“Dream Big” – A Conversation with Freddy Meyer, former NHL defenseman

What always stands out in my mind about Freddy Meyer was the size that he played the game despite being diminutive physically; he never backed down from anyone. At 5-feet, 9-inches and roughly 190lbs., Meyer’s stature is significantly less than that of most NHL defensemen throughout the 2000s when he played. But to illustrate my point of playing much larger, during a December 23rd, 2010 game in Boston against the Bruins, in what would be his last NHL season, Meyer absolutely dropped one of the most intimidating players in the game, former Bruin Milan Lucic, with a big hit; stood him right up and belted him to his backside. Meyer did this despite a rash of his own injuries that season which limited him to only 15-games. He did it despite the fact that there were less than five minutes left in the game; he could have eased up or chose the easy away around the boulder to thus avoid any conflict – but that just isn’t in Meyer’s character. And he did it despite Lucic being five inches taller than him and outweighing Freddy by forty pounds – as if to invoke a David versus Goliath tale of his own. For Freddy Meyer, any so-called lack of size never held him back in the least.

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Freddy Meyer, here with the Atlanta Thrashers, begins to move the puck out of his own zone during his final NHL season (Photo provided courtesy of Freddy Meyer. Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images).

Born January 4th, 1981 in Sanbornville, New Hampshire, Freddy did not take an immediate interest in hockey when he was a kid. “I started at age 6”, he says. “My brother started playing the year before me, but I didn’t want to play. But after spending the first year watching him I decided that I wanted to give it a try”. Little would Meyer realize at the time that the initially reluctant decision to play hockey would eventually lead him to playing four years collegiately, nine more years professionally, and for the United States at multiple international competitions. “I lived in a small town in New Hampshire, and there were limited opportunities to play besides the local youth program. I played there for two years, and then moved onto a local select hockey team that would compete in Massachusetts.

Being from the New England area Meyer naturally became a Boston Bruins fan, as well as finding a hero in a Boston and true hockey legend. “My dad shared season tickets to the Bruins with a few friends, so we went to several games a year growing up. Being a defenseman, I always enjoyed watching and admiring Ray Bourque”. There are at least some comparisons that can be made between the Hall of Famer Bourque, and the way that Meyer may have mirrored his game similarly. Throughout his own career Meyer moved the puck very well,  particularly out of his own end. He also excelled on specialty teams, and was a regular along the blueline on powerplays.

While in high school, Freddy Meyer became enrolled in the United States National Team Development Program. Initially becoming involved with the program for the 1997-98 campaign, Meyer showcased his skills alongside fellow countrymen that also would make it to the NHL, including Andy Hilbert, Rick DiPietro, John-Michael Liles, Jordan Leopold, David Tanabe, and more. In 37-games with USNTDP team that first year, Meyer put up 11-goals and 10-assists. And once again to prove that a lack of size never kept him from robust play, Meyer led the team in penalty-minutes that year with 113-PIMs.

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Never one to shy away from physical play, Freddy Meyer skates past Boston’s Tom Fitzgerald who has been upended (Photo credit: Hunter Martin, NHL Images/Getty).

Electing to continue his hockey career collegiately, Freddy would enroll at Boston University where he would continue to develop his game and would begin attaining multiple accolades. “My decision came down to the University of New Hampshire, BU, and the University of Maine. It was obviously a tough decision, but having the opportunity to play in Boston under head coach Jack Parker was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up”. Having retired as head coach of the Terriers after the 2012-13 season, his 40th, Jack Parker finished his coaching career as one of the most decorated college hockey coaches of all time. A three-time NCAA Tournament champion, a record 24 NCAA Tournament appearances, the records for Most Wins with One School, Most Frozen Four Appearances, Most Beanpot Victories, as well as seemingly countless other honors, it was not too difficult to see why Meyer would elect to go to BU and play under Parker’s leadership.

Meyer and his Terrier teammates would find themselves obtaining both adversity and success. He tells me that, “three out of my four years we lost the game that would have put us in the Frozen Four – those stick out as missed opportunities. But obviously winning three out of four Beanpots was pretty special”. The Beanpot is an ice hockey tournament that has been in place since the 1952-53 season, and sets the stage annually for bragging rights amongst the four major college hockey schools in the Boston area; Meyer’s BU, the Boston College Eagles, the Harvard University Crimson, and the Northeastern University Huskies. Winning those three Beanpots is definitely an exceptional feat for Meyer and his teammates. In addition to those successes, Freddy Meyer was also heralded as a member of the 1999-00 All-Hockey East Rookie Team, alongside future NHLers Rick DiPietro, Ron Hainsey, and Krys Kolanos. Other collegiate honors include being named to the 2002-03 All-Hockey East First Team and the ACHA East First-Team All-American.

Freddy Meyer was never drafted by an NHL team. In fact, the thought of playing in the top professional league did not seem something attainable to him until his first season of pro hockey. “I wasn’t drafted and had to battle for every chance that I had. I didn’t realize the NHL was close until my first year pro”. The Philadelphia Flyers took note of Freddy’s hard work and determination, and ended up signing him as a free agent in May 2003. “They (the Flyers) were the most interested and it appeared as the best opportunity. Being a 5-foot-9 defenseman in 2003 before the lockout and the rule changes, there weren’t a lot of teams interested. It just inspired me to train harder and keep battling”.

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
Throughout his entire career, Freddy Meyer was a puck-moving defenseman who played the game much large than his 5’9″ frame (Photo provided courtesy of Freddy Meyer; Photo credit: Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images).

The 2003-04 hockey season, Meyer’s first professionally, would see him spend almost the entire season with the Flyers’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. With head coach John Stevens and assistant coach Kjell Samuelsson at the helm, Meyer put together a very promising first season, tallying 14-goals and 14-assists for 28-points in 59-games. Freddy’s 14-goals were second only to John Slaney for goals scored by a defenseman on the hockey club. With 46-wins, 25-losses and 7-ties to go with 2-overtime losses, the Phantoms would capture the AHL’s East Division, only to lose to their division and cross-state rival the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. Regardless, for a player never drafted to play professionally, that first season demonstrated that Freddy could indeed play at an elite level. And he would even have one late season opportunity to do so in “The Show”.

“I remember my first NHL game. It was a surreal feeling. The whole experience went by so fast”. Freddy Meyer would make his NHL debut, a single game appearance with the parent club Flyers, in early March 2004. A 23-year old rookie, Meyer would take twenty shifts on the ice that game, logging over 15-minutes of ice time and getting a shot on goal. Though brief, Freddy Meyer had made it into an NHL hockey game; the first of what would be many more to come. “It was great to get a taste of the experience”, he says, “and realize that the ultimate goal wasn’t far away”.

The National Hockey League would go into a lockout for the 2004-05 season. Though this would only stand as a temporary setback in Freddy’s continuing the start of his NHL career, the lockout provided him another full season of AHL hockey with the Phantoms, and it would be a most memorable one. Accompanied by future NHL stars R.J. Umberger, Joni Pitkanen, Patrick Sharp and Dennis Seidenberg, Meyer and the Phantoms would reel off another superb season in which they amassed a record of 48-25-3-4, and would finish second in the East Division. More importantly however, the Phantoms went on a tear through the AHL playoffs, this time defeating rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the second round of the playoffs, finishing them off in five games, and then making it all the way to the Calder Cup Finals championship against the Chicago Wolves. The Phantoms would make short-work of the Wolves in the Finals by sweeping them in four games straight, and outscoring them 10-goals to 4. Meyer was widely recognized for his role in capturing the Calder Cup, as he appeared in all 21-Phantoms’ playoff games, putting up 3-goals and 9-assists along the way. The proof was there for the Flyers hierarchy, and the following season would see Freddy join them for what would be the second fullest season of his career.

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Freddy Meyer would spend parts of four seasons with the New York Islanders, combining two separate stints with the team (Photo provided courtesy of Freddy Meyer; Photo credit: Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In all, Freddy Meyer would play in the Flyers’ organization for three and a half seasons, between the Flyers and the Phantoms, before a December 16th, 2006 trade with the New York Islanders would see him shipped to Long Island with a 2007 3rd-round draft pick in exchange for veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik. Freddy’s time with the Flyers contains some of his best hockey memories from his career. He recalls, “playing on the powerplay in PA with Peter Forsberg, and thinking to myself ‘what am I doing here?'”. When I ask him if any veterans took him under their wing during his time with the Flyers, he says, “I played with a lot of great players. Eric Desjardins jumps out in my mind. It wasn’t his spoken words, but his work ethic and commitment level. We trained together for a couple summers in Philly, and he was amazing at his age”.

Upon being traded to the Islanders in 2006, Freddy Meyer would go onto play four more seasons in the National Hockey League, including a second stint with New York after a brief stop in Phoenix with the Coyotes. After his final NHL season in 2010-11 with the Thrashers, Meyer opted for a year in Sweden with MODO Hockey of the Swedish Elite League; his final year of the professional game. Freddy tells me, “I loved my experience of playing in the Swedish Elite League. We were in Sweden as a family, and have a lot of great memories from the six months we spent there. It’s great hockey, and an unbelievable quality of life”. Former NHL teammates Rob Schremp (New York Islanders) and Mikael Tellqvist (Phoenix Coyotes) also played with MODO that season too.

Unfortunately though, Freddy would call it a career shortly after his lone season with MODO. “I had had a season ending concussion in Atlanta, and then the following season in Sweden I received another concussion. At that point, we made a decision as a family that it was time to step away from the rink”. In 281-regular season games in the NHL, Freddy Meyer amassed 20-goals and 53-assists for 73-points; solid offensive career numbers for any defenseman to have played a similar amount of games. But the career statistic that comes most to mind (at least for me) about Freddy is that in those 281-games, he also compiled 155-penalty minutes. That number speaks to a fearless style of play that he embodied, and is at least a statistical insight into Meyer’s play as a constant battler on the ice and in his own end. Besides the Lucic play while he was with the Thrashers, if you ever had the pleasure of watching Freddy on the ice, you would have seen multiple instances of him utilizing his 5-foot, 9-inch frame to place a hit on an opposing player, thus neutralizing a scoring rush by the opponent; it was always a pleasure to watch him play.

Team USA called upon Freddy too in three separate international tournaments; the 1999 World U18 Championships in Germany, the 2001 World Junior Championships in Moscow, Russia, and then the 2006 World Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia. “It’s an incredible feeling to wear the Red, White and Blue”, Freddy says and, “nothing compares to the experience of competing with your fellow countrymen”.

After retiring as a player, Freddy became thoroughly involved in coaching the game instead. “We returned to the USA, and I started looking for job opportunities. I was hired by the Los Angeles Kings, and worked two seasons for their minor league affiliate the Manchester Monarchs as an assistant coach. I am currently going into my third year being the head coach of a Tier-3 junior team in the Greater Boston area, the East Coast Wizards. Additionally, I started Dream Big HockeyStars, where we run camps, clinics and private lessons for aspiring players”.

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Freddy helping to coach youngsters in his “Dream Big HockeyStars” program. (Photo provided courtesy of Freddy Meyer)

As a player, Freddy Meyer exemplified a quality that is dear to me personally, and that made a him a very successful hockey player – the concept of outworking his opposition. I ask Freddy what the most important thing is that he has learned throughout his hockey career. “Set your sights high and Dream Big. I was an undersized defenseman that wasn’t drafted. I needed to outwork my competition in order to have success. Never give up, and continue to push yourself outside of your comfort levels”. It is obvious to me that Freddy Meyer indeed set his own sights high and dreamed big – he played nearly 300 games in the National Hockey League with strong success, despite anything that would have inclined himself or naysayers to think otherwise. He outworked the opposition, whether it was physically out on the ice, or whether it was any doubt that may have crept in – Freddy kept it all at bay. Freddy Meyer’s career is an inspirational one consisting of big dreams that came true.

If you would like to learn more about Freddy Meyer’s hockey program, please visit his website at http://www.dreambighockeystars.com

 

 

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Unsung Islander: Anders Kallur

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Anders Kallur, a member of all four New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup championship teams, was the unsung hero of those great Long Island teams.

There is definitely something to say for genetics. Having two twin daughters who are Olympians when dad was a four-time Stanley Cup champion shows that the “apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree”. Anders Kallur’s twin girls, Susanna and Jenny, are both former hurdlers who have competed for Sweden at the Olympics; the first time competing together in 2004 in Athens, and then Sanna competing solo in 2008 in Beijing. Modern sports enthusiasts may recognize the Kallur surname more from the twins’ Olympic appearances than for dad’s accolades on the ice.

Perhaps this is mostly due to the fact that winger Anders Kallur was more of the unsung hero for those great Islanders’ teams in the early 1980s, and more often it goes forgotten that he was such an integral part of the team. Everyone knows the big names, many of whom are also Hall of Famers, from the string of championship runs for the New York Islanders. Captain Denis Potvin, sniper Mike Bossy, magician-like playmaker Bryan Trottier, the ornery netminder Billy Smith, giant-sized Clark Gillies, along with the well-known role players like Bob Nystrom, John Tonelli, Brent Sutter, Butch Goring, and Ken Morrow. Those are the names that no one forgets. Those are ten different names that come to mind when naming members of those Islanders teams before getting to Anders Kallur, and there is still no guarantee that when rattling off the names that Kallur would have even been the eleventh to come to mind.

This is unfortunate in some ways, because Kallur was certainly a vital cog for the Isles. And there is no way that you can be a member of four consecutive Stanley Cup winning teams unless you were a necessary part that was utilized to equal the greater sum. Anders Kallur certainly did his part well.

Perhaps he is often forgotten because he did not have the NHL lengthy career like those of Trottier (18-seasons), Smith (18-seasons), Nystrom (14), Potvin (15) or Gillies (14). Anders Kallur only played 6-seasons in the NHL. And when you stop to think that in only 6-seasons he won the Stanley Cup 4-times, that is certainly a remarkable NHL career.

Kallur was downright accurate too. Twice he recorded shooting-percentages of over 20%; in 1981 when he found the back of the net on 22.1% of of his shots, and again the following season when he banked 24.3% of his shots. Nearly a quarter of every shot he took ended up as a goal for the Isles during those seasons. Kallur’s career shooting percentage average is an impressive 17%.

And it was not as if Ander Kallurs was only putting up single digit numbers. On the contrary, Kallur had a rookie season of 22-goals in 76-games, followed up by a sophomore outpouring of 36-goals in 78-games, and then 18-goals in an injury shortened 1981-82 season campaign of 58-games.

In addition to putting the puck in the net, Anders Kallur was very much responsible in his own end and on the penalty-kill. In his six NHL seasons, Kallur posted a career total of 19 shorthanded goals. Kallur’s teammate and Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier also scored 19 career shorthanded goals. But Trottier did it in 12 more seasons than Kallur and in 896 more games! Not to mention the fact that Trottier was a far more prolific scorer than Kallur. In fact, not one of Kallur’s Islanders’ teammates from the four consecutive Cup runs scored more shorthanded goals as a member of the Islanders that Anders Kallur (NOTE: of all of Kallur’s teammates, only Butch Goring scored more career shorthanded goals with 40 total, but most of those came with the Los Angeles Kings; Bryan Trottier and Bob Bourne are tied with Kallur at 19 career shorties, but not all of their 19 were scored with the Islanders). Kallur’s finest season for shorthanded output was his first year in the NHL when tied for first overall with the Flyers Reggie Leach, as both wingers knotted 4-shorthanded goals a piece for most in the league.

His penalty-killing and defensive capabilities certainly garnered at least some attention throughout the league. In 1981, Kallur tied for 10th for Frank J. Selke Trophy voting as the NHL’s best defensive-forward. The following season in 1982, he was 22nd overall in the voting. But in an era when the Montreal Canadiens Bob Gainey was the chief forward at defensive responsibilities, it was a long shot for Kallur no matter what.

Anders Kallur would retire at the end of the 1984-85 NHL season. It would be the only season in Kallur’s career that the Islanders would not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. During his final season, Kallur was the third oldest player on the team at 32-years of age. The second oldest, Butch Goring, would be traded to Boston, while battlin’ Billy Smith’s best years in net were behind him and youngster Kelly Hrudey took over the starting role. The story was being closed on the Islanders’ glory days, and new, young talent in the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Patrick Flatley, Hrudey, and Gerald Diduck emerged. It was time to move on.

Though his name might not be as household as Bossy, Gillies, Nystrom or Trottier, it is important that attention is paid to Anders Kallur’s contribution to the Islanders’ dynasty. With his defensive mindedness as a forward, it would be safe to assume that Kallur made a significant difference for the betterment of the Isles when he was on the ice. Perhaps he stole them a shift here, or a game there. Or maybe even a series. Being defensively responsible as a forward on the ice can oftentimes go unnoticed because it is not as glamorous as Bossy scoring his 50th goal in 50-games. But defensive responsibility matters. It wins hockey games. Kallur’s career and contributions matter. And I would like to think that his play was a necessary ingredient in the Islanders’ recipe for four straight Stanley Cups.

 

 

Eric Boulton: The True Last of His Kind

He has played all of one game this season. And for that one game, all of 8:28 in ice time. He is 39-years old, making him one of the oldest players in the NHL; truly ancient for a hockey player. With all the talk about John Scott being selected to the NHL All-Star Game, and as a captain no less, it bothers me that most have forgotten about Eric Boulton. If John Scott is believed to be a true enforcer, then he is also not the last true enforcer, nor is Scott the oldest or most experienced. That honor would go to Boulton.

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In his 20th season of professional hockey, New York Islanders forward/enforcer, Eric Boulton.

After Jaromir Jagr (43-years old), Patrik Elias (39-years old with an April birthday) and Dan Boyle (39-years old with a July birthday), Eric Boulton (born in August of 1976) is the fourth oldest player in the NHL for the 2015-16 season. Boulton began his professional career in 1996 with the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League, and during the 2000-01 season began his NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres. Eric Boulton’s mentor and linemate when he first broke into the NHL was legendary enforcer, Rob Ray, one of only a handful of players to record over 3,000 penalty-minutes in their careers.

As a native Buffalonian, I have fond memories of Boulton’s time in Buffalo. Boulton and Ray were teammates and linemates on an aggressive fourth line for parts of three seasons, which was often centered by Erik Rasmussen. I recall a toe-to-toe battle in particular that Boulton once had versus “The Russian Bear” Andrei Nazarov when Nazarov was with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Boulton’s NHL career would carry him onto stops in Atlanta with the since relocated Thrashers, in New Jersey with the Devils, and now currently in New York with the Islanders where he has played for the past three seasons prior to this current season. Boulton was actually a mainstay for the Atlanta Thrashers for 6-years, including that team’s one lone playoff run during the 2006-07 season.

Consider Boulton a goon if you would like. During his playing career, he has certainly fought all of those players whom, fairly or unfairly, have been deemed as goons at one time or another. Just name them: Nazarov, Tie Domi, Donald Brashear, P.J. Stock, Steve McKenna, Peter Worrell, Wade Belak, Eric Cairns, Georges Laraque, Jim Cummins, Brad May, Sandy McCarthy, Jim McKenzie, Scott Parker, Stephen Peat, Chris Neil, Milan Lucic, … need I go on? Most of those players have now gone onto greener pastures. Boulton is still here.

In 649 NHL games, Boulton has scored 31-goals and tallied 79-points total, while racking up 1,419 penalty-minutes total. He has played 20-years of professional hockey. I do not care what your standpoint on fighting is – you cannot knock an individual who has done their profession for 20-years.

While the true enforcer in today’s NHL is basically non-existent, one cannot argue Boulton’s longevity. And while the accolades may go to John Scott, likely due to his abnormally large size which makes him stand out rather than for his own longevity or skill (whether it be pugilistic skill or hockey skill), I believe Eric Boulton should receive some form of acknowledgement for his time playing the game of hockey in the best sports league in the world. Please do not forget him. This will likely be his last NHL season.