Jaffray enjoying the ride

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Jason Jaffray had his hands full trying to find enough tickets.

The career minor leaguer played his first NHL game in Canada last night, and there were plenty of friends and family members there to witness it.

"It's been great, the amount of people that have called and the support I've had through the last 48 hours has been unbelievable," Jaffray said before suiting up for the Vancouver Canucks against the Oilers at Rexall Place.

"I'm only getting six tickets through the team, thank God, I'm already taking enough heat from the guys for getting six. It's good that I'm only getting that, hopefully they don't see the list of how many people I'm getting downstairs for passes after the game.

'IT'S EXCITING'

"Edmonton is only about two hours north from my hometown in Olds, so it's exciting.

"I have upwards of 40 people here tonight and to boot it's on Hockey Night in Canada. That's something you dream about, getting to play on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it."

It's been a long road for Jaffray getting to the NHL.

The 26-year-old winger finally made his NHL debut earlier this week after spending five-and-a-half seasons in the minors. He was called up by the Canucks for Wednesday's game in Anaheim, where he scored a goal and added an assist in a 3-2 win.

"It's tough to describe getting that call," he said. "You can't describe the feeling. I was so excited to make the phone calls to my parents, to my wife and friends back home. And just to hear their reaction back home. My mom started crying."

A former member of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, Jaffray was never drafted.

Instead he began his pro career in the ECHL with Roanoke before moving on to Norfolk, Wheeling, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, back to Wheeling, then Cleveland and Manitoba.

He spent the last two seasons with the Moose waiting for a callup that never came.

This summer he re-signed with the Canucks and finally got the call after scoring 10 goals and adding 11 assists in 19 games with the Moose.

"Jaff has come a long way, he's paid his dues, he's a really hard-working kid," said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault.

"When he decided to sign with us this summer, I told him the same thing that I tell all the other guys, if you deserve to be up and we need you and you're the best player in Manitoba then we're going to call you up.

"He was playing real well and he's played real well for us since we called him up."

Vigneault has a soft spot for Jaffray, having coached him in Manitoba.

The six-foot-one, 195-pounder has always had some aspect of his game criticized, which was the reasoning for his extended stint in the minors.

Yet despite the criticism, Jaffray kept working hoping to one day get his chance.

"I've heard it all for the last three years, playing in Manitoba and coming to NHL camps for the last couple of years," he said. "You take the criticism as it comes.

"You just try to add the different aspects of your game. Some people say I couldn't handle the physical play up here, so at the beginning of this year I thought maybe I need to get into a couple more fights, I need to show them that I can play with the big guys.

KNOCKS

"Then there were knocks on my skating and I just tell myself that I need to keep my feet moving at all times."

Yet the biggest change for Jaffray came off the ice -- one which he credits for a strong 2006-07 season and his ability to maintain it through this year.

"I was a guy that after a bad game, I wouldn't sleep all night, I'd be thinking about hockey for the next three days," he said.

"The best thing for me last year was having my wife get pregnant and having a little girl. Now if you have a bad game and you come home from the rink, hockey is the last thing on your mind when you have a little one running around in your house.

"That might have had something to do with the good season I had last year -- and the contract I got this year.

" I like to have that life away from the rink."


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