Jeff Odgers to headline Neepawa Sports Dinner


From farm boy to NHL’er back to farm boy

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NHL tough guy Jeff Odgers will show his softer, gentler side at the Neepawa Sports Dinner.

By Perry Bergson with intro by Ken Waddell 

Jeff Odgers, the farmer, said this week that he “had a bit of flax left to harvest and it should be fine.” But it is not only the farmer but Jeff Odgers the Brandon Wheat Kings Alumni and former NHL tough guy who will be featured at the Neepawa Natives 10th Annual Sports Dinner on Nov. 3, 2018.

Natives GM and Head Coach Dustin Howden says, “When Jeff spoke in my home area, the people loved him.” Sports fans, farmers and hunters will all love Odgers and have a chance to not only hear him speak but meet him personally. VIP table sponsors will be able to attend a special reception with Odgers as well as comedian, Dan Verville. Individual tickets are also available.

Brandon Sun sports reporter Perry Bergson wrote recently about Odgers, his career and the four years as a Brandon Wheat King, “I absolutely loved my time there,” Odgers said. “Just strictly as a hockey experience, I’m pretty realistic. When I came into the league, the Brandon Wheat Kings were probably one of the few teams that I would have made as a 17-year-old with my skating so I’m thankful for the group of guys that we had and my billet family and the people that I met.”

Now 48, he went on to play 821 regular-season games and 47 playoff games in the National Hockey League.

Spy Hill native

Odgers grew up on a farm near Spy Hill, SK, where his parents Fred and Cheryl and grandparents John and Mabel were farming a mixed cow-calf and grain operation.

“I always loved farming,” Odgers said. “I knew that no matter what I did, I always wanted to farm and cattle would always be a part of it. And luckily enough, after I finished hockey, I was able to come back and farm.”

“There was always access to ice, whether it was on the farm or in town,” he said.

There were enough kids some years to make a team in Spy Hill. In other seasons, he would head to nearby towns like Langenburg or Rocanville.

After getting cut by the Yorkton Harvest as a 15-year-old trying to play AAA midget hockey and spending the winter in Rocanville playing AA instead, he followed his good friend Kevin Kaminiski of Churchbridge —who would also go to play in the NHL — to the Saskatoon Blazers midget AAA team the next season. Odgers would earn 56 points in 36 games, and was listed by the Wheat Kings, where his Blazer teammate and good friend Kevin Cheveldayoff was also headed.

New role

Odgers said the Western Hockey League had always been on his radar.

“I knew that I wanted to get there but I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “Where I was growing up, even though Brandon was only two hours away and Regina was three-and-a-half hours away, it seemed like a world away. I had never been to a game and wasn’t really ever exposed to it. I knew that it was something I wanted to get to.”

Odgers said he realized pretty quickly after he arrived in Brandon that his role would have to change.

“When you play AAA midget, not everybody is a goal scorer,’ he said. “Then you go to (Wheat Kings) camp and when you look around, every goal scorer is there. I wasn’t the best skater or fanciest guy so I kind of knew that I had to bring a little something else to help separate myself and hopefully stay there. Being that guy who is a little bit tenacious and willing to drop the gloves and be hard on people was kind of a way to help me make the team.”

Not drafted

Still, NHL clubs passed him over in the draft both years, even after he was assured by teams that they would take him as a late selection.

“It never happened, and that was the first real time where I sat down and thought maybe this is the end of the line,” Odgers said. “Maybe this is as far as I’m going to be able to go. That summer it was disappointment, especially when I looked around the league and saw guys who were playing that I had more goals and had more penalty minutes and thought I did a lot more and never ever got drafted.”

He would get the last laugh, ultimately playing more regular-season games in the NHL than all but 15 of the 252 drafted players in 1989.

The Minnesota North Stars invited him to their summer camp after the draft, but didn’t offer him a contract. Instead, he signed with the expansion San Jose Sharks after his junior career ended.

Odgers would graduate to the International Hockey League for the 1990-91 season, piling up 318 penalty minutes in 77 games as his Kansas City Blades won the IHL title.

After starting the 1991-92 season with the Blades, Odgers was called up by the Sharks in their expansion season. A year later he was an alternate captain, and in the 1994-95 season was made captain.

Love of the game

“It was a great opportunity, and when I look back on it, the timing for me to play pro was perfect,” Odgers said. “Expansion was coming in and the style of the game then really warranted a guy like myself. There were at least two guys on every team who played the way I did.”

Odgers, who would earn 145 points in 821 games, would wear a letter in nine of his 12 seasons in the league, also playing with the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers.

“I like to think that they could see how much I loved the game and I loved the team and would do absolutely anything for any one of my teammates, whether it be on the ice or off the ice,” Odgers said. “Especially on the ice. I took pride in looking after my teammates and the jersey that I wore.”

He said one of his proudest moments was being named captain of the Sharks because it was voted on by his teammates.

If there is a defining characteristic of his career, it had to be his ability to squeeze every drop of talent out of his body with an unwavering work ethic.

“I wanted to play hockey,” Odgers said. “I loved hockey and I would have done whatever it took and anything to make it. I just wanted to play. I remember that when I was growing up, everything we did was hard on the farm. It was hard work. I remember leaving the farm and going to play hockey and thinking this was easy. All I have to do is work as hard as I can for two hours a day. That’s a piece of cake. When you’re on the farm, your day starts at 6 and ends at dark.”

Odgers, who fought 242 NHL fights in the regular season, admits that it wasn’t an easy way to make a living. At six-feet and 200 pounds, he was undersized and knew that if he made a mistake he was going to get hurt.

After his hockey days Odgers farmed for four years and the he returned to Atlanta for two years to work as a colour commentator on Thrashers broadcasts before heading back to what’s now a fifth-generation farm for good.

Odgers quit playing senior hockey at age 45 and had a hip replacement a year ago, but is otherwise healthy, saying he can spend a full day out on the farm doing manual labour easily.

His son Dakota spent five seasons in the WHL with the Swift Current Broncos.

Life on the farm and in the NHL may seem like very different worlds to outsiders, but it makes perfect sense to Odgers, who noted that some players don’t have anything to pour their energy into after they leave the game.

“I’ve been able to do something that I’ve had a passion for my whole life,” he said. “As much as I wanted to play hockey, I wanted to farm. I loved farming and every morning when I get up, I’m excited to do what I do on the farm.”