Dallas Eakins is known to fans nowadays as an outspoken coach, but he was a long-time and well-travelled player, too. Sixteen pro seasons in seventeen cities, including 120 NHL games with seven different teams.
To do so, Eakins had to travel the weirdest of routes.
He was always a vagabond. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star tells us his origin story.
"Eakins was born in Dade City, Fla., the son of Carol Ploof, a native of Macon, Ga., and a native American, Ted Yoder, of no fixed address.
“My birth father was a drifter. Cherokee, I believe,” says Eakins. “He was a heavy, heavy drinker.”
The relationship between mother and father failed soon after his birth and young Dallas Yoder was left to grow up without a dad in what he calls “hillbilly country,” surrounded by alligators and water moccasins and other creatures large and small. His mother owned a .22 rifle and used it to shoot snakes in the backyard.
“My mom was a punch-first lady,” Eakins says.
His mother eventually met and married a Canadian, a long-distance truck driver named Jim Eakins. At the age of 7, Dallas, now adopted with a new surname and a sister five years his junior, headed north to a new home and a new country.
By 1974 the family settled in Peterborough. Dallas began playing hockey. He quickly gained a reputation as the hardest worker on the ice, even before he was 10 years old. He would credit the fact he had to learn to skate at age 8 when all the other kids had been skating since the age of 3 of 4.
His work ethic got him rewarded with a job with Roger Nielson's hockey camp, allowing him to work on his own game.
By the time he reached junior hockey he would star for the famed Peterborough Petes. By his final year he was their best defenseman and named as team captain.
Jeff Twohey, long time junior hockey manager, called him the best captain Peterborough ever had - an enormous honor given the long list of greats to play for the Petes.
"Dallas was special. He was a great leader. He was a hard worker, loyal, tough, and never afraid to confront people. He knew how to keep players in line."
That leadership intangibles kept him employed through his long pro career, that included two stints with the Florida Panthers. He was the second Florida born player to play in NHL history.
It never came easy for Eakins, though. He was not drafted until the 10th round, 208th overall, by Washington. He was never the most talent guy on the ice. Heck, he never scored a goal in his 120 NHL games, and only 43 goals in 882 career minor league games.
But he understood talent alone meant little. It was commitment, discipline and loyalty that guided his life, and it took him far, first as a player and then as a coach.
"I am somebody who firmly believes that if you’re talented, just being talented is not enough,” Eakins preached when he was named head coach of the Edmonton Oilers.
Eakins' stint in Edmonton, was short lived, but he remains a top young coach in the game.
"I don't coach a team, I coach individuals … You've got to get to know them, inside and out. I need to learn out what triggers them, what motivates them and look under every stone to see what makes them tick."