“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” –Wayne Gretzky
The majority of Canadians, some even before they’re walking and talking, are introduced to the sport of hockey at an early age. After all, it’s Canada’s game – we live and breathe hockey, it’s our national pastime and we don’t take the sport lightly.
Across the nation, parents support their children, who take up the national sport from driving them to early morning practices to allocating time and resources to evolving their potential careers in the bantam leagues with the dream of one day playing in the NHL.
One such family is the Khaira family. Sukh and Komal have encouraged their children to play sports, while placing an emphasis on education and the balance of both. Sukh encouraged his son Jujhar to play hockey at an early age.
This Surrey native has been playing hockey since the age of seven, and he was recently drafted by the Edmonton Oilers as the 63rd overall pick during the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh – a dream coming to fruition for the Khaira family.
Khaira’s fans from Surrey, Prince George and the rest of the province were ecstatic with the news and moreover, the pictures of Khaira putting on his Oilers jersey were an unforgettable sight.
DARPAN Magazine had the opportunity to chat with Jujhar Khaira in an exclusive interview a few days after the NHL Draft. When asked what does it mean to be drafted by the Oilers, Khaira said “It means a lot, I remember a couple of years back, I didn’t think it would happen – it’s a cool feeling and it just makes me that much more motivated to make the team.”
When he first started, Khaira was one of the smaller kids in the leagues until the summer before he turned 14, in which he grew about 4.5 to 5 inches, says his father Sukh.
Since that time, Khaira at 6’3” has been making waves playing the last two years in the BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League) as a left winger for the Prince George Spruce Kings. He not only had his best season, finishing 10th in league scoring, but he was ranked the highest skater on the NHL Central Scouting’s list at 74th.
This down-to-earth forward gives credit to his linemates – right winger Paul De Jersey and centre Michael Colantone. “I had a lot of support around me with a great centre and right winger, I had good linemates and it was a lot of fun [to play in the BCHL].”
Known for playing a two-way game below the goal line and offense zone and finding people out on the slot, Khaira says his height “gives a lot more room around the ice, you just feel a lot stronger and you can push guys off the puck making it easier to protect the puck.”
Before attending the NHL Draft, Khaira was the only BCHL player to get invited to the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto and says “It was quite an honour to be invited.” Indeed it is, as only the top-ranked 105 NHL Draft prospects are invited to the Combine. According to Khaira, the prospects attend meetings with scouts and undergo physical testing from bench press to vertical long jump. During this time, he met with the Edmonton Oilers, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks to name a few teams.
Khaira pays homage to his parents for being his support system and his source of inspiration, “they have always been there and had faith in me. From watching hockey, they knew what it took to make the top teams and they passed their advice on to me.” Furthermore, Khaira’s brother is also a hockey player, who is in Grade 10 and his older sister is attending the University of Fraser Valley.
Rookie Jujhar Khaira on the Ice (Marissa Baecker, QMI Agency).
Khaira’s father Sukh, who encouraged him to play hockey, says it was important for him and his wife to stress the importance of education and sports ensuring that their children had a balance of both. He goes on to say his son is “very determined, if he wants to do something, he won’t stop until he completes it. He doesn’t shy away from anything and takes challenges head on.”
As for hockey, Sukh goes on to say that “Jujhar is a great leader and role model on the ice; he won’t give up and will go into the corners and battle until he has the puck. He’s not afraid he will get hit, he is strong on the puck and a very good passer.”
Khaira trains with Kevin Sundher, who is also from Surrey and was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres two seasons ago. He says training with Sundher has been good, as “he’s a hard worker” and it motivates him to work that much harder. This summer, the hockey pair will be training together in the Lower Mainland.
Khaira’s favourite players are Canadians Sydney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, as he says they are “great two-way players who are competitive, hard working and always make an impact whenever they’re on the ice.” As for the Oilers, he’s a big fan of Taylor Hall and his favourite Vancouver Canucks player is Ryan Kesler.
His advice to aspiring players in the South Asian community is “it’s a great idea to get into hockey, it’s a lot of fun. If you work hard, there’s a good chance you’ll have success. Don’t worry about what race you are, everyone gets an equal opportunity.”
“Jujhar watched Canucks games all the time, and one day he wanted to be at that level,” says Sukh. For a Surrey family and a little boy who aspired to play Canada’s game at the professional level, this day has come with a dream becoming reality for 17-year-old Jujhar Khaira.