Tyler Ennis was back in his parents’ basement on the weekend, having come home to Edmonton for the Christmas break.
It was where the Buffalo Sabres rookie refined his craft, making it to the NHL despite being told at every level along the way that he was too small.
“My dad had made me a little rink area down in the basement,” Ennis said. “That basement helped a lot. One time I actually hit my mom in the face with a puck. She was cutting hair in the basement and I shot one that ricochet off the wall and hit her in the jaw. She had to get a few root canals because of it.”
On Tuesday, Ennis played his first NHL game in Edmonton with the Sabres.
He was Buffalo’s first pick — 28th overall — in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and, heading into the contest against the Edmonton Oilers, had nine goals and 18 points in 36 games.
“It’s exciting, I’ve been waiting for this day to come for a bit,” Ennis said. “I’m pretty excited to play in Edmonton. I grew up watching the Oilers and now it’s pretty cool that I’m going to get a chance to play here against the Oilers.”
Ennis, 21, had a big cheering section at Rexall Place, having to shell out for around 45 tickets for the contest.
He considered it money well spent.
“I have a lot of family coming,” Ennis said. “I had to buy all the tickets, but it’s nice, I want all my friends and family to come and watch me play.”
Unfortunately, his father Bruce won’t be among those attending, recovering from a heart attack suffered a few months ago.
“He just got his surgery done,” Ennis said. “It was a quadruple bypass and had an aortic valve put in. But he’s doing well. He’s a little sick and stuff from all the anesthesia. He’s home now, he won’t be able to come to the game, but he’ll be watching it on TV. I’ll try to do something special for him, try to score one.”
Currently eighth in NHL rookie scoring, Ennis is having a solid first full season. Only Drew Stafford and Tomas Vanek have scored more goals for the Sabres this year.
A former junior star with the Medicine Hat Tigers, the five-foot-nine, 165-pound winger defied the odds getting to the NHL, considering he was cut from a local Bantam AAA squad and passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft.
“My whole life, I’ve always been a smaller guy, so I’d always had to deal with that adversity,” Ennis said. “So it’s been nice to have been able to make it to the NHL. It’s nice to beat the odds and battle through that adversity.
“I tried out for CAC (Canadian Athletic Club) and got cut. My best friend Jared Spurgeon, who is now up with the Minnesota Wild, also got cut from that team. I forget the name of the coach, but no, he doesn’t have a ticket to the game.”
With the Tigers, Ennis blossomed, collecting 176 points over his last two seasons.
Last year, Ennis collected 65 points in 69 games with the Sabres AHL affiliate in Portland. He was called up towards the end of the year and went on to play in the playoffs with the Sabres, collecting four points in six games.
This year is his first full year in Buffalo.
“It’s gone by really fast, but every stage of it has been a fun ride,” Ennis said. “Making the team in Medicine Hat was a big step for me, not being drafted.
“I’m just glad I’m here and I’m trying to get better every day. Playing in the playoffs last year helped me get a little bit of confidence. It helped me get used to the league a little bit, but playing a full schedule is a little different. It’s a lot of games, a tough schedule. At the same time, it’s been really fun.”