When Taylor Hall was age 7 his father, Steve, built an outdoor rink that ran completely around their house in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
“If I was playing net for him, he couldn't even see us,” Steve said. “We'd yell: ‘OK, time to go.' He'd come flying around the side of the house, fly around this big tree and skate in on net. That's when he started developing as a player.”
One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Hall's phenomenal speed stands out the first time you see him play for the Oklahoma City Barons, who host the Texas Stars at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Cox Convention Center.
Over the years, Hall has maximized his speed by training with his father, a slot back in the Canadian Football League. After his football career ended, Steve was a member of the Canadian Olympic bobsled team.
Steve, who played with former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts on the Ottawa Rough Riders, ingrained in his son the basics of bobsled training, which emphasizes power and speed.
“He knows what it's like to be a professional athlete. He knows the grind,” Steve Hall said. “Having somebody who has been through it and trains with you was a big advantage not a lot of guys have.”
A lot of guys also don't have Taylor Hall's speed and overall skill set, which led to the Edmonton Oilers selecting him No. 1 overall in the 2011 NHL Draft.
“He has a very powerful stride,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “His knee bend is textbook, how you're supposed to skate. He has a lot of ability. But the way he learned to stride as a kid, his technique is almost flawless.”
After a successful youth career, Taylor Hall was selected second overall in the Ontario Hockey League junior draft by the Windsor Spitfires at age 16. He immediately made an impact in a league stocked with 18- and 19-year-old players.
Hall was too talented to continue playing on the No. 4 line, so the Spitfires switched Hall from center to left wing, the position he's played ever since. Hall responded by scoring 94 points.
“He scored 45 goals his first year. That's unheard of for someone 16,” said Windsor general manager Warren Rychel. “He always had pop in his legs. His skating was unbelievable. He's always been just as fast with the puck as without. That's a unique trait.”
Hall also plays physical. That's helped him compile 95 points, including 49 goals, during his two seasons with the Oilers, who signed him to a seven-year, $42 million extension last summer.
“He has no qualms about mixing it up in the corners,” Rychel said. “He can skate and wants the puck more than anyone else. Combine his fearlessness with his speed, he's a unique player. There's a reason why he went No. 1 overall.”
Hall again credits his father who emphasized in workouts to focus on developing a body that could play an all-around game.
“I'm glad he taught me to make sure I play gritty instead of just trying to play a skilled, fancy game,” Hall said. “In pro hockey, you can't rely on just your skill. You also have to work hard defensively and work hard in the corners.”
Hall led the Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cup championships his second and third seasons. He was the first player to be named playoff MVP back-to-back seasons. The Memorial Cup is junior hockey's version of the Stanley Cup.
Hall was a rare player that elevated an entire organization. Fans in Windsor, a metro population of 350,000 in southern Ontario, not far from Detroit, filled a new 6,500-seat arena to see a talented team led by Hall, who scored 356 points in three seasons.
“Even though they're only teenagers, junior hockey here is huge like NCAA football in the U.S.,” Rychel said. “There are 60 (junior) teams in the U.S. and Canada. He helped put our franchise on the map. Going first overall was phenomenal for this franchise.”
And Windsor was good for Hall, who maintains relationships with former Spitfire teammates, some that play in the AHL.
“That's where I came into my own as a hockey player and a person,” Taylor Hall said. “My first year in juniors probably was the first time I realized I could be a professional hockey player at some capacity if I worked hard and stayed out of trouble. I owe a lot to them.”
Hall, who turned 21 in November, missed the final month of Edmonton's season with a shoulder injury that required surgery last spring. It delayed his Barons debut a couple of weeks. Last year's injury also gives Hall incentive to finish this season strong.
“He's been through the long grind of a playoff run at Windsor but would like to see what that's like at the pro level,” Steve Hall said. “Whether that's Oklahoma City or Edmonton, we don't know. That will be the goal in Edmonton. This is kind of like a dry run for these guys.”
Edmonton hasn't made the layoffs in seven years. But building around players such as Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Hall, the Oilers are viewed as one of the NHL's young teams on the rise.
During his highly acclaimed junior career that included successful stints for Team Canada on the international stage, Hall played his best hockey in the playoffs.
The two years Hall was named post-season MVP, he scored an astonishing 76 points in 44 playoff games.
“I've always felt I got better as the season wore on and was a good player in the playoffs,” Hall said. “I don't know if it's from my conditioning, but the goal always is to improve over the course of a season.
“I'm still young. I still have a lot to work on. But I owe a lot to my dad. When you're young that's where you develop your skills and love for the game. He helped make it fun. All the setups, like that outdoor rink, were pretty cool.”