Darren Eliot has one simple piece of advice for anyone regarding their profession, their pastimes, hobbies and passions. That is… you should do what you like and like what you do.
It’s a simple enough rule, really…but how many of us can truly say that about everything we do in life? Well, after spending some time with the Thrashers’ TV analyst, I honestly believe he’s one of those who can do just that.
Eliot grew up in a southern Ontario. His dad’s career moved them around while growing up and he enjoyed what is considered to be a true, tradition Canadian upbringing…enjoying playing hockey every chance he could.
”I was on the ice a three [years of age]”, Darren told me. “Playing the game out in the streets, on the ponds, in the creeks…just playing hockey all the time”.
Sports in general were his passion, playing every one he could growing up…high school football, baseball, lacrosse and tennis. “Ya know, one season ended and I’d pick up another…but hockey was THE sport”.
And being the kid in goal was just something that seemed to fit his style. “Because I moved around a lot, I was always the new kid a lot so it was OK, I guess, that I was a goalie…you’re just kinda in your own world so you just go out and play and meet friends that way and you become part of the group pretty quickly”.
He started playing in Burlington, ON, moved to Oshawa, then to Windsor, and then back to Oshawa. That’s where he began his junior hockey playing days.
“My Junior B coach there was Mike Keenan, and we had a pretty good player on our team as a 15-year by the name of Dale Hawerchuk”, Eliot recalled. “Keenan was a St. Lawrence grad and he was the one who put me on the path to college hockey…I had never even considered it, to be quite honest with you. I was drafted by the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, then the rights were traded to my home town Oshawa”.
But he knew he would have a life beyond his playing days. “So I chose the college path, he said, “Thankfully”.
“First year at Cornell we win the ECAC Championship”, he went on. “Had the chance to defend the title against Providence the second year, but still made it to the NCAA playoffs. Made it to the Frozen Four the first year, though it wasn’t called that then”.
In that championship round, he went up against a couple guys that he’d cross paths again with later down the road. “We actually lost that year to Don Waddell and Steve Weeks’ team…Michigan University. Don scored the game winning goal on me”.
Eliot was an All-American as a senior in college and his goaltending partner Brian Hayward. “We played three years together, he was an All-American in his senior year, which meant I didn’t play a lot in my junior year”.
But his time at Cornell was time well spent…earning two All-Ivy Team selections, the All-American honor and being elected to the Sphinx Head Society in his senior year. And if that wasn’t enough, he was inducted into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
After finishing college with a degree in agricultural economics, he then had the opportunity to wear his nation’s colors.
“Timing wise, as luck would have it, they were putting together the Canadian hockey team and so I got to play with Team Canada in the ’84 Olympics in Sarajevo… I deferred turning pro with the Kings for that”.
When the time did come to begin his pro career, he did so in Los Angeles… playing there for the next three and a half years and compiling a record of 25-41-11 with the Kings. He then was traded to Detroit, though he spent most of that time in Adirondack.
He then signed with the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent to be a player-coach for their affiliate in Rochester. “I thought that was the path I was going to take…get into coaching that way. I was there one season, it didn’t work out…so I decided to go to grad school. I had a few opportunities to keep playing but decided enough was enough”.
His NHL career numbers…25-41-12 with a 4.59 GAA and .851 SV% with one shutout during 89 games played.
But as he had prepared for, the days after his playing career were now upon him.
While completing grad school at Eastern Michigan, he got into business with a software company but stayed with hockey by coaching high school, writing for Michigan hockey and running goalie schools. That’s also the time that Eliot entered into the broadcasting world with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. There, he learned both the TV and radio ends of the business.
And before long…that part of his career just seemed to take off.
“The NHL started expanding and I got a call from the San Jose Sharks to see if I wanted to join their broadcasting team…didn’t get that job but then I got a call from Anaheim, ended up going out there for a couple of years then Turner Sports gave me a call and I’ve been here since day-one”.
Through it all, he has always been a teacher of the game… whether it’s from the booth, or on the ice with the youth. In fact, my oldest tax-exemption took part in one of Eliot’s summer hockey camps several years back. I’m sure there are quite a few of you out there who can say the same.
“You know, I got into business when I got out of hockey, but I never got out of hockey and hockey never got out of me…so I found ways to stay in it. In Michigan a new high school program was started and I got involved there…friends of mine ran a company called Suburban Hockey and they didn’t have any goaltending program, so I designed one for them, staffed and ran it…I ran the hockey school and the goalie school for the Ducks during the summers I was out there. And so the same thing happened here, after a couple years in”.
Regarding the situation in the Atlanta community, Eliot knew there was already a foundation to build from…the attention simply needed to put in the correct direction.
“The focus was on the guys who didn’t play hockey…they were looking for everyone who wasn’t a hockey fan and were trying to convert them. And I thought they were taking for granted the hockey playing community that was already here. So I got involved and we built the hockey development team…and that’s been very rewarding”.
In regards to the number of rinks in the area for youth hockey, I asked Eliot if he thought the organization should be looking to open new ones in the community…or if it was a situation where the demand would lead to the supply.
“Oh I think the demand is certainly there, the existing rinks are max out and there is a new rink being built finally off of GA 400… the first new one being built since the Little Blueland at the MIC. But it’s an expensive undertaking for the organization to take it on. So, you leave to private enterprise locally and support it the best way you can”.
Continuing, he cited how this situation could have been handled from the onset. “I’ve thought it should have been a condition of expansion that every team, out of escrow, should have had to have built at least three rinks in every ‘non-traditional’ hockey market… because you can’t grow this sport without that base”.
The conversation then moved naturally to the Thrashers and their season so far. Like his partner in the booth Matt McConnell, he is concerned with the team’s inability to play a more consistent brand of hockey. He places this issue on the fact that the organization is still coping with an “identity crisis”.
“They’ve never been a team…for whatever reason…that has been able to assert their game. And maybe that’s because it’s an emerging identity. I think you see a lot of teams that come out and they know who they are when they hit the ice. But I think this team let’s the game dictate who they are on any particular night and any given situation and that why you get the inconsistencies…why you get the slow starts and you see moments of inspired play followed by play where you say to yourself ‘well where did that come from’?”
“But that takes a lot of time”, he added, then points to the fact that John Anderson has been with the club for only a year and a half and it’s sometimes difficult to brand that identity on the team in that time.
However, Eliot feels tat dealing with this “identity crisis” could be the key to any playoff hopes the team has. “They have to find a level of consistency that puts them in position to win games more often then not…they’ve ‘chased’ games a lot this year. They’ve played more one-goal games then any one else in the National Hockey League and some of those are due to the ‘chasing’. And sometimes they couldn’t quite catch up, couldn’t quite get over the hump and get something in the standings. So whatever that takes…whatever element that is…whether it’s an individual performance, goaltending, special teams…to me, it’s night in and night out finding a way to be consistent. And that will turn one-goal losses into one-goal wins”.
Like Darren Eliot stated before…although he’s left hockey, it’s never left him. And much like McConnell’s response regarding what he likes best about his profession, he simply enjoys being near the sport he loves so much.
“I like being at the rink”, he said smiling. “So it really doesn’t matter what rink I’m at, I’m just happy to be at the rink. The analyst part is really about presentation. It’s no different to me than getting up in front of 300 employees and giving a quarterly meeting. It’s all about presentation, it’s all about not only saying things succinctly but also trying to educate and entertain at the same time”.
And what about this Matt McConnell guy he spends so much time with?
“There’s not a lot of non-verbal communication”, when it comes to the flow of discussion during the game. “It’s more of a rhythm…we both try and have fun without slipping into comedy”.
I chimed in with the observation that the two come off as two guys who genuinely like to watch hockey together, enjoy their jobs and working with each other …to which McConnell responded, “It’s kinda like what Darren always says…’to do what you like and like what you do’.