GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Brent Gates Jr. is back where it all started, in Grand Rapids.
"[I remember] coming to games here when I was young," Gates Jr. said on his return to Van Andel Arena, "just being a kid, trying to model my game after some of these guys, now being able to play here on this ice is really cool."
The Grand Rapids native hasn't played in the city since he was 13 years old and has been all over the country since then, pursuing the dream of playing professional hockey.
"Being able to do this as a career at least for now is really cool," Gates added, "it's something I always dreamed of and something I hope to continue to do for a long time."
The 22-year old played juniors in Green Bay, Wisconsin as a teenager before playing college hockey at Minnesota. The closest he ever got to playing a game in West Michigan was in East Lansing while he was still in school.
"I played at Michigan State, that was probably the closest I've been when I was in college, it's been a long time."
Gates started this season in the ECHL with the Tulsa Oilers but a promotion to San Diego last month gave him the chance to come home.
"I definitely marked it on the calendar," Gates added, "it was something I'd be very disappointed if I had to miss out on it."
Not only is it nice for him to be home but his family is enjoying every minute of it as well.
"We went to a lot of Griffins games as he was growing up so to have him back here and have him home is really special," his father, Brent Sr. said.
Playing in front of friends and family this weekend is important but so is mom's home cooking.
"Going back and having a meal is awesome, a home cooked meal, plus they have my dog right now so I got to see my dog," Brent Jr. smiled.
"He wanted pasta and grilled chicken," his mother, Tiffany laughed, "he sticks to his regiment to what he needs to have pregame and stuff like that."
And on Saturday, the dream come true for the entire family as Brent laced up the skates and took the ice in front of his entire family and his hometown. Even scoring his second goal of the season in the third period of the 3-1 win over the Griffins.
"I was making him lunch today and I said, 'do you ever stop to think you've achieved what you set out to do when you were seven years old? You're playing professional hockey and to come home and do that in front of friends and family is surreal.'"