Brett Bonderud, Black Press
Playing in the Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association as a teenager, Jason Garrison never really expected to be in the position he is now – heading into his second full season with the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.
While playing peewee hockey with Semiahmoo Minor Hockey, Garrison – a 26-year-old, six-foot-two, 216-pound defenceman – said he was a bit smaller and a little skinnier than the other kids. But he also paid more attention to making friends and having fun than to the game itself.
“The first three or four years, I played in house (division) and on B-teams,” he said. “I never made rep until high school.”
“He was a good kid but he didn’t really stand out,” former Semiahmoo coach John Blessman recalled.
At the time, people looking at the young player goofing around on the ice could be forgiven for not expecting much out of him.
However, not taking the game too seriously during his early years was the best thing he ever did, Garrison said.
“When it was time to get serious, I didn’t get impatient with it. I could see it on the other side.”
The other side included not having pressure put on him by parents wanting to live their son’s life. He was also an outsider, having come from Aldergrove into a tight-knit Semiahmoo hockey league community in the seventh grade. Garrison took a lack of expectation as an advantage.
He worked on his skills, enjoyed the sport and his teammates’ friendships and kept playing.
“Jason’s a prime example of how it should be done.” Blessman said, regarding the former Semiahmoo player’s rise to the NHL, where he’ll be among a Panthers’ blue-line corps that includes former Vancouver Canuck Ed Jovanovski.
The ladder approach, Blessman called it. Moving in small steps, rather than in leaps and bounds.
At 14, Garrison began working out and filling-in, and eventually joined the Junior B Richmond Sockeyes a year later. It was the Sockeyes who moved him from forward to defense. The team went to nationals and it was there that the wife of the Nanaimo Clippers head coach saw him play. A recommendation to her husband helped put Garrison on the team.
After a stint in the BCHL, the Semiahmoo hockey product found himself at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Three years later, though undrafted by an NHL team, he signed as a free-agent with the Florida Panthers.
“I worked hard to play well,” Garrison said. “It’s nice to get recognized.”