Saturday, February 28, 2009
Tonight I am making my second minor pro hockey debut out of New Jersey men's league. That's right, tonight I will be playing for the Danbury Mad Hatters of the Eastern Professional Hockey League (EPHL). Ned Braden how I feel thy pain. Besides the comedic value of the situation, it really is a mixed bag of feelings tightening up the chinstrap again and hitting the ice in a competitive game.
Last year I played a few games with the Valley Forge Freedom of the Mid Atlantic Hockey League and it was a similar situation. Playing division I hockey for the Air Force Academy Falcons hockey team was the culmination and realization of a life's worth of work and dedication, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Between the world class people involved, the high level of competition, and the experiences that I went through it truly was one of the highlights of my life. With the commitment to the Air Force Academy came a commitment of a 5 year active duty service commitment upon graduation. What does that mean for a division I athlete? Well it basically means that professional hockey is out of the question. If you don't believe me google Army Football and Draft and read about how Caleb Campbell was drafted and ordered not to attend the NFL training camp a day before it started. For someone like myself whose draft status waved goodbye quite along time ago the chance of playing professional was even more slim. This didn't really bother me too much because I never really thought I had a chance of playing professionally. It was always my dream to play division I hockey and I achieved that dream. Looking back on my lifelong hockey career and knowing what I know now, I wish it would have been my dream to play professionally. Who knows if I could have accomplished it, however I know now that I was in essence holding myself back by writing off that dream a long time ago. One of my best friends and fellow linemate for many years always held onto the professional dream and never looked back, he is now playing for the Buffalo Sabres.
But you already said you will be making your minor pro debut for the second time tonight? Doesn't that mean you did achieve the goal of playing professional hockey? Well, I guess to a hockey outsider it could look that way. And truthfully these two experiences do help ease some of the pain of not knowing what could have been had I attended a different division I program. But I like to tell people that any "professional" league that has to remind people that they are professional by adding it within the title of the league, probably isn't a league I personally would consider professional. I guess it meets the bare minimum standard of paying people to play hockey, but the MAHL (now defunct from the area and moved to the Midwest) didn't have too many things about it that I would classify as professional.
The MAHL had some talent. The games were a good tempo and surprisingly (as well as thankfully) the league wasn't a total gong show with a fights every two seconds. However, there were plenty of low end guys in the league that wouldn't have made my junior A hockey team and there were a few that in my opinion probably should have taken two weeks off and quit for good. But like everything else in my life it was a great experience and one I learned from. Which is why I am heading out tonight.
Here are some quick life lessons and tidbits I learned from my last stint in semi pro hockey:
- Competition is great. Real competitors always crave it and seek it out in most things they do.
- Ego is a funny thing. I have always wanted to be good enough. Not for anyone else, but for me. However you have to keep things in perspective.
- Speaking of perspective, my experience in the MAHL was great to help me hone mine. I was probably the only guy in the league with an actual career. I told the coach upfront no practice, no road games and that if they need a guy to fill in I am here. They said that was fine and so I always kind of felt like an outsider to the whole lifestyle and experience. Some of these kids seriously think they are going to play in the NHL. On one hand I respect anyone who sticks to a dream and never quits. But like I said before you need perspective. Here I am coming out of a year and a half of beer league hockey a few times a week and stepping in getting a point or two a game. These kids are practicing every day, making $100 a week living with 5 guys in a hotel room, and I am thinking to myself "wow that 5 year active service commitment is hurting a little less right now.:
- As great as competition is, it doesn't not quench the thirst of a true competitor without the addition and joy of playing on a true team. These semi pro settings seem more like a glorified men's league with guys rotating in and out than a true team. Nothing can replace the feeling of having 25 driven, overachieving, word class human beings by your side all working towards a common goal.
- Just have fun. As someone who wants to succeed and achieve my goals and expectations, I am very susceptible to placing a lot of pressure and undue stress on myself. Sometimes I just need to concentrate on having fun and trusting in my ability. Life is a balance.
- When you keep your goals and long term vision of your life in your sights then everything happens for a reason. Setbacks and unforeseen twists and turns are just new chapters in your life that serve that ultimate vision. Put your head down and skate and have faith that you will end up exactly where you should end up.