Nic Kerdiles on a worldly journey
PITTSBURGH -- When Nic Kerdiles rose from his seat at Consol Energy Center early Saturday morning -- trying to hold back tears -- and embraced mother Nathalie, father Michel and his two older sisters, you could almost imagine the small cheers of happiness that might have gone up in France.
Or in the Kerdiles' neighborhood in Irvine, Calif.
Or in Montreal, even.
"This is going to be a really fun time for my family because, you know, we live in Irvine, Calif. It's pretty exciting and a pretty surreal moment right now for me and my family," Kerdiles said moments after hearing his name called by the hometown Anaheim Ducks, who made him the 36th pick in the 2012 draft.
As the big forward made his way into the crowded interview area sporting a new Ducks jersey, we were reminded as we are every year at this event that there is not one path to this special moment but many.
It is so with the Kerdiles family, whose hockey story starts in Paris where Nathalie, a native of Montreal, met her future husband while attending the European Business School. Michel is a native of France and, although he enjoyed skating, he was more apt to be found playing rugby or soccer while growing up.
After the two married and had two daughters, Mailys, 22, and Marine, 20, both of whom were born in France, Michel's job in the medical manufacturing sector took the family to Dallas, where Nic was born in January 1994.
Soon afterward, the family relocated to the Anaheim area, and as a youngster Nic watched with interest a neighborhood boy who would play roller hockey in his driveway. Soon he was there alongside the boy, firing pucks.
"I fell in love with it," Nic told ESPN.com in an interview shortly before the draft.
When he was 8, he told his parents he wanted to take the game from the driveway to the ice. He joined the Los Angeles Kings' selects program and played there until he was called by the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., in October 2009.
By that time, Kerdiles had an inkling that his passion might become something more than a pastime and more like a career. And along the way, his passion became a family passion, something that would draw the Kerdiles closer together than they would have imagined.
"You do have to fall in love with the game or you hate it," Michel said. "You have to because it becomes really a big part of your life."
Nic figures that all those hours spent in the car traveling up and down freeways to practices and games and tournaments have had a lot to do with their closeness.
"It's made everyone love each other a little more," he said.
That weekend in October 2009, when the NTDP came calling, Nic was recovering from a broken wrist suffered in a weekend elite hockey tournament in Phoenix. The Kerdiles figured they would drive home to California rather than wait at a local hospital for emergency care. Nic kept his wrist propped up on a pillow and, while traffic stretched the journey to seven hours, the pain was blunted by the knowledge that he was going to join some of the top young players in America.
"If it wasn't for the commitment, I would probably have been a lot more moody with my mom," he said of the long road trip.
Although his sisters are older, Nic became the first of the children to leave home, living with a billet family in Ann Arbor.
"We had 10 months to prepare for it but you're never really prepared," Nathalie acknowledged. "But he's very mature. He's always been very mature. We knew he'd do well."
Maybe it's the French background, the fact Nic lived abroad with his family for a year and a half, or that the family regularly summers in Brittany, France, but he is refreshingly candid about the conflicting emotions of leaving to join the NTDP.
"I knew it was a new chapter in my life," he said. "But I was nervous too. I'm a big family guy, coming from a French background, we're very family oriented."
The move has paid enormous dividends.
Nic was a big part of two gold-medal efforts for the U.S. under-18 team. He recorded five points in the gold-medal game against Sweden this past year.
He also received a special treat at that tournament, as some of his father's relatives traveled from France to watch in the Czech Republic.
The rest of the family, whether it's the Canadian branch or those in Europe, is regularly involved in email chains when Nic is playing, whether it's in North America or abroad, and Saturday his cell phone was exploding with congratulations from hither and yon.
Danton Cole has coached Nic the past two years and seen the forward's game continue to evolve. Big and fast, the 18-year-old has also developed toughness, scoring goals from high-traffic areas on the ice while leading the NTDP squad in scoring the past two years.
If his team needed a big goal in the past couple of years, it usually came from Nic's line, Cole told ESPN.com.
"To me, that's a big part of leadership," Cole said.
Nic committed to the University of Wisconsin early on and he's already moved to Madison to get a couple of summer courses under his belt. He will have to take better care of his mode of transportation, though, as he is recovering from a nasty scooter accident that left him with a badly scraped left arm and wrist.
Badgers coach Mike Eaves said he first saw Nic as a 16-year-old, and the veteran coach was impressed with Nic's mobility and skating ability.
"He's got the makings of what people would call a classic power forward," Eaves told ESPN.com.
His expectation is that Nic will have an impact with the Badgers next season, even as a freshman.
The Ducks liked the local flavor he brought as well.
"Another really smart, conscientious, intense, hard-working kid. Another mature kid," said the Ducks' director of amateur scouting, Martin Madden. "We love the fact that he wanted to play in Anaheim. That factored in. There were two other guys around there with similar talent and it factored into our decisions. He's ecstatic and so are we."
While his collegiate career awaits, it was difficult for the Kerdiles family to think anything beyond the NHL this weekend and the road that led them to downtown Pittsburgh and a shot at the big time.
In many ways, the experience was a chance for both son and family to celebrate the journey while acknowledging the sacrifices made along the way.
For Nic, those sacrifices included the normal teenage trappings -- the other sports, the dances, the simple hanging out with friends that were often sacrificed to play hockey.
"He didn't have that. His life was hockey. I think we're very proud of Nic because he gave up so much," his father said.
In Michigan, for instance, the high school he attended wanted Nic to play quarterback, a dream chance for many American teens. But his focus was and remains hockey.
For Nathalie and Michel, it was the time and money and effort spent to make sure that a dream that began shooting pucks off roller blades in the neighbor's driveway was kept alive.
"Having them here experiencing all this, it's special for them because they know how much they put into it," Nic said. This has been a team effort, Nathalie added. "And we feel like we're part of that team.
"It means everything [to be here] because we know this is what his dream is. We never thought he'd get here. We're just so happy for him that he's got this opportunity."