Drew Elser had no shortage of role models growing up. The youngest of four brothers, Drew saw Brian, Danny and James work their way through the hockey ranks through a variety of paths.
“I definitely learned a lot from them,” Drew said. “Seeing my older brothers go through everything it’s definitely helped me through my journey. All of us have kind of been all over the place growing up so it’s nice when everyone gets together because we have a really close family.”
Brian, the oldest brother, had brief stops in the BCHL with Vernon and Victoria before playing two years of NCAA Div III hockey. He then played two years of pro hockey in the ECHL and SPHL ending in 2014. Danny went the major junior route with stops in London, Belleville and Moncton before returning to the USHL. He has played the last three seasons in Canada at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Finally, James played three seasons in the NAHL and will begin his NCAA career at the University of New England this fall.
Drew spent the 2017-18 season in the USHL with the Central Illinois Flying Aces, scoring eight goals an eight assists. After playing the previous three seasons in prep school, jumping to junior hockey was about what Elser expected.
“It was definitely a pretty big leap,” he admitted. “It probably took me a month or two to get into the swing of the game and get used to the speed. Moving away from home wasn’t too hard for me, I got used to being away when I was at South Kent and Avon.”
Elser admitted playing in a league like the USHL as a 17 year old could be intimidating at times considering the quality of players he matched up against each and every game. Thirty six players were drafted in the NHL from the USHL in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
The substantial jump in level of competition wasn’t the only thing Elser had to fight through during his rookie season however. A lingering injury ended with Elser’s season being cut short due to sports hernia surgery.
“It was probably going on for about a month,” Elser recalled. “I had just come back from a different injury and I felt it right away. I played on it for awhile and one day we had a really hard practice and I couldn’t do sit ups on the ice. The trainer called me off and told me to go see a doctor. It was definitely frustrating, it’s tough being in the stands and not being on the ice with my teammates.”
The injury and subsequent surgery forced Elser to miss the final 11 games of the regular season, one in which his Flying Aces finished at the bottom of the USHL standings with a record of 14-39-3-4.
While Elser has a commitment to the University of Connecticut, another season of junior hockey was the best opportunity for before making another big leap. Returning to the USHL was an option for him, but when Penticton came calling Elser began thinking about coming north of the border.
“The more and more I looked into it I thought it was a really good opportunity,” Elser said. “I got more excited about it and ended up committing. I have a lot of friends who played in the BCHL and they always had nothing but good things to say not only about the league, but about Penticton too.”
Often times coming to a new team, let alone a new country, means a player doesn’t have much familiarity heading into the season. Luckily for Elser, one of his best friends, Conner Hutchison, is also coming to Penticton for the 2018-19 season.
“It’ll be awesome. I grew up playing against him and we actually kind of hated each other until about eighth grade,” Elser laughed. “After that we became really good friends and I’m excited to be able to play with him again.”
Elser and Hutchison played two seasons together at the Selects Hockey Academy U16 team in South Kent, Connecticut.
After not being able to play a full season last year, Elser knows what his goals are for the upcoming season.
“I just want to get my confidence back,” he said. “I’d like to put up as many numbers as I can, get my speed back up and just improve in any way I can. I like to be on the offensive side of the puck and I think I’ve got the ability to be a play maker and a goal scorer.”
Following his surgery Elser had to go into rehab mode and wasn’t able to work out as much as he would have liked, something he spent the summer focusing on to make sure he’s ready for the long grind of a BCHL season.
In just a few short weeks, Vees fans will see a very motivated Drew Elser flying down the wings of the South Okanagan Events Centre.