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Former Thunderbirds captain Scott Eansor is on the NHL doorstep

Former Seattle Thunderbird Scott Eansor signed an NHL deal with the New York Islanders after a successful AHL season (Bridgeport Sound Tigers photo)

When the Seattle Thunderbirds season ended after the Memorial Cup in May of 2017, Scott Eansor wasn’t sure what his hockey future had in store for him. The speedy center had not been drafted and with his junior eligibility over, was looking for a place to play. He juggled a couple of American Hockey League offers before finally accepting an invite to the New York Islanders development camp. He arrived in New York last summer looking to impress the team and hopefully land a contract.

“They gave me such a great opportunity, they treated me like everyone else,” Eansor said of the Islanders organization last week. “They didn’t label me an AHL or east coast guy. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t an easy road. I just said to myself that I would try my hardest and whatever happens, happens.”

Good things happened for Eansor and he signed a contract with the Islanders AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Of course, Eansor wasn’t the only former Thunderbird at last summer’s development camp. His Seattle co-captain and good friend, Mathew Barzal, was also there. The two players have a great relationship which includes a fierce competitive streak.

They were on the same team in the scrimmages but in the practices, that competitiveness came out.

“I hate admitting this, but he beat me in this one little small game,” Eansor said with a chuckle. “I wish I could say I beat him in that. That was the last time I remember going up against him but I’m sure I beat him in every other battle.”

Once in Bridgeport, Eansor caught fire early on.

He scored his first professional goal in his first game and would go on an early scoring streak that saw him pot two more in his second game and seven in his first six games. Not a bad start for a guy making his professional debut.

“It helped with my confidence and gave me a lot of opportunity to play more,” Eansor said of his start. “It helped with not just the confidence, but also with my game overall. It wasn’t easy, and my game didn’t change the whole year. I don’t feel like my stats show how I play, that’s not the main thing I bring to the table. I just try to be a great teammate and do what’s best for the team.”

Those who watched him play in Seattle during his junior career are fully aware that Eansor’s worth to a team goes well beyond goals and assists. His speed and tenacity make him hard to play against, as does his relentless effort and work ethic.

It was the style of play that made him one of the best defensive forwards in the WHL and he was a key part of the Thunderbirds championship run in 2017. It also made him a fan favorite at the accesso ShoWare Center.

Moving from juniors to the pros with Bridgeport is a big step up as he would now be playing against bigger and older players.

Eansor says that the speed of the pro game wasn’t the biggest adjustment he had to make, although he admitted its not as easy to beat guys by skating by them in the pros. For him, the biggest adjustment was making quicker decisions and honing his hockey sense.

“If you don’t have good hockey sense, its magnified,” he added. “That was the biggest thing to learn the pro game, adapting to making good decisions. This summer I’m working on good decisions and I think that was separates AHL and NHL guys. It’s their willingness to prepare off the ice and their hockey sense.”

He also had to get used to a slightly different position.

While he was a center with the Thunderbirds, he played a lot of wing with Bridgeport. Eansor says that the team had a lot of veteran centers and that he was happy to play wherever the team wanted him to. He is in his hometown of Denver this summer and working on things like faceoffs and getting stronger.

Of course, playing in the pros means no more billets taking care of things like cooking, laundry, and other day-to-day activities.

Eansor says that he got some good coaching on how to be independent for the first time.

“Luckily, I have a really good mom and she prepared me,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a lot of fun. It’s kind of nice just being on my own and growing up a bit.”

Adjusting to the professional game, and life, showed as Eansor’s season progressed. He ended the campaign in Bridgeport with 16 goals and 22 points in 59 games. His season ended early due to an upper-body injury, but he says that he is 100-percent now and ready to go for the coming season.Despite the injury, his rookie year was good enough to get the Islanders to ink him to an NHL deal midway through the season.

“It was a very exciting day,” he says of signing the contract. “It kind of came out of nowhere. I’m thankful for my parents and all the coaches, Seattle, and everyone who helped me get there. I honestly couldn’t have done it without a great support group. It’s not going to be easy, but I think I’m definitely capable of making the adjustment to the NHL in the next year or after.”

Playing in the Eastern Conference of the AHL, Eansor and Bridgeport had a few games against Hartford, where his former teammate Ryan Gropp plays. It was the only former T-Bird that Eansor played against last year and while he says that he and Gropp aren’t as competitive as he and Barzal are, it was fun to go up against each other.

“One time he got hit so hard that he just looked at me on his way to the bench,” Eansor said about Gropp. “It was fun playing against Gropp. Just meeting him after and facing off against one of your best buddies is hilarious. I think he’s on the same page, it will be fun to see what he does next year.”

Eansor says he keeps in touch with his former teammates and was proud of the way guys like Nolan Volcan, Donovan Neuls, and Turner Ottenbriet played last year. He and a group of former Thunderbirds players plan on reuniting later this summer at Ethan Bear’s reserve in Ochapowace to take part in a youth hockey camp.

He also talks fondly of his time in Seattle and the fans that he played in front of his for his four years with the organization. Four years that ended with a championship that forever bonded the player and city together.

“I’m just so thankful for what Seattle has done for me,” Eansor said. “The fans are a big part of the game. Hockey is special because people care about it. It’s more than just the players, or the sport. You make a difference in other people’s lives and in Seattle, we had that and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Seattle won’t soon forget Scott Eansor either.