitar and kind of focus on that.”
And just like his music endeavors, Eick is far from reaching the end of his hockey career. However, when that day arrives, he has definite plans on what his future will hold.
“Once I’m done playing, I want to start coaching. There’s a ton of opportunity in the Wisconsin area with college and junior teams. I would like to coach at the NCAA level; that would be the end goal.”
For now, though, Eick’s coaching impact is being felt by local youth hockey players that are privileged to have #23 drop into practice from time to time.
“They’re so excited to be out there playing. I remember what that was like for me when I was a youth player and some of the older guys would come out and skate with us. It was a new level of excitement and there was a little extra jump in their step. It’s fun to work with them.”
His advice to young players? “Find your role and do it better than anybody.”
The excitement is evident in the young man’s eyes as the future plays out like an extended guitar solo in front of him. The sky is the limit when you show up to the rink or the concert venue with the same level of energy and passion.
"To me, that’s the key thing, the pursuit of happiness. That’s the basic, ultimate freedom." -Jerry Garcia