Success came early to John Tavares: At just 14 years of age, he became the youngest player ever to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League, a record previously held by none other than Wayne Gretzky. Tavares went on to play with gold-medal-winning teams at the IIHF World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2009. Today, the 23-year-old plays centre and is captain of the NHL’s New York Islanders.
Despite these achievements, the Mississauga, Ont., native hasn’t let the success get to his head. He credits his family, friends and girlfriend with keeping him grounded. ‘Yes, I’m a professional athlete, but there has been no change in the way that my family and friends treat me or in the way we treat each other,’ he says. ‘That makes a big difference, and helps me keep those values that my parents instilled in me. My family and friends are always there to remind me of where I came from.’
Watching the Vancouver Winter Olympics four years ago motivated Tavares to work as hard as possible to make the Olympic team selection this year. Sidney Crosby is captain.
So is there a specific team he’s looking forward to competing against? ‘Not really’ I just want that medal around my neck!’ he says with a big grin. ‘But obviously there are some special and unique rivalries with the Russians. And there are other countries whose talent gets better and better every year, so it’ll be a challenge. But hopefully we can find a way to handle whoever we’re up against.’ Men’s hockey begins Feb. 12 and the gold-medal game is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Such an intense, competitive sport can have its stressors, so Tavares has developed strategies to help him unwind. ‘Yoga helps me relax and de-stress, and during the season, reading helps me to wind down. I like to read about people’s life stories and where they came from.’
Beyond the Olympics, the standout player hopes to have many years of playing hockey ahead of him. ‘I want to have a healthy and accomplished career. I want to play as long as I can, and learn from as many people as I can. Hopefully I’ll be as lucky as I have been my first five years in the NHL.’