By: Justin Dickie
09/09/2013 12:38 PM -
Drew Schiestel’s a Hamilton native, but he’s entering his first season in the Hamilton Bulldogs organization in unfamiliar territory.
“Starting a hockey season in this area will be really odd because I guess I haven’t done that since my last year of AAA (Midget) when I was 15,” Schiestel says.
Since his junior days, the 24-year-old defenceman says packing up and leaving home has been what takes him out of summer break and into a hockey mindset. Every off-season, he comes back home to stay with his parents in the Stone Church and Upper Wentworth area of Hamilton. The Hamilton Reps grad says it’s weird to not be leaving home at this time of year, but playing at home for the first time in a long time is something he and his family are happy about.
“You can tell they’re definitely excited,” Schiestel says of his parents’ enthusiasm. “I think they’re just as excited to have me at home as they are for me to have a fresh start with a new team. They’re really excited about the new situation and new opportunity.”
After a strong junior career that saw the smooth-skating defenceman put up more than 100 points in 237 games with the Mississauga / Niagara IceDogs organization from 2005-2009, Schiestel moved onto the Buffalo Sabres system, where he played his entire professional career to this point.
“I was there for a long time,” said the Sabres’ 2007 second-round draft pick. “So there were definitely ups and downs.”
First, the ups.
Schiestel says that in his first season in the American Hockey League with the Portland Pirates, 2009-2010, then head coach Kevin Dineen and assistant coach Eric Weinrich taught him as much as anyone in his career to date.
“Those two guys taught me how to be a professional and definitely helped me a lot,” Schiestel says. “I owe a lot of credit when I was in Portland to those two. They definitely helped me get my career started in the right direction.”
In Schiestel’s second season with Portland, and the tutelage of Dineen and Weinrich paying dividends, things seemed to be going as well for Schiestel as anyone could have hoped. So well, in fact, that he was selected to play in the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic.
Then, the downs.
In a game just before the All-Star Break, Schiestel tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Goodbye All-Star Game.
“I didn’t play for probably eight or nine months,” Schiestel says. “I guess that was a little bit of a struggle coming back the next season. I guess it was just a bad series of events and some bad timing.”
After knee surgery, Schiestel struggled to get back into a rhythm. In 2011-2012, the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, now in Rochester, was deep on defence and the Hamilton native wasn’t just going to ease back into the lineup. He was going to have to force his way back up the depth chart.
In March 2012, Schiestel was loaned to the Texas Stars for the balance of the AHL season. There, he did enough to earn a one-year extension with the Sabres for 2012-2013.
Back to Rochester. Then, the National Hockey League lockout.
“Last year, with the lockout too, with a lot of bodies in the minors, it was tough to really get my momentum going back in the right direction,” Schiestel says. “I was kind of treading water for a while.”
Once the lockout ended, Schiestel earned more ice time and says he finished the year on a strong note. Bulldogs management saw potential in the blueliner and signed him to a one-year, two-way AHL / ECHL contract this off-season. Schiestel says he’s feeling 100 per cent healthy and ready to capitalize on the opportunity with a new organization.
“They’ve seen me play a lot of hockey and they know I have a lot of potential, given the right opportunity and the right situation,” Schiestel says. “I know my abilities and I know what I can contribute to the team. I’m just looking to go there, work my hardest and see what happens. Hopefully things turn out the way I know they can.”
Schiestel heads into the 2013-2014 season potentially as the Bulldogs’ most experienced defenceman and also their second-oldest at this time, behind only 24-year-old rookie Matt Grassi, who just finished his collegiate career with Michigan State University. Being the go-to veteran isn’t something Schiestel has experienced since his junior days in Niagara, but it’s a role he wants to embrace.
“I have no problem helping guys out whenever I can and filling in a leadership role,” Schiestel says. “If that’s what my role is and what I need to do, then absolutely, that’s fine with me – whatever I need to do to help things turn around and move the team in the right direction.”
The last bit of uncharted water Schiestel faces this season is not being on a two-way NHL / AHL contract for the first time in his pro career. He says that doesn’t change his mindset whatsoever. On the ice, he’s out there to prove himself, just like everyone else.
“Whether you’re on an NHL contract or not, if you’re in the American League, you’re always trying to prove something,” Schiestel says. “You’re always trying to make a good impression and move on up. I’m just trying to do the same thing this year.”
There’s no shortage of new opportunity and new beginnings this season for Drew Schiestel. It’s just an added bonus that he’ll get to experience it all at home.