It’s not exactly the script of the Blindside but the story of Darren Archibald’s journey to pro hockey is pretty inspiring, and far from complete.
As a seventeen-year-old Archibald starred for Stouffville of the Onatrio Junior-A Hockey League playing at nearly a point-per-game pace in his rookie season. The OPJHL is one of the top leagues for producing collegiate talent but Archibald had bigger aspirations. Earlier that year he had cut the collegiate shoot and jumped full bore in to a career in hockey by playing two preseason games with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, in so declaring himself ineligible for NCAA scholarships.
The next season Archibald transitioned seamlessly to major junior notching 25 goals and earned a ranking among the top 200 draft eligible North American skaters, but his name was not called to the Bell Centre podium at the 2009 draft. The next season he cracked the top 100 on the strength of a 59 point campaign but still watched as other North American skaters with lower points totals got to live the dream and wear the hat and jersey of a team that felt they would someday become and NHL regular.
“Everybody wants to get drafted but after it didn’t happen I knew it wasn’t the end of world.” Archibald says of his draft status. “There has always been guys who have made it without being drafted. It helps you stay focused.”
And so Darren went back to Barrie for his overage year in hopes of earning a pro contract only to be traded for the first time in his career. Just five days after leaving Barrie for cross-town rival Niagara Darren Archibald, passed over by 30 NHL teams through three drafts all seven rounds deep, signed a contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Arhibald’s 41 goals helped the Ice Dogs to a lengthy playoff run and he concluded his OHL career having compiled more points in each season he played and joining the soon-to-be President’s Trophy winners.
Archibald spent his offseason working on coming in to his third NHL rookie camp in the best shape he could.
“I still do power skating every summer because there’s always room for improvement.” He states. “You want to be at the rink getting better every day.”
He turned heads at the pre-season rookie tournament as one of the older members of the Canucks frosh squad and received high marks from staff and fellow players.
“He uses his size really well and I really enjoyed playing on a line with him.” Said fellow OHL power forward and Canucks hopeful Nicklas Jensen.
After a very strong camp Archibald was assigned to join a young Chicago Wolves roster where he’s working to find chemistry with prospects Jordan Schroeder and Anton Rodin.
Archibald, a member of the Black Hockey Players Wall of Fame group on facebook wore number 12 in minor hockey as an homage to Jarome Iginla, but he doesn’t concentrate on his minority status.
“There’s always talk that black guys shouldn’t play hockey. White guys play hockey, black guys play basketball; times have changed now, you see more and more kids playing all different kinds of sports.”
To him colour isn’t an obstacle and the fraternity of professional black hockey players has grown exponentially in recent years as more and more ethnic kids get in to Canada’s great frozen game.
When asked what his reaction was to the recent photos circulated on Twitter of Coyote’s winger Raffi Torres’ Jay-Z Halloween costume his reply is mindful of the weightiness of this hot topic and offers levity.
“It’s Halloween. It’s meant to be fun. I’m sure Raffi Torres meant nothing by it.” He dismisses. “I think Dwyane Wade went as Justin Timberlake for Halloween which is no different.”
Darren Archibald, the undrafted power forward with tremendous speed, shot and size never questioned his belief that one day his skill and hard work would culminate in a career in the NHL, not when he threw his NCAA scholarship eligibility out the window, and not when he was passed over in the NHL draft, and it worked out to his advantage. A player taken by any random team in the NHL Entry Draft is property of that team for two years. If in that time the two parties don’t agree to an entry level contract the player re-enters the draft. Instead Darren Archibald was a free agent, able to showcase his skill set to any taker and he must feel vindicated to have been signed by a cup contender in Vancouver.