Home is where the heart is for Jason Hegberg.
More than 20 years after making his debut with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Hegberg is back at home in Stettler, Alberta. The family man has four daughters, two of which already playing the game he loves. He's also still involved in the game, as a minor hockey coach, past-president of Stettler Minor Hockey, and runs a hockey school.
Hegberg, 38, knew early on that he would come back at some point after his career in hockey.
"Having my first child there and wanting to raise a family somewhere," Hegberg said. "I'd always wanted to raise them back home here and I just wasn't prepared to move from city to city, year after year, two or three years here, two or three years there. At that point in my life, I wasn't prepared to do that."
Drafted in the second round of the 1994 WHL Bantam Draft, Hegberg made his debut during the 1995-1996 season. He became a regular the following year, playing in all 72 games as a 17-year-old, as the Hurricanes made their way to the WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup.
He went onto play another three seasons with the Canes, among the top three in team scoring in all three campaigns. Hegberg then went onto a four-year post-secondary career with the University of New Brunswick, then one more season with the expansion Victoria Salmon Kings, before calling it a career.
Hegberg came closer to home to be an assistant coach with the AJHL's Drumheller Dragons for two seasons, then came back to Stettler where he is now a partner at a used car dealership. He still looks back at his years in Lethbridge fondly.
"Just couldn't have asked for a better place to play, I loved the city, the rink, the people," Hegberg recalled. "I'm not a big city guy so it was nice to be in a place that was big but wasn't too big."
"The fact that my parents could come down any weekend and watch a few games and then obviously getting to play in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer which was even closer to home, so they got to see me quite a bit," Hegberg added.
He's also using a lot of what he learned in Lethbridge with his involvement in minor hockey now, crediting his coach, Bryan Maxwell.
"It's funny, I teach my atom kids stuff that he taught me," Hegberg said. "He was such a good teacher that I teach a lot of stuff I was taught by him. I run a hockey school here every August too. We have a 140 kids here and they're learning what I learned."
His favorite moment in Lethbridge? Probably a familiar one for many: "The Comeback."
"That goal that Josie (Mike Josephson) scored in the overtime game against Hull when we came back from 6-1, just the reaction of our bench and the players on the ice and I think pure shock in the rink," Hegberg recalled. "That one sure stands out a lot."
He relished in the opportunity of coming back to Lethbridge last season for the ceremony to honour that team. He and Luc Theoret drove down and stayed together for the event and knew it was going to be a good time when they were down in the bar and former teammates started filtering in.
"A couple more guys walk in and we're like 'oh there he is' and we all sat down, it was great, talking about old times and had some good laughs," Hegberg said. "It was too bad a few guys couldn't make it but overall the experience was pretty amazing."
When it comes to his message for aspiring hockey players like the ones he's working with now, Hegberg doesn't want it to sound cliche. But he does believe that the time flies by, so players need to enjoy it as much as they can. He may not have realized it at the time, but he learned a lot in his years in Lethbridge. And sometimes, it was the subtle things that he looks back on with the greatest fondness.
"Scoring a goal and hearing your name on that by Dick (Gibson) there was pretty neat," Hegberg said. "The way he said my number, things like that."
He's content on the mark he made in junior hockey, but Hegberg isn't done yet as he helps younger players in his hometown set a path for hockey and for life.
"I'm not too worried about wins and losses at this point," Hegberg concluded. "I'm just trying to teach these kids the skills of the game and then also just to be good people is the biggest thing in my mind. In the dressing room, outside the rink, those are the things that are more important than the game of hockey."
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