He's played for Florida, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Anaheim. But now, NHL defenceman Erik Gudbranson is coming home.
The Ottawa Senators acquired the 28-year-old from Anaheim on Thursday in exchange for a fifth-round selection in next year's NHL draft.
The move has delighted Gudbranson, and his family and friends in Ottawa. Especially thrilled is his hockey-loving mother, Donna Leith-Gudbranson.
CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning spoke with the mother-son duo on Friday. Their conversation is edited for length.
Donna, how did you react when you saw the Senators had acquired Erik?
Just such excitement! I think I slept with the biggest grin on my face, and it's still there. I just get shivers just thinking about it. It's so exciting to have him home.
Erik, how are you feeling about coming back to Ottawa?
I'm very excited. I was originally drafted to Florida. With 30 teams in the NHL, at the back of your mind you think, wow, it would be really cool if you could play in your hometown at some point. It all happened very quickly. I got a call from my agent early [Thursday] morning, who indicated this could happen. And then four hours later I was a member of the Senators.
What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Ottawa, Erik?
I've been gone from home since I was 16 years old. It's going to be a lot of fun getting reacquainted with my friends and family. They get a taste when they come visit, playing in the NHL in different cities. But being able to experience it with them, and playing in front of the city of Ottawa, which I've called home for the better part of my life, is going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully we can get fans in the stands as soon as possible, because that's when it's really going to become real.
Donna, I'm sure that you are delighted with the successes Erik has had. But to say goodbye to your baby at 16, when he left to play for the Kingston Frontenacs, that must have been tough.
That was the hardest drive ever. And he messed with me when we were driving to Kingston. He played all kinds of sad country songs about people leaving. He had a lot of fun with that. But it was hard.
What's it like being an NHL mom? You see your son out there, but it's not the same as having him with you.
It's not the same. But it's been his passion since before he could even walk. He's held a hockey stick since he was crawling. And it's always been his passion, it's been his drive, it's what makes him tick, it's what he loves. What I can do is support that and encourage him to be the best that he can be, and he proves that every day.
Erik, who is the first person who told you that you really had a shot at making the NHL?
It's a great question. Probably my parents. I don't think there was a defining moment where somebody came up to me and said, "Hey listen, you could probably do this." I think it was my folks who said, "Yeah, you can definitely do this if you want to keep doing what you're doing. Keep working." And it was years and years of support like that.
Donna, what's your response to that?
We always believed in a very strong work ethic. Just choose whatever it is that makes you happy and give it your absolute best. And that's what he always did.
Erik, it's been such an odd time with the pandemic and the NHL bubble. How are you feeling about starting back?
I'm hoping we can get going as soon as possible. This has been such a strange year. I'm very impressed with how the NHL got through the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's going to be a tough season with a lot of back-to-back games. It's most likely going to take place without fans, for at least a portion of it, which is so disappointing personally, because coming back to the Senators, I want to play in front of the fans of Ottawa.
Are you going to be able to see your family, Erik?
I live up in cottage country north of Toronto, and my wife and I have been very careful about this pandemic. The biggest fear, just like everybody else, is you never want to pick something up and give it to anybody else. So we've seen a little group of friends all summer long. We're going to plan so that once we get back home we can go see my mom and dad.
We've been asking people what they're thankful for in this very long, very weird year, this weekend being Thanksgiving. Erik, what are you thankful for right now?
Oh, man, big question. It's so cheesy, but [what happened Thursday] was a very good reminder of how thankful I am to have the friends and family that I do have. I'm very, very excited to experience my life with them a little bit more in the coming years.
Donna, what about you?
I'm thankful that my family is all healthy and happy. And I want to give a shout out to all of the front-line workers out there and everything that they do to help keep us healthy and happy.