The Chicago Wolves needed a spark. They needed more power. More scoring. More energy. They needed Darren Archibald.
Fresh from morning practice, he can’t wipe the mile-wide grin off his face. Turns out, that smile’s a permanent fixture on “Archie.”
“I’m an easy-going guy,” Archibald said. “I have fun all day. I enjoy everything I’m doing and I’m enjoying this moment. Every little boy’s dream is to play hockey and play in the NHL. I couldn’t be happier. Right now, I’m one step away.”
For the 22-year old left wing from Newmarket, Ontario, getting his big break in the American Hockey League was challenge enough. After a brief stint with the Wolves at the beginning of last season, Archibald was sent to the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings, returning to the Wolves for only 20 games in February and March. He was back in Wolves camp this summer, but was again assigned to the Wings.
But the positive Archibald wasn’t deterred. He knew what was missing.
“I had to get the confidence back in my game,” Archibald said. “That’s what the K-Wings were about. I’m more confident as a player now. Last year was my first as a pro. Whether it was nerves or just not being confident, that’s what landed me back in Kalamazoo.”
As injuries mounted for the Wolves and the power play unit struggled to find its footing, Archibald was excelling in the ECHL, posting six goals and eight assists in 18 games. When a roster spot in Chicago opened, head coach Scott Arniel knew who should fill it.
“A big part of Darren going down to Kalamazoo was so he could play every day,” Arniel said. “I’m real proud of him. His job was to be the best forward down there and he was the best player on that team. He did everything we asked of him and that’s why he got the call up.”
Archibald was back in the line-up on Nov. 28 against Rockford. He fit in nicely as a weapon on the power play, creating the kind of traffic in front of the net that led to his first man-advantage goal of the season on Nov. 30 in Milwaukee.
“I knew coming in that contributing on the power play was going to be huge,” Archibald said. “I talked to Coach Arniel and he told me to be a bad goalie and just hang out in front of the net and knock in rebounds and force my way in there as much as I can. A few power play goals later and here I am.”
Finally having arrived, Archibald gets to bask in the amenities that come with professional success – and get used to the ones that don’t.
“I wake up every morning at the beautiful Residence Inn in Rosemont, my palace,” he said. “I’m rooming with (goalie) Joe Cannata. I knew him in Kalamazoo so it’s been a smooth transition. I keep him in line. I’ve also been known to step into the kitchen at the hotel. Last year was my first time really being on my own. I always had billets in junior hockey so they prepared meals for me, which was nice. I do just fine though. Stick to the basics – chicken, steak, fish. Lots of veggies. I try to stick to what I know.”
But Cannata shouldn’t expect to find a home-cooked meal waiting for him after practice any time soon.
“I don’t cook for Joe,” Archibald said. “He cooked for me though the other week. His girlfriend was in town and they made me something. That was nice.”
The real challenge for Archibald comes post-lunch, when he’s left to his own devices for much of the day. What’s a guy to do after already having worked out, practiced, worked out again and made himself a meal?
“I definitely would rather spend most of my time at the rink,” Archibald said. “In the afternoon, there are a lot of mall walks that happen. I watch a lot of movies. I’m a big Xbox guy. I’ll play Call of Duty and NHL 2013 all day. That’s pretty standard.”
Also standard? Looking to fellow players for inspiration. Always one of the bigger guys (he’s 6-foot-3), Archibald cites former Philadelphia Flyer Eric Lindros as someone he models his game after (“he’d fight, score goals, do it all”) but says Calgary Flames captain Jerome Iginla is his true hockey hero.
“Iginla was my favorite player. He’s a leader on and off the ice,” he said. “I looked up to him and tried to learn from him and what he was doing. He was obviously well respected around the league. I’ve never gotten to meet him though. One day I hope.”
Archibald knows the power a single day can have. Just two years old when his parents took him to a frozen pond near their home and laced up his first pair of skates, an instant bond to the ice formed.
“As soon as those skates were tied up,” Archibald said, “it just felt like such a natural thing. I’ve loved the game ever since. It’s been my whole life.”
For him it may have been love at first skate, but the sport hasn’t always gone easy on Archie. His journey to the American Hockey League was littered with struggles and disappointments, although his attitude belies any hardships.
“Growing up, there’s always people that are going to point at a kid and say ‘he’s never going to make it’ but I just persevered through that and kept working harder and didn’t let that affect me too much. I’m just easy-going about it. I go out and do my job. If it’s going to happen, if I’m going to make that jump to the NHL, it’s going to happen. I just keep working hard.”
“Arch is the kind of guy who comes to the rink, has fun, enjoys himself and really enjoys being around his teammates,” Arniel said. “But he knows when to get serious and when to put his head down and really work and score the goals we need.”
Archibald has cleared enough hurdles in junior and professional hockey to appreciate the value of being an underdog. Cut during his first Ontario Hockey League tryout and forced to play an extra season in Junior A, Archibald eventually fought his way onto the OHL’s Barrie Colts roster and, in his second season, lead them to an Eastern Conference Championship.
“That’s still my best memory in hockey, when we won 22 games in a row and won that championship,” he said. “It was huge. We had a great team that year but we fought hard. It was a great feeling. Unfortunately we lost to the Windsor Spitfires in the Finals, but it really was a great experience and a good run for the boys.”
Looking around the league, Archibald sees the same guys he played puck with as a kid finally realizing their own dreams, just as he is. All their successes make Archibald’s journey that much sweeter.
“I have come a long way from where I was. And it’s been a really fun trip,” he said. “I look at all these guys around the league that I grew up playing hockey against and now we’re here. It’s great to see. We fought to be here. I have a couple good friends playing all over the place and I like to stay in touch with them and always hope they’re doing well.”
Now, so is he. While Archibald went undrafted by the NHL, it’s still where he sees himself eventually. Until that day comes, the laid-back Canuck just wants to keep the party going.
“Playing hockey, it’s just fun,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was a kid and I go out there every night with my second family. It’s the best players in the world coming together and it’s a true passion for me. You can’t be here without passion for the game. It’s a whole other life out there on the ice.
My friends will ask me ‘Oh, don’t you hate living out of a suitcase all year long, you never know where you’re going to be’ but I love it. You get to see all parts of the world. And it’s just so fun.Tweets by @arch2five