Sean Durzi doesn’t have a lot of insight on the smooth road travelled, but the 22-year-old Los Angeles Kings prospect has had his fair share of experience with hitting bumps along the way.
“It wasn’t always the easiest road but I think it was a great road,” Durzi shared on the GTHL’s Instagram Live on May 6 highlighting Mental Health Week. “At some point in every single person’s career, you just have to find a way to push through and be better for it. The biggest thing for me was using those moments and using that adversity to better myself.”
Before lining up for his second professional campaign with the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign this season, Durzi was handed just about every roadblock imaginable. The first big sign came in the form of returning to the midget level after being selected in the 12th round by the Owen Sound Attack in the 2014 Ontario Hockey League draft.
But the Toronto native doesn’t view his midget season with the Mississauga Rebels as a roadblock. Instead, he sees it as everything but.
“That year of midget was a really, really big experience for myself,” Durzi said of his 2014-15 season. “Playing that extra year in the G was definitely a big part of my career and you could ask anyone who was with me at the time, it was a big learning year for me growing up and becoming a leader. It really propelled my career because I used every single chance I got to work out, to work on things after practice, listen to my coaches, and get feedback from different people in the hockey world.”
After just trying to make it through his first training camp with the Attack, Durzi showed up to Owen Sound following his midget campaign ready — not to prove people wrong, but to prove those who believed in him right.
“I came back the next year with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder saying, ‘this is going to be my year, I need to make a statement in camp, I need to make this team,’” Durzi explained. “I was very fortunate that those few people really believed in me. I always believed in myself and I got to prove them right.”
A sentiment held at the core of lessons for Sean’s mom, Sue Durzi, who also joined the Instagram Live ahead of Mother’s Day.
“We always taught our children to believe in themselves first and foremost,” Sue, who along with Sean, is mom to younger brothers Ryan and Drew Durzi, said. “[It was about] making sure we always backed them up in what they believed and making sure they were strong enough to take all the adversities hockey has.”
For Durzi, a lot of that adversity was rooted in that often over emphasized first impression.
“It was me working away from the puck and on my defensive game and no matter what, I think a lot of scouts stick to their initial reports and as a young kid and now with social media, it’s really easy to get down on yourself,” Durzi shared, adding that blocking out the noise is important. “There’s always going to be people who have things to say about everybody’s game, especially in the hockey world, but I think if you really focus on those people who are there for you, it’s something you can build off of and will really help you throughout your career.”
As a mom, focusing on what’s in front of you is just as important.
“I try to stay off social media as much as possible,” Sue said with a smile. “I watch my kid, I’ve watched him since he was little. I know that he’s got something inside of him. He’s got the passion, the love of the game, he’s got the skill. He’s just got to go out there and perform every day and do what he does best. I think that’s all that you can ask for.”
Durzi’s list of adversity continued to grow in 2019 when after being traded from the Attack to the Guelph Storm at the trade deadline, was then dealt from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Kings shortly thereafter.
“I was just getting settled into Guelph, into my billet house, meeting my teammates, and I get traded with Toronto to L.A. as well,” Durzi recalled. “That was a wild situation — happened all fast, I didn’t really have time to react to it, it just happened. I was really, really lucky to be involved with four amazing organizations that all helped me deal with questions and stress I had.”
From there, Durzi quietly battled a shoulder injury as the Storm was heading straight for what would be a playoff run ending with a championship and a visit to the Memorial Cup.
“It’s a lot of stress especially through injury… I was almost so nervous I was going to miss the playoffs, I was just totally out of it away from the rink. I’d go home, I’d be upset all the time,” he explained. “I managed to stay healthy throughout the playoffs and earn an NHL contract along the way, but without the support system I had, I don’t think I could be where I am today.”
With only two years of professional hockey under his belt so far, the 1998-born defenceman can find it odd to look back on so many trying times already — however, the cup filled with experience lends itself to significant advice.
“I think the three biggest things are just be a good person to every single person you meet along the way because you never know where you’re going to see them down the road,” Durzi began on pillars for young athletes. “Learning, taking everything to better yourself, learn and to be a better player, better person; and having fun, just taking everything you do, enjoy it, have fun, and it’ll work out.”