There are moments in every athlete’s life that, upon reflection, are particularly momentous. For Chicago Wolves defenseman Derek Joslin, one such instance came early and changed the trajectory of his career.
“My dad, Jeff, was one of my first coaches in hockey and he was a big influence. I was a forward until I was 13 and he was the one as a coach who put me on defense,” he said. “It was a huge fight because I was like ‘I want to score goals! I want to be a forward!’ and he said I’d be better as a defenseman. I didn’t talk to him for a few weeks, but I guess it all worked out.”
And then some. While Richmond Hill, Ontario, native Joslin was originally bitter about the switch, with more than 100 National Hockey League games under his belt as a blueliner, it seems this was one case where father really did know best.
“Derek had been one of the leading scorers on our team when we lost three defensemen all at once and someone had to step into the role,” Jeff said. “I suggested trying Derek on defense. He was one of the tallest on the team and he was a good skater. I told him on the car ride home after practice and he broke down and started crying. He said he didn’t want to be a defenseman because he wouldn’t score any goals. He was really upset but I finally told him we would just try it a couple of games and see what happened. Then his first game on defense he got a goal and an assist. He said to me after, ‘OK, dad, I’ll try it on defense’ and he’s been there ever since.”
The bond between father and son has remained intact, even as Joslin has criss-crossed North America playing hockey. After leaving home at 16 to play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL draft by the San Jose Sharks. After nearly two full seasons with their American Hockey League affiliate, the Worcester Sharks, Joslin played in his first NHL game with San Jose on January 3, 2009.
“When you go up to the NHL, you’re so pumped up,” he said. “The coaches are really good about easing you into it so you’re not going to get thrown into the fire and be put out there against Sidney Crosby on your first shift. When I first started going up and down to San Jose from Worcester, I remember getting called into coach’s office and he’d say, ‘You’re going up,’ so I’d be in a car at 2 a.m. going to the airport, catching a six-hour flight and then I’m playing that night in San Jose. But that’s not that bad. Getting sent down is harder. I was sent up and down about 10 times that first season. It’s an emotional, mental roller coaster.”
No matter where Joslin happens to be suiting up though, he holds one ritual especially close to his heart – the pregame call to dad.
“We have a really good relationship and my dad watches every game online so I’ll usually call him before we play,” he said. “It’s our tradition. He always drove me to hockey growing up and he’d give me the pre-game pointers and now I call him just to say hi. Sometimes we don’t even talk about hockey, we just catch up a little and he says good luck and then he watches the game. Afterwards he’ll tell me what he saw and still gives me the odd pointer.”
“Most of the time it’s a short conversation and I wish him luck,” Jeff said. “After a game, he knows when he’s played well and when he’s had a rough game. When he plays well he calls me after the game. If he feels there is any doubt he won’t call me after the game. He calls the next day. He’ll be down on himself and won’t feel like talking. But pretty much we still talk like that and it’s pretty cool. It’s just our routine.”
While Joslin still fondly remembers the car rides to and from practice and games with his dad growing up, he now carries on that tradition with someone else – Wolves goaltender Matt Climie, also his roommate. With dad, Joslin remembers a lot of lectures after a game. With Climie, the car rides are a little different.
“We carpool to the arena almost every day,” he said. “On the car ride home after a loss, we just vent to each other. We don’t talk too much about it, but if something is bothering one of us we will definitely express that to the other and it’s a good thing to have someone who gets it and understands and you can just get things off your chest.”
Climie and Joslin had never met prior to Joslin joining the Wolves in the offseason, but they became fast friends in training camp and Joslin tagged along when Climie went to look at condos in Chicago. They ended up finding a spot and sharing it with forward Tim Miller.
“It’s a good dynamic between the three of us. We have a good time,” Climie said. “In our time off, ‘Jos’ and I will go to a movie or get dinner or whatever. We hang out quite a bit. Tim hangs out with us here and there but he spends more time in his room. It’s good, though. We have fun.”
“Derek comes off as shy and quiet but once you get to know him, he opens up and he really becomes the opposite,” Climie added. “He comes out of his shell a lot.”
That’s clear as soon as Joslin’s penchant for pranking is revealed, although his aim isn’t always as true as he’d like.
“My best prank was also my most unintentional,” he said. “I put shaving cream in a white towel, and refolded it so when the guys come out of the shower and they grab a towel they can’t really feel the shaving cream. But my coach (with the Ottawa 67s) Brian Kilrea happened to be in the shower and he grabbed the towel and he had shaving cream all over his face and his body. All the boys were laughing, so that was pretty successful.”
But as it tends to do, karma came back to bite Joslin. It arrived in the form of a furry friend hanging out in his equipment bag.
“One time in Worcester, I was a rookie so we had to help the trainers bring all the bags in the room. I brought in my bag and someone had put a mouse that was stuck on one of those glue traps in my bag,” he said. “So it was still alive and moving. I didn’t see it at first, but when I went to grab my elbow pads I saw it and it scared the you-know-what out of me. All the guys were around the corner watching to see my reaction so that was good.”
Beyond just standard team initiations, Joslin has experienced some of success’ more enjoyable perks too, which he’s happy to be able to share with family.
“You don’t really get recognized a lot as a hockey player, but I did have one encounter that was special,” he said. “I was in San Jose and my parents came to visit and we went out to dinner. When I walked in and got a table the manager came out and was basically like ‘Hi Derek, good to see you playing up here with the big club, dinner is on us.’ I was like, Wow, this is cool. My parents were excited. There are little moments like that that stick with you.”
His mom and dad have had plenty of opportunity to get excited about their kids’ hockey endeavors. While Joslin found success at the junior hockey level, just like his father, and moved on to the pros, his younger sister, Jamie, is a defenseman who earned a full scholarship to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. In fact, it was Jamie who got Joslin acquainted with now-teammate Darren Archibald.
“Darren and I are both from Richmond Hill, but he started down in the ECHL so we never really played together until now,” Joslin said. “He is a couple years younger than me, around my sister’s age (21) so we have mutual friends. I always heard about him. We definitely got closer the last couple summers when we were training together. It’s great to have him here and then at home I have a golf buddy so it’s fun.”
Considering one of Joslin’s first jobs as a teenager was as a caddy at a local golf course, he’s still passionate about the game, and sees an opportunity to improve his skills on the ice by spending time on the links.
“I love to play golf. I get into it in the summer,” he said. “With all the time off we have, you work out in the morning and then go play a little golf. It could help with hockey too actually. It does help with your core muscles. But golf is a finesse sport and hockey is more about power. So it helps with my soft hands on the ice.”
Joslin would know about using power to his advantage on the ice. At the 2009 AHL All-Star game, he won the Hardest Shot contest with a 98.6 m.p.h. slap shot. But getting that kind of energy behind a puck doesn’t come about easily.
“To shoot like that, you really have to use the flex of your stick. You don’t just swing at it as hard as you can,” he said. “Sticks these days are built to release their own way so you have to have good rotation in your core and your stick. It’s not all arms like people think. It’s a lot of legs and core and rotation. I work on that a lot in the offseason, strengthening my core and working on my rotation. It comes up a lot in hockey and in golf too, actually.”
While it may seem as though Joslin has accomplished plenty so far in his hockey career, he doesn’t want to slow down. In fact, he wants to work even harder, motivated by the same dream he’s fought for since his days in house league.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be an NHL hockey player. I want to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “When the desire and the hunger aren’t there anymore, that’s when you have to step outside the game. It’s a pleasure going to the rink every day. It is a really good life.
“Ultimately I want to be successful in whatever I do, whether it’s hockey or life after hockey. Being successful and healthy and happy, hopefully. Just always be in a good place. Hockey isn’t always going to be there and I want to make sure even if it’s not hockey one day, I’m still doing something I love and I’m making myself happy."