After a successful career with Boston College, 2001 fourth round pick Ben Eaves is beginning his professional hockey journey with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. The 5’8 center scored 169 points in 126 career games in NCAA action, and captained his team to the Frozen Four in 2003-04, after scoring an unforgettable overtime goal on one leg against Michigan to qualify.
After knee problems forced him to have offseason surgery, Eaves made his debut in the ECHL for the Wheeling Nailers, where he scored one goal in two games before being called up to the Baby Penguins. Eaves has now played 10 games in the AHL for one goal and two assists. Due to the Penguins depth at center, Eaves has found himself playing on the wing in the last few contests.
Hockey’s Future spoke to Eaves spoke after Wilkes-Barre’s practice on Tuesday.
HF: First, how is your knee feeling?
BE: My knee is feeling much better now, I feel like it’s getting stronger every day and it’s kind of nice that it’s not an issue right now.
HF: It was a long rehab for you, how did you keep yourself busy?
BE: I don’t even know what I did, it seemed like it took forever. It was about three to three and a half months since I had the procedure to when I was playing again and I was just kind of doing odds and ends things. I was home for a while with my parents and I was helping them out any way I could, but it was really tough to stay mentally sharp.
HF: You’ve played 12 games now since your return, how would you rate your performance so far?
BE: You know I’m still trying to get the feel of things here, this league is obviously a very talented league and we’ve got a really good team here. I’m trying to find my spot in the line-up and find my niche in the league. It’s kind of a process after missing training camp and missing the first 30 games, but I think after these first 10 games I’m starting to get more comfortable here and hopefully start making more of an impact.
HF: What have you found to be the biggest differences so far between college and pro hockey?
BE: You know that’s a good question, I’ve often thought about that and just trying to think how my game translates over. It’s just a lot of little things that go on, whether it’s getting the puck out or getting it deep or whether you’re trapping a team in position and stuff like that. It’s just a lot of odds and ends things that I think make this game a better game than college and I think it’s more fun to play.
HF: You had quite a successful career in college for BC, what was your personal highlight?
BE: I’d have to say when we made it to the Frozen Four. It was held in Boston and it was something we really wanted to do. There were six seniors in my class and we won the National Championship in my freshman year, and we really wanted to get back and try to get that title back in Boston. We ended up beating Michigan in overtime to get to the Frozen Four in Boston and I think that was probably the highlight of the year for me.
HF: You also received academic awards during your time in college, how important was that side of it for you?
BF: It’s very important. You’re obviously there to play hockey and that’s your number one priority, but going to a school like Boston College you can get a great education, and I feel like I was very fortunate to have some unbelievable teachers while I was there. I tried out a bunch of different things and I ended up majoring in English and minoring in history. I just found some teachers and some subjects that really fascinated me.
HF: Your size has been well documented, tell us how you use that to your advantage?
BE: That’s a good question, I’m trying to do that right now because the players are so much bigger than I’ve ever played against. I think as my leg keeps on getting stronger and I keep on getting more confident, I’ll be able to use my small size to be able to get underneath guys and be able to kind of sneak by guys. You know if somebody is big you’ve got to think of them as slow and I’m small so I’ve got to think of myself as quick, so I just have to use any advantage I can find out there.
HF: You scored a goal and an assist against the Philadelphia Phantoms on December 26, how did it feel to get those first points on the board?
BE: It felt really good, I definitely wanted to get the goose egg off, just to get that out of the back of your head. I was hoping that it would kind of propel me right away, but I’ve found this is a really tough league to score in and I’m still adjusting to the pace of the game and everything. It was definitely nice to go out and help the team win and hopefully as the year goes on here I can do that a lot more.
HF: Coach Therrien has used you with a lot of different linemates so far, who have you found the best chemistry with?
BE: You know it’s kind of interesting, we’ve got so many good players here and everyone kind of brings something different to the table. These last couple of games I’ve had a lot of fun playing with Maxime Talbot. He’s actually been my center here the last couple of games, and he’s just a really great energy player and he gets in the corners and he gets does a lot of the small things that make the game easier for the rest of us out there. So we’ve been kind of getting it going, and I don’t know if we’ve scored yet in the last couple of games, but we’re getting our fair share of chances and I think they are going to start going in here.
HF: What role do you see yourself playing in Pittsburgh should you ever be called up to the NHL?
BE: That’s a good question, I’m just trying to find out the role I’m playing here first, and once that situation arises I’ll have to go up and have to try and establish myself up there. I just hope I can keep on making plays as the level increases here. My game is to setup guys and to have the puck on my stick and be patient with it, and hopefully I’ll be able to do it at these next levels here.
HF: Is there a part of your game you want to work on to get to that next level?
BE: I’ve just got to keep on working on my speed and my strength, and I definitely need to work on my shot because guys are so good defensively that a lot of times you bust plays just to rip a snapper on the net there and go for rebounds. I think you can ask anyone, you just want to get better on your all around game and keep improving every day.
HF: Wilkes-Barre is known for its great fans, how have you found the fan response for yourself so far?
BE: It’s incredible, every home game feels like a college game, and that says a lot because in college you normally play about 20 home games at the most, and that is with the student section and the band and people going crazy when you’re playing against your rivals. It’s halfway through the season here and these fans haven’t let up, and it’s just incredible support every night and they make this a real tough building to play in for other teams.
HF: Soon after your arrival at Wilkes-Barre you joined Matt Murley and some other players to visit some children in a local hospital. Can you tell us a little about that?
BE: We did a visit a couple of weeks ago, after Christmas. It’s just kind of fun stuff to do because you can put a smile on a kid’s face, and give them a stuffed toy of our mascot here, Tux. It was just kind of nice because you don’t realize how much of an affect you have on some people and you don’t realize the struggle that some kids especially have to go through just to survive every day. It was something that was instilled in me in high school and I tried to continue that through college and I was really excited to get the opportunity to do it here.
HF: What was your greatest influence in starting hockey?
BE: I’d have to say my father, I guess you could say we’re a hockey family. My father played when he was growing up and he played professional for eight years before he had to retire and he’s been coaching ever since. I think my brother and me have lived in 14 or 15 different cities since we were born, because the coaching profession isn’t as stable as say a teaching job or anything, so we’ve moved all over the country and we’ve just been around rinks and been on the ice just kind of playing, and it’s kind of just second nature for us.
HF: What is your favorite pastime outside of hockey?
BE: I love to play golf in the summer. I go back to Faribault, Minnesota and we have a place on a lake there, and I just love getting out there and hitting the links and just kind of relaxing. Also we started a band on the team here too, we’ve got a couple of guitar players so I also like plugging in the electric guitar and just playing around, but anything that’s nice and relaxing, I’m all about that.
HF: Finally, what are your goals for the remainder of the season?
BE: Well I made up a goal list right after New Year’s there and I just want to keep on getting better every day. I have a lot to learn being a professional, and I felt like I did a lot at the college level and I was very happy with my four-year career there, but this is a new challenge and there are new things to be learned and I’m really excited to hopefully keep on contributing to this team and help us get in the playoffs and make another run.
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