Published: 135 days ago
Courtesy of Pam Shebest
KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo Wings coach Nick Bootland could have been humming the tune “It’s a Small World” when he signed forward Tyler Biggs to an ECHL contract last summer.
But Bootland didn’t realize at the time that he and Biggs’ father, Don, were teammates on the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones team in 2001-02.
“I didn’t know that until after we agreed (to a contract),” Bootland said. “I didn’t put two and two together because I’m way too young to have that happen,” he added, laughing.
“His dad had just come out of retirement. I was 24 years old and the captain in Cincinnati and his dad had played a ton of time in the International Hockey League and the AHL. I think he came out to help us that year. He had 32 points in 32 games.”
Although Tyler Biggs was coming off a hat trick of injuries (torn oblique, broken ankle, concussion) and had played just 13 games last season, Bootland said he saw potential in the 23-year-old.
“He had two big injuries that kept him out for some very significant time,” the coach said. “This game will pass you by if you’re not able to prepare for it and play it consistently.
“We knew it was going to take a little bit of time to get him going and we’re fortunate that his hard work is paying off. His attitude is ‘I love this game and I’m just going to play as hard as I can here and make things happen and hopefully someone will see me.’”
After a slow start to the season, Biggs has been on fire lately, amassing eight of his 27 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in his last 11 games.
“Early in the summer, I was just trying to get to a training camp to play hockey,” Biggs said. “I was coming off the surgery with my foot and I wasn’t able to make any (early) training camps at the time.
“When my agent and I decided the East Coast was available to me, I think Booter was one of the main guys who was excited for the opportunity for me to play here. I could feel that excitement so I was just as excited.”
FOUR GOLD MEDALS
Biggs lived in Ann Arbor for three years, playing with the U.S. National teams, winning four gold medals in three years: one with the under-17 team at the World Hockey Challenge, two with the under-18 team at the World Junior Championships, and one at the under-20 World Junior Championships.
“Juniors was a lot of fun for me,” he said. “We had a special group.
“A lot of guys on that team are playing in the National Hockey League now, so it’s pretty cool to see them accomplish all our dreams.”
The gold medals don’t travel with Biggs.
“My mom has everything tucked away somewhere,” he said.
Biggs was born in Binghamton, N.Y. the year his father set an AHL record for points scored in a regular season.
He had 54 goals and 84 assists for 138 points in 78 games, a record that still stands.
Don Biggs said people should not compare him and his son.
“We’re different players,” he said. “Unfortunately, people look at stats but it’s more than that. It’s really an unfair comparison.
“I am proud of the way he’s battled through adversity. He’s never had a chance to establish himself. I’m proud of the way he’s persevered through all those injuriesand how he’s a hard-worker.”
By the time his son was 6 years old, Biggs had retired except for the short stint in 2001-02.
“Watching my dad and being around my dad and his character, he was always a leader and always a hard-nosed, gritty kind of player,” Tyler Biggs said.
“Even if he did put up numbers, he still played the game hard and in the right way, I thought. I definitely took that from him.”
FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK
Those hockey genes paid off when Biggs was taken in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011 NHL entry draft in Minnesota.
“That was awesome because I had a couple of my buddies come and all my family come,” Biggs said. “It was a special moment for all of us.
“I knew Toronto was interested in me but we were in a draft where you had guys like Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad going in the second round and those guys are pretty great NHL players now (with the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets).”
Family included his mom Leigh and sisters Ashleigh and Brittany.
When he heard his name called, “It was surreal,” he said.
“It was funny because the loudest person, I think, was my dad. I just remember his screaming ‘Yeah’ at the top of his lungs because his favorite team growing up was Toronto.”
His dad agreed.
“As a parent, former player and being from Canada, I was happy when Toronto drafted him,” Don Biggs said.
After three years in the Toronto system, Tyler Biggs was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent 11 games with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season before being injured.
“That was my first trade,” Biggs said. “Part of me was holding on to that group of guys. Our draft class stayed together for quite a bit from 2011. We spent summers training together and getting ready.
“That was almost four years being together with those same guys so saying good-bye to them was tough, but it wasn’t long after that until they all went their separate ways from Toronto, too.”
PERSEVERANCE PAYING OFF
After his injuries, Biggs was determined to get back in shape and on the ice again.
“You’re limited, obviously, but a lot of it is diet and trying to keep your body fat down as much as you can,” he said.
“For me, when it was my broken foot, I couldn’t bike ride for a while. I had to do what I could in the weight room. When it was my oblique, I could ride the bike eventually.”
Bootland said Biggs has a lot of what the K-Wings want in a player.
“We want guys who have experience at the next level as well,” the coach said. “Biggsy’s a guy who’s played games in the American Hockey League. He has that pedigree.
“We love his size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), we love his strength, we love his compete level. You are always trying to find guys with things like that if you can.”
It took a while for Biggs to get his hockey touch back this year but now he is a major asset to the team.
“This isn’t being harsh, but if I had watched Tyler Biggs in the first 20 games, I probably wouldn’t have come back to watch him,” Bootland said.
“Now there’s an opportunity where he’s playing so well that people have to notice. It might take a little more time for him because of what he’s gone through, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this young man’s career is not over.”
Biggs further endeared himself to K-Wings fans when he took on Fort Wayne tough guy Cody Sol in a bout three seconds into a home game on Valentine’s Day.
“The Cody Sol fight wasn’t predetermined,” Biggs said. “He did something at the end of the last game that I wasn’t OK with and emotions kind of flared up.
“I don’t think (fighting) should ever be taken out of the game because it plays a lot bigger factor than what people think. When you’re out on the ice and you’ve got a Ryan Reaves (NHL St. Louis Blues) on the other bench, all of a sudden you’re playing a little bit different hockey.
“For me, I just try to play an honest, hard-working, physical game, chip in when I can kind of thing.”
TEAM ON A ROLL
Biggs said the turnaround to his season came with the team’s surge.
“I think it’s just a matter of our team success right now,” he said. “You look at all three of our lines right now and we’re playing with an identity.
“The guys on my line that I’ve been successful with and playing with consistently, they’re going every night, too. I think that makes it a lot easier for me. If it’s not my best game, they make me look better.”
Don Biggs, who watches every game online if he can’t make it to K-Wings games, said moving his son to center has made a difference.
“He’s very determined, very physical,” Don Biggs said of his son. “I really like moving him to the middle. I think it’s helped his game.
“He’s a hard-worker, self-motivated. His game has really developed since coming to Kalamazoo. I’ve got to give him credit. He’s worked hard to come back.”
BIGGS IN GOAL?
When he was younger, Tyler Biggs said he enjoyed being in goal.
“I’d always get the pads on in the backyard and have my dad shoot on me,” he said. “He took it a little bit easier on me. It was only when it was cold out that it really hurt.
“(Playing) defense never really came up. I always like to either stop the goals or score the goals.”
His dad laughed about his son in goal.
“I think we’ve all gone through stretches where that looks like fun,” he said. “In the Mites house league, we put him in goal.
“He realized it wasn’t what he wanted. He didn’t like just standing around waiting for something to happen.”
Tyler Biggs’ discipline comes from another of his interests.
If not hockey, he considered a career in the military.
“I had an opportunity when I played with the U.S. program to meet a lot of army rangers,” he said. “I train in the summer with an ex-army ranger.
“I’ve had a huge respect for that my whole life. My grandpa was in the military so I think that was the closest thing to another career path.”