By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Cody Eakin was one of the final cuts from Canada’s national junior team a year ago.
He doesn’t want history to repeat itself.
Eakin, the captain of the Swift Current Broncos, was to fly out of Vancouver this morning, bound for Toronto and the national team selection camp that opens with on-ice sessions Sunday.
“It’ll be nice to get out there and see all the guys,” Eakin, a 19-year-old centre, said Friday evening before facing the Kamloops Blazers in a WHL game at Interior Savings Centre.
“It’s exciting for me to get another opportunity to play for Canada.”
He knows, however, that while this is his second chance, there won’t be another one. The IIHF World Junior Championship is a U-20 tournament; most observers refer to it as a 19-year-old tournament.
But if Eakin’s recent performances mean anything, the native of Winnipeg is ready. In fact, it’s like he has been using this road trip as a tuneup.
The Broncos, who are on an 11-game road swing, opened a B.C. Division tour in Chilliwack on Tuesday, with Eakin scoring three times, including the winner, and setting up another in a 5-4 victory over the Bruins. On Wednesday, he had the winner and two assists in a 4-1 victory over the Kelowna Rockets.
That left him with 37 points, including 15 goals, in 29 games. Last season, he finished with 91 points, including 47 goals, as he blossomed into one of the WHL’s top performers.
The strange thing is that Eakin, a third-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the NHL’s 2009 draft, felt he wasn’t playing all that well prior to this road trip.
“You have to battle through it,” he said. “If you want to play in this league . . . it’s nothing new to me. It’s just one of those things.”
Some of the difficulties he experienced may have been due to injuries, although he wouldn’t offer that up as an excuse.
But he played at least eight games with a hip strain — “a tear in a hip muscle,” he said — and also had a “really painful” infection in an elbow. He did allow that, yes, “I was kind of iffy on one leg.”
“But,” he added, “I wasn’t going to hurt it by playing on it, so I played.”
As he put it: “If you want to be a hockey player, you have to battle it.”
Eakin thinks his game got a boost simply by going on the road.
“You come out here . . . it’s a great atmosphere, a great environment,” he explained. “You’re on the bus with the guys for hours and hours. Some things change. You get new linemates and stuff like that.”
His new linemates are Jordan Peddle and Dillon Wagner, a pair of fellow 19-year-olds, and the early returns have been impressive. Wagner, who had offseason knee surgery, was playing in only his eighth game last night.
Eakin, whose father Grant played with the Winnipeg Clubs and Lethbridge Broncos (1973-78) and lives in Winnipeg, said he also went back to basics and that resulted in a change of fortune. (Cody is a nephew to Bruce Eakin, who played two seasons with the Saskatoon Blades, 1980-82, and now lives in Florida.)
“The thing is,” he explained, “I’m getting some good bounces. Once you get one good bounce they continue to go in. You work for another bounce and then you get another and then you get a lucky bounce . . .”
And then your eyes start to shine and the game is fun again.
“You know,” he said, “it’s tough when you get in a slump and I think a lot of players do it right before Christmas. It’s a tough time of year.”
It can be especially hard for elite players who don’t get to spend time with friends and family over the holidays.
“You have to sacrifice some other things,” Eakin said. “For some, it’s time to go home and see your friends and family. Obviously, It’s an exciting time of the year but you have to sacrifice some things if you want to be a hockey player.”
And Eakin wants to be a hockey player . . . for Canada.
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