Teammates by chance, friends by choice
For Express alumni Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow, playing in the NHL is still a surreal feeling. Just a few years ago, the ability to play alongside of some of hockey's best (such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau), was only achievable through an EA Sports NHL series. Now, at the age of 20 and 22 respectively, that almost seemingly impossible thought has become a reality.
At first glance, you'd never know that Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow didn't become close friends until this season. The playful chirps going back and forth following Thursday morning's game-day skate would make you think that these two young men have been friends for much longer. Despite never playing with each other at either the AAA level or the junior hockey level, Goodrow and Tierney are becoming the best of friends with one common thread bringing them together: the York-Simcoe Express.
The two rookies from Keswick, Ontario (Tierney) and Newmarket, Ontario (Goodrow) constantly find themselves sharing memories and stories of their time in the Express' AAA program. "We weren't really friends - I didn't really like him" joked Goodrow as Tierney walked into the Sharks' dressing room following their practice at the Air Canada Centre last Thursday morning. "We weren't friends, but I knew of him just from playing in the same organization," said Goodrow of the younger Chris Tierney.
Separated by one year, Barclay Goodrow and Chris Tierney never got to play with each other during their time with the Express. While it's not entirely uncommon to have a Major Bantam player get called up to a Minor Midget team, neither of them seem to recall their paths crossing in that sense. "There were a lot of times when they (Barclay's team) were playing tournaments and we were at the same one, or they were playing right after or before us, and I'd see them play." Said Tierney recalling watching the older Goodrow and the Minor Midget team.
The 22 year old Goodrow, who recorded 114 points in 71 games for the Express in his Minor Midget year in 2008-2009, has 11 points in 51 games in his rookie season. Despite putting up solid numbers in the OHL, Goodrow was passed over multiple times in the NHL draft, something he feels only made him a better player. "I think it's just added motivation over the years. To get better, to prove a lot of people wrong. I passed through three drafts so whenever you're in a jam and you need motivation, to find a way to get through a lot, you kind of just remember those moments." While the goal-scoring dynamo from junior hockey has yet to settle into his scoring groove in the NHL, Goodrow says he's enjoying his rookie season to the fullest. "It's been great. Obviously I learned a lot being around such great guys (Thornton/Marleau), great players, good teammates...it's been good." For many hockey fans, the only way to play with your idols or your favourite player is in EA Sports' NHL Be A Pro or Live The Life mode on your gaming consoles. At 22 years old, Goodrow is lucky enough to do just that. "It's pretty surreal" he said. "You go from being fans of these guys to being teammates. I remember my first game in Minnesota, I played on a line with the two Joes for a couple shifts (Thornton and Pavelski) and it was a pretty crazy feeling. It's been great and you realize that not only are these guys great players, but also great guys off the ice."
For teammate Chris Tierney, his path to the NHL was more conventional. After being selected by the London Knights 19th overall in the 2010 OHL Priority selection, Tierney struggled in his rookie season with the Knights. He recorded just 11 points in 47 games. The following season, he had quite the turnaround. In 2012, he tallied 34 points in 65 games. His strong sophomore season drew the attention of the San Jose Sharks, who selected Tierney in the 2nd round of the NHL draft that year. Chris would go on to play two more seasons for the Knights and was named their captain in his final year in 2013-2014. This season, things have come full circle for the two Express graduates. "It's cool" said Tierney when asked about playing with a fellow YSE grad. "It's pretty cool to be able to talk about York-Simcoe and growing up through the association." he said. For some rookies, jumping head first into the NHL is a tough thing, however for Tierney, having a familiar face in Goodrow made things that much easier. "We have a bunch of young guys right now and it's definitely easier when you have a guy coming from the same area, played in the same league, and he's coming up with you as a rookie."
A look back to Chris' years with the Express brings a plethora of memories for him. A favourite? The OMHA Championship in his Minor Midget year. That season, Chris tallied 90 points in 57 games for York - Simcoe putting him 4th all-time in scoring for the Express. Much like the older Goodrow, the chance to play with guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is still a surreal feeling for Chris. "It's great" said Tierney. "It's awesome to be able to watch them at practice and in games just to see what they're doing. I know I was a big fan of both those guys (Thornton and Marleau) and a lot of guys on this team growing up."
For both Chris and Barclay, the 2015 season has been a learning experience. The two rookies have had numerous chances throughout the year to play alongside Thornton and Marleau and are taking everything they say to heart. While they never played together in AAA, it's clear that for these two GTA natives, the York - Simcoe Express has done more than just developed them into hockey players.