NCAA Record Holder Teaches The Power Of Positivity and Fun In The Game

12:00 AM EST
min - read
Michael Caccamo
12:00 AM EST
min - read

Power Of Positivity and Fun In The Game

Eddie Choi is on the phone with a player from his Brampton Buccaneers senior men's ‘AAA’ team who is wondering what he can do to get more ice time. Choi, Brampton’s head coach, speaks with an upbeat inflection, complimenting the player on the other line, but also providing feedback on how to improve to get more minutes. His mantra - "Be grateful that you have the opportunity to play this game" - permeates everything he does, whether it’s on the ice or in the dressing room.

Born into humble beginnings in Toronto, Choi was raised in the neighborhood of Rexdale. His mom, a nurse. and his father, a cab driver, the Korean Canadian got his hand-me-down gear to enroll in house league hockey from neighbors he played road hockey with.

"I could see plays before they happened. I worked hard but I also worked smart,” Choi said of his success in youth hockey “I had the speed and skill but I also had to be smart to be effective on the ice."

A center, Choi achieved incremental improvements year after year which led to being recruited at 15 to play ‘AAA’ hockey for the Toronto Marlboros.

"I was voted for captain not knowing what it was,” said Choi. “I always encouraged teammates during games and practice. I led by example and was motivational. My philosophy was to treat people the right way.”  

A fan of alliteration even at a young age, Choi's approach to the game was not only "fair, firm, and fun" but also filled with “listening, learning, and love".

This philosophy helped Choi earn a scholarship to Ohio State to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Buckeyes. He had fulfilled his dream of landing an American scholarship. Choi enjoyed four seasons, from 1989 to 1993,  playing in front of passionate Ohio State fans, but there was one game he will never forget - his first. In that game, Choi achieved an NCAA record for the fastest hat trick as a rookie in their NCAA debut, and he did it in front of his family, who had made the trip to see him play.

"I remember being on a line with two seniors who were 22 years old against the University of Chicago" said Choi “[My family] had a sign that read 'Choi’s Our Boy.’ It was special.”

In the game, Choi scored two goals in the first period and then completed the hat trick in the second en route to his most productive NCAA season compiling 37 points in 39 games.

In the Buckeyes’ dressing room, Choi was also a leader. His outspoken, positive nature helped boost his team’s morale.

At a time when many players of color encountered hazing and racism, Choi’s experience differed. He knew these issues existed in the game, but not with his teammates or opponents.

“Sure, it was out there, but if you're asking me if anyone said anything to me directly, then no,” said Choi. “I really felt like 'one of the boys.’”

His positive experience as a player propelled Choi to the next stage of his career as a power skating coach and hockey skills specialist at both the professional and grassroots levels, roles he still holds today. Under his tutelage, Choi has helped NHLers including Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, PK Subban, Ryan Strome, Rich Clune, and Mike Cammalleri find success.

One of his clients, Ryan Smiley, takes a bus from Ottawa to Toronto for the opportunity to attend Choi's power skating sessions.

"This is my second time with Eddie and I love his energy. He's like a kid in a candy store,” said Smiley. ”He's very hands on and there is a healthy balance of seriousness and fun.”

Another client, who has become a close friend of Choi's, is 42-year-old Kevin Porter. Choi first learned about Porter after reading an article about him in the Toronto Sun. Choi met Porter in the dressing room and suggested the two should skate some time.

“We just clicked,” said Porter.  Porter previously played Division 3 in Sweden and had multiple stints in the Federal Hockey League. The two have collaborated and worked together for five years now on Porter’s road to make it back to pro hockey in his 40s, a journey featured in Porter's 2022 documentary Relentless.

On top of his work as a skating coach, Choi also coaches Allan Cup Hockey’s (ACH) Brampton Buccaneers. The senior men's ‘AAA’ league features former junior, OHL, and professional players, including some with NHL experience, looking to continue to play at a high level. ,

"I coach a lot about positivity,” said Choi. “Practice like you play, but I am a very inclusive coach. Everyone's engaged but you have to treat others like you want to be treated. How hard is that?"

The improvement Brampton has displayed under Choi has been noticed in the league. As Tymen Edelkoort, a goaltender for the ACH’s Wentworth Gryphins acknowledges Choi had a "tough job" in Brampton, taking a group of “inexperienced players” and building a team that is “more competitive now than before.”

When Choi skates around the rink, a smile spreads across his face. He's as excited as a child to be there.

"Nothing better than this, right?" Choi said

Everyone in Choi's orbit shares the sentiment that he is a positive person who helps grow the game. Even in drills, he celebrates every goal that is scored. Whether it’s coaching his own children, Ryan and Diane, NHL players, or with the Brampton Buccaneers, in Choi’s own words, he simply wants to “make a difference in people's lives.” If you search Eddie Choi hockey online or on social media, you will see Choi doing just that - always with a smile, always inspirational.

From the humblest of beginnings, Choi was introduced to hockey through the kindness and generosity of others, and that is what he brings to not only newcomers to the sport but players who have professional experience. Whether he is behind the bench, running drills, or giving a speech in the dressing room, Choi radiates positivity. He is grateful for every day he gets to play and coach the sport he so dearly loves. There's a reason players travel from far and wide to learn from Eddie Choi, and a reason they continue to come back to him. It’s in his jovial smile and approach to the game. It's what makes Eddie Choi the perfect ambassador for hockey, asking players for nothing more than to have fun and work hard, "How simple is that?"

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