NetminderJim- Aussie Edition (Part 1)

NetminderJim- Aussie Edition (Part 1)

It’s been a while. After a pretty wild 6-7 months, I’ve decided to bring the blog back. Let’s get caught up.

The End in Roanoke

We’ll start with the bad. I was cut for the third time in late March, two weeks before the end of the SPHL regular season. I was disappointed with the way the year played out. I didn’t get a real chance with my first two teams, and then joined a struggling team in Roanoke where even when I was playing well, it was always one step forward and two steps back.

We were losing. A lot. Our talent level simply wasn’t comparable to the rest of the league down the stretch. Our offensive “gameplan” was to shoot pucks on the opposing net from the red line. We suffered injuries to a couple of our best offensive players, and we had 3-4 defenseman called up to the ECHL, leaving our back end as thin as you will see in professional hockey. We faced an onslaught of 2 on 1’s and breakaways among other various breakdowns.

I was also playing in a fair bit of pain. Since my senior season at Dartmouth, I’ve been having some pretty substantial pain in my lower back and hips. Over time, the pain became increasingly noticeable. I wasn’t moving as well as I was a couple of years ago. By the end of my time in Roanoke, the pain was pervasive and severe enough that I knew something was wrong.

Despite the team’s struggles, I had a solid stretch of play late in the season. I wasn’t killing it by any means but I kept the team in some games and even stole a few points. My save percentage was up to around a .920 at one point (pretty good for a last place team). But then in the penultimate game I played for the Dawgs, I was left in the net for nine goals against a team I had nearly shut out the night before. Yes, you read that right.

For those of you who have watched me play over the years, you know that I have a very calm demeanor and net presence during games, regardless if things are going well or not.

For the first time in my career, I lost my shit during a game. I snapped my stick over the post after the seventh goal. As I went to get a new stick, I expressed my displeasure with the situation toward our bench, only to be left in for another two goals. A week later I was released. I was told that I needed to control my emotions better. As if getting pissed off and showing a bit of fire after your team completely gives up is a weird thing to do. I regret nothing. At a certain point you have to stand up for yourself (just ask Patrick Roy).

I left Roanoke a bit fed up and worn out from my SPHL experience. Luckily things improved in the next few months once I got away from it for a while and gained some perspective.

Road Trip

After being released from Roanoke, I packed up all of my stuff again, and tried to figure out what to do. I elected to take a little road trip up the east coast before I went back to Minnesota. I decided to check out DC for a couple of days and then head up to Boston for a weekend to see some college friends living in the city. Washington was amazing and it was great to see some friendly faces in Boston before trekking back home to Minnesota.

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Boston + Beer + The Boys

Uh Oh

I arrived home in Minneapolis in April and proceeded to get my body checked out. I had several imaging procedures done on my hips and the results were unsurprising. I had substantially torn labrums and bone impingements in both hips. It’s a pretty common injury for goalies. It turns out your body isn’t designed to suddenly and violently shoot your legs out to the sides for 15 years.

I scheduled my hip surgeries for June and started contemplating my next move. Over the spring I fielded a few job offers, worked out like a madman, and reconnected with some friends while I waited to get my surgery. I went back to Dartmouth to see some old friends over Green Key weekend. I also signed a lease with two buddies for an apartment in Minneapolis for the summer. I was having fun, but it’s always tough to be in a transitional period. After a year of virtually no stability in my life, I was ready to chill out for the summer. Or so I thought.

The AIHL Comes Calling

Just as I was about to accept a job offer in LA, I received an obscure Facebook message asking if I wanted to play semi-professional hockey down in Australia. They desperately needed a goalie. The offer included free round-trip airfare, a free apartment in Melbourne, access to a car, and a job to make some extra cash on the side.

After a couple days of research and deliberation, I decided the hips could take a few more months of abuse. If you know me, you know that I have a serious penchant for adventure and new experiences. As hard as it was to leave my apartment with friends for the summer, I would’ve never forgiven myself had I not taken an opportunity to travel to Australia for free. I mean, it’s fucking Australia. I canceled my surgeries and was on a flight to Melbourne a week later.

I joined the Melbourne Mustangs of the Australian Ice Hockey League in June and resurrected my hockey career for a few months. It felt refreshing to have a clean start and have an opportunity to make a difference on a new team.

IMG_5570I joined the Mustangs when they were in last place. By the end of the Australian season in August, we had shot up the standings to qualify for the AIHL Finals- a feat that would have been laughable when I first arrived. I had some truly amazing experiences, made new friends, and finally had success playing hockey after an incredibly frustrating season.

 

What’s Next

As for now, I’m back in Minneapolis and will be getting hip surgeries on November 14th and December 28th. I’ll be taking the winter off to try to get my body right. As for what’s next, who knows. Is this the end of my hockey career? Most likely. I’ll have plenty of time to decide what I want to do over the next couple of months as I recover and go through physical therapy.

I’ll keep the blog going to give me something to do while I’m laid up over the winter. I’ll write a few posts that will detail my experiences during the Australian season, and I’ll also post some about my travel experiences during a month-long backpacking trip I took after the season was over. I’ll also document my rehab process after my surgeries.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out, and again, questions and comments are always welcome.

Random Musings

  • What it’s like to be released by 3 different teams in one season:                                           
  • I know this post is a little grim, but I’m the last guy you should ever feel sorry for. I’ve been luckier than most to get where I am and do the things I’ve done. Yes, this year was a huge disappointment when I look at it in terms of my athletic goals. I envisioned it going a lot better than it did. But from an experience standpoint, this last year has given me a lot to be thankful for. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to embrace adversity. Own it, feel it. Let it fuel you. Believe that it’s just an unforeseen turn on your path to something better. Life only makes sense in retrospect, after all.
  • By the end of my time in Roanoke, the weather was nice enough to climb McAfee Knob and Dragon’s Tooth. Sweet views, eh?
  • Thanks to all of my teammates, friends, staff members, and fans who stuck by me over the past year. You guys are the only reason I was able to stay sane.
  • Before I left Roanoke, there was a comical scene where we literally had to build our own rink in order to be able to play the next day because our arena crew was severely short-staffed after a concert the night before. Only in the SP, baby!
  • If anyone has any tips/tricks on keeping busy/staying sane/earning money while recovering from surgery, shoot me a message. I have a long couple months ahead of me!
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Dawg Days

Dawg Days

It’s been a long time since my last blog, but here are a few of the highlights (lowlights?) over the last month or so:

Columbus

Our road trip started with 2 game in Columbus, GA to play the Cottonmouths. The week prior, the Cottonmouth’s bus rolled over on the highway, injuring many of the players (concussions, broken bones, a hip dislocation). Luckily, everyone survived. However, Columbus was left with half of a viable hockey team. To fill their roster, Columbus literally signed guys off of the street, including a few retired guys to come back and fill in for a few games.

We lost the first game of the series, despite playing against Columbus’ depleted roster. The next night we came back and won in front of a big crowd for Military night. A couple thousand troops attended the game in uniform, and it kicked off with a couple of guys rappelling down from the ceiling. Coincidentally, the game was a war on the ice. Our captain was jumped on three separate occasions, and numerous players on both teams were ejected. Our coach was also tossed. At one point in the third period, I looked down the bench, and there were five guys left, including me, with no coach. Five. The rest were already kicked out of the game or in the penalty box. We finished them off in a lopsided win.

We wrapped up the weekend the next day with a matinée in Pensacola. It was my first time back since my release in late December, and it was great to see some familiar faces around the rink. Unfortunately we lost to my former team. After the game, I was informed that a few friends from Pensacola had waited to see me after the game. One even brought me an extravagant care package for the bus (Thank you!). I visited with them and caught up before hopping back on the bus. Little things like reconnecting little relationships like these are part of what makes pro hockey so great.

Our schedule worked out so that we played Pensacola again in Pensacola the following weekend. So instead of heading all the way back to Virginia and then turning around and driving back a day or two later, our coach/management decided to take us on a little tour of the Gulf Coast. After our Sunday game in Pensacola we drove over to New Orleans for a 2 night stay.

The Big Easy

Exploring New Orleans with the team was a great time. We took the streetcars downtown, walked around the French Quarter with daiquiris in hand, sang karaoke (I may or may not have done a rendition of Puddle of Mudd’s She Hates Me), and went out together on Bourbon street. I’m going to go ahead and redact most of our activities that night, but let’s just say we made the rounds and had a good time.

Biloxi

After our stay in New Orleans, we drove down the coast to the Vegas of the south, Biloxi, Mississippi. We stayed at the Beau Rivage hotel/casino. We hung out in at the pool during the day and then hit the casino in the evening. Guys played blackjack, craps, and slots. I went down $75 in about an hour playing blackjack, then I sat down at a table with my goalie partner and proceeded to turn my last $25 into about $400 in ten minutes. I left up $200 on the day, which was much needed after an expensive night in New Orleans.

Pensacola

We made our way back to Pensacola for the weekend on the day before our first game. That afternoon one of my former teammates picked me up to go hang out with some of the guys on the beach. It was a no ordinary beach day, however. John McLean, a fellow Minnesotan goalie and good friend of mine, hired professional shark fishing guides to help him land a big one. When I arrived at the beach, the rigs were all set up. The guides had paddled out several tuna heads about a thousand yards off the beach. I caught up with a bunch of my old teammates and shot the shit with the fishing guides for a while, when suddenly we heard a sharp zzzzzz! One of the baits had been taken, and the line shot out from the reel against the drag. About a half hour later, Big John landed a 6’3″ sandbar shark. It was awesome! He would catch another one that night after I left to get dinner with a couple of my other former teammates. I think he was pleased with his investment.


I didn’t play that weekend against my former team, but my goalie partner put together a hell of a weekend as we swept both games. In the second game, DeMelo stopped 61 of 63 shots to get the win. Obviously I would’ve liked to play that weekend, but as DeMelo likes to say, “when you’re hot, you’re hot!”

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I may not have played this game, but I garnered attention in other ways
Bench Mayhem

When I’m not starting, I run the bench door for the players as they change. With players changing on the fly, I have to be aware of where people are on the ice, when they might be changing, and when to open and close the door in order to efficiently get guys on and off the ice and avoid too many men on the ice penalties. In Pensacola, I was running the door when the handle got stuck shut. I have players sprinting to the bench expecting the door to open and I’m yelling, “The door won’t open! It’s f*cked! Hop it, hop it!” Guys are flailing over the bench. Meanwhile, I’m frantically cranking on this steel handle to unlatch it and I rip the entire handle off of the door, rendering any future attempts to open it futile. I sat down on the bench, defeated, informing the guys they’d be hopping the boards for the rest of the period. Luckily the ice crew fixed the situation during the intermission.

In Fayetteville, running the door again for the boys, I’m looking back at our defensemen to see if they are coming for a change. one of them is, I open the door, let him in, and then look up ice just in time to see a puck coming straight at me. It hits me right in the neck/collarbone area, and it was coming in hot. I was about 6 inches from losing a few teeth and/or breaking my face. I learned my lesson, as the next weekend an eerily similar play launched a puck at my head, but I was ready with my catching glove.

Dad’s Weekend

The following weekend our team invited the dads to Roanoke for a few games. The parents even got to hit the road with us for a game in Fayetteville and experience what our road trips are like. My dad was able to make the trip, and it was cool to be able to show him what life has been like down here. The team put up the family members in the team hotel and even gave the dads Rail Yard Dawgs pullovers to wear on the weekend. Classy move from our ownership!

Bus Troubles

In our last few road trips we’ve had a couple different incidents with our bus. In Daphne, Alabama, our bus was trying to climb an uneven slope up to our hotel, but bottomed out and then got stuck on its uneven axels. A few of my teammates decided they were bus experts and attempted to get the bus moving by shoving plywood under the wheels, telling the bus driver to go forward or backward, and even attempting to push the bus out of the rut. What a bunch of donkeys. I sat back at a distance, taking in the circus, shaking my head. Eventually a tow truck came and saved the day.

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On the way home from Peoria, we were pulling into a truck stop so our bus driver could use the bathroom. Our bus proceeded to clip a parked 18-wheeler with a loud screeching of steel on steel. I have no explanation for this. I don’t know how you don’t see a gigantic parked semi truck at a truck stop. But hey, at least no one was injured. A large panel fell off the side of our bus, which we initially thought was one of the cargo doors. Luckily, it was just an air conditioning vent cover, so we were able to make it home without any of our gear falling out.

Beamer in the House

Legendary retired Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer dropped the puck at one of our recent home games in front of a crowd of over 6,000 people. Our team wore ceremonial maroon and orange jerseys in honor of VT. People around here love Beamer and their Hokies.

Booed off Stage

After our win on VT night, we auctioned off our jerseys. Basically, players go out on the ice one by one, holding up their jersey, and the crowd bids. As I was announced to auction off my jersey, one fan promptly let out a loud “BOOOOO!” The crowd was quiet enough that I singled out the young woman who booed me, looked her straight in the eye, and gave her my best What the hell? look. She turned bright red as I shrugged and laughed with my hands upturned in bewilderment. Maybe she thinks DeMelo is better looking.

Heard Around the Rink

“What did you expect?” – “Fuck, I don’t know I guess I just expect everybody to be a little bit better than they actually are, that’s all.”

“If that’s not a hit to the head then I don’t know what is”- My hearing impaired teammate, as he skated back to the bench disheveled with no helmet, a black eye, and his hearing aids dangling off of his ears.

“Does anyone know where we’re going?” – Our equipment manager driving a van full of players to our backup practice facility, as he takes a blatantly wrong exit.

  • Ref- “Krugs, be careful, you played that puck in the trapezoid. I could’ve given you one there”
  • Me- “Yeah. I played it in the trapezoid. I can play it there.” *Stare*
  • Ref- *Pause* “Oh, wow. What am I talking about. Brain fart. Ha!”
  • Me- “Holy shit, man.”

Random Musings

  • These are definitely the dog days of the season. Our team is near the bottom of the standings, fighting for a playoff spot. We’ve suffered a few injuries and guys are getting worn down mentally and physically. Ennui starts to take root as the season feels longer and longer. Going into the last month of the season, we’re going to need to find some energy to make a push for playoffs. The good news is, the end is in sight, and knowing there is just one month left gives me a boost of motivation as we try to make these last few weeks count and stay the playoff picture.
  • I learned how to play a card game called Shnarps, which is exclusively played on minor league hockey bus trips. Nothing like some low stakes gambling to make the bus ride seem a little shorter. It’s also a good way to get the guys talking with each other instead of having their heads permanently buried in their electronic devices.
  • Speaking of electronic devices, I purchased an iPad with some of my tax refund, and its a perfect road trip companion. It’s vastly slimmer and lighter than my laptop, and I can download movies and TV shows off of Netflix and Amazon Prime for the long trips. I’ve started using it as an E-reader with the Amazon Kindle app, and I have to say I love it. Up next is Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Amazon is honestly amazing, by the way. You can get pretty much anything on the cheap with free shipping. I’ve been a loyal Prime member since my freshman year of college, and my entire family has piggybacked off of my account. Check it out if you don’t use it already. Use this code here for $5 towards your first purchase on the Amazon app (you’ll need to make the purchase through the app on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet to redeem the coupon).
  • Part of me hates living paycheck to paycheck knowing I could be making several times my current salary, but another part of me is addicted to having so much freedom and not settling on anything just yet. Perhaps that’s part of why I chose to play hockey, because I didn’t want to grow up just yet (despite being closer to 30 than 20 now). Time seems to be going by too fast, as I try to figure out what I want to do. Hockey buys me a little more time, and keeps my options wide open. Not to mention it’s a pretty fun lifestyle.
  • How lucky am I? I get paid to play hockey in front of people. Obviously I wish my career had taken a couple better bounces up to this point, but looking back on this season, I truly am lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I might bitch about it sometimes, but in the big picture I know this was definitely the right decision. Might have to play another year or two!
  • DeMelo recently went on the IR, and it’s given me some more playing time as of late. The more I’m playing, the more I’m settling in. I feel like I’m getting a beat on the style of play in this league and no longer feel nervous. Confidence comes from experience. I’m slowly gaining experience, which is giving me more confidence, which is improving my play. It’s a nice little positive feedback loop. Hopefully I can keep it going down the stretch.

Beer of the Week:

Elysian Space Dust IPA – Awesome!

Elysian Space Dust IPA

Movie of the Week

John Wick: Chapter 2

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There’s something oddly therapeutic and satisfying about watching a moody Keanu Reeves piling up body after body with grandiose, stylized violence. As many of my Dartmouth teammates could tell you, I loved the first entry in the series, and the second is even better. What a treat.

NetminderJim- Vagabond Goaltender

NetminderJim- Vagabond Goaltender

Alright. I’ve been lazy. No way around it. Despite lots of news since my last post, I’ve been neglecting the blog for a bit. Time to catch up, excuse the lengthy post!

I was released from Pensacola the day of my last post, Dec. 21st. McClean came back from the Injured Reserve, and during that time Zenzola had played very well. One of us had to go. I hadn’t gotten a chance other than my relief duty against Huntsville, and Pensacola understandably decided to stick with the two goalies who they won a championship with last year. This wasn’t shocking news. I figured this was the most likely outcome given the circumstances. I was called into the office and they let me know that they were waiving me. They loved what I brought to the table, but there simply wasn’t room for me anymore and they had no reason to cut either of their veteran goalies. I received great reviews from both the coach and goalie coach. The coach even went out of his way to write me a strong recommendation letter commending me for my attitude, work ethic, and locker room presence during my stint in Florida. A far cry from a blunt phone call saying, “waived you today, good luck” (Fayetteville). After a couple of handshakes and thanking them for the opportunity, I said goodbye to my teammates and drove back to the beach. I called my family and made plans to head home for Christmas. By 2pm I was packed up and en route to Minneapolis in my little Chevy Aveo, a 20 hour journey.

That evening, driving along somewhere in Missouri, I received a call from the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs in Roanoke, VA, asking if I was interested in playing for them. I spoke with their coach and one of their assistant captains. They had just sent a goalie up to the ECHL who was not likely to come back. I said I’d be interested, and Roanoke claimed me off of waivers the next day. I told them I would report on Monday the 26th rather than turning around and driving 10 more hours to rush to Roanoke for one game on the 23rd before a 3-day holiday break. I arrived in Minneapolis the following day, and took advantage of my time off to recharge and hang out with family and friends.

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A hat from each team I’ve played for this season
Christmas night I set off for Roanoke to join my third team in the last 2 months (I’m officially a “suitcase”). I arrived on the evening of the 26th and shacked up in the hotel. I also was informed I had the opportunity to start the next day against my old team, Fayetteville. Despite not practicing in over a week, I jumped at the opportunity. I had a pregame skate the next day and then suited up in Fayetteville against my old teammates.

Playing in Fayetteville was a lot of fun. Despite being heavily outshot/outchanced, I played well and we were able to force the game into overtime. We lost in OT. I was pretty pissed about not beating my old team, but I played well enough to make a good impression with my new team, and getting a point on the road isn’t the worst thing. After the game I visited with all of my former teammates as they came out of the locker room, exchanging hugs, handshakes, and stories. This is one of the best parts about playing pro hockey. You get to know a ton of great guys, and the connections you make tend to circle back around one way or another.

Since then I’ve played regularly, splitting time with the other goalie on my team. I also earned my first professional win last week, making 50 saves in the process. I had a curtain call as one of the three stars of the game, and it was a cool feeling to have the crowd roar in appreciation of my performance. Turns out hockey can be pretty fun when you’re actually playing!

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Cheesin’ after my first professional win
I’m enjoying my new home. Roanoke is a cool little town nestled in the Appalachian mountains. It has a nice downtown area, and I live in an apartment in a house with one other guy. I like it a lot so far. Everything is really close, I rarely drive more than 5-10 minutes at a time. The organization is also extremely well-run, especially for an expansion franchise (side note- I can’t help but appreciate the irony of starting an expansion team in a town called Roanoke. History buffs will understand). Our coach is also great, and the guys here love playing for him. With over 1,000 professional games under his belt, he has a great eye for the game. He’s also honest and makes a genuine effort to do everything the right way. It does not go unnoticed by his players. Our fans are also great, very supportive and passionate about their hockey! We get pretty good crowds at our games and it’s a lot of fun to play at the Berglund Center. Hopefully this is a place I’ll settle in for a while.

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A view of Roanoke from Mill Mountain

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A look inside the Berglund Center
Only in the SPHL

Before one of our games last week, the fog machines for our player introductions apparently went overboard, and all of us had to get off the bench and skate around in an attempt to clear the fog away. Then, on the other end of the ice, it turned out that the mat they had rolled out on the ice for the choir singing the national anthem had seriously compromised the ice surface. The ice crew scooted down the ice and scraped away as we skated around trying to clear the fog. 10 minutes later the ice was still problematic. A veteran on Mississippi leaned over toward our bench and said, “What the fuck kind of show are you running over here?” Eventually we had to have the zamboni come out and resurface the problematic part of the rink. 20 minutes after the national anthem, the puck finally dropped.

In Columbus (GA), a chaplain came out on the ice with a microphone and lead the entire arena in prayer before the game. I’ve never seen anything like it before. But hey, that’s Georgia for you.

Random Musings

  • I’ve found several ways to cope with long road trips. Audiobooks (I use the Amazon Audible app) and Pandora comedy playlists make them more tolerable. The downside- if you don’t have cruise control you might zone out and get pulled over in Iowa for going 85 in a 65. And get a ticket. Like me.
  • Using a 2+ year-old chest protector in pro hockey has made my arms a lot more colorful.
  • Sometimes I ponder whether I’m sacrificing depth of experience for breadth of experience. I look at a lot of my close friends that are my age. Most of them have serious romantic relationships, stable jobs with good pay, and deeply rooted social networks with family and friends in the same location. Meanwhile, I’ve moved 3 times in as many months. My intuition is that breadth and variety are valuable when you are young and have fewer responsibilities. But at some point, depth takes over as the more important dimension in your life. Having just turned 25, I realize I’m still young. But at the same time I have a gnawing fear of falling behind, of sacrificing some sort of alternate scenario where I’m happy in one place with a deeper experience. The grass is always greener, I suppose.
  • Wearing a fur vest out to the bar is a great conversation starter. Beware of accidentally walking through a group of Hells Angels with said vest on, however.
  • Leaving Pensacola was a tough thing to do. Although I wasn’t there long, I really loved the city and my teammates. I’m already excited for our road trip to play them at the end of January. We play them on a Sunday in Pensacola and then again the following Friday and Saturday. Instead of going home in between, our team is going to stay down there for the week. Rumor has it we may even sneak over to New Orleans for a day or two. It will be nice to see my old teammates and hang in Pensy again!
  • A text message from a former teammate notifying you that he is going to start dating your former girlfriend is always an awkward message to receive. Uhhh, thanks for the heads up, I guess?
  • I’m back to playing for another team with a spelling error in its name. The Rail Yard Dawgs. Hey, it’s better than the FireAntz.
  • My travels during the 2016 calendar year:
    • By car– Minneapolis (MN) to Denver (CO), Minneapolis to Fayetteville (NC), Fayetteville to Pensacola (FL), Pensacola to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Roanoke (VA).
    • By plane– Boston (MA) to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Boston, Boston to Minneapolis, Denver to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Denver, Denver to Minneapolis, Raleigh (NC) to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Raleigh, Raleigh to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Raleigh.
    • By bus (all round trip) – Hanover to Burlington (VT), Hanover to Ithaca/Hamilton (NY), Hanover to New Haven (CT)/Providence (RI), Hanover to Canton/Potsdam (NY), Hanover to New Haven, Hanover to Lake Placid (NY), Hanover to Boston, Fayetteville to Pensacola, Fayetteville to Memphis (TN), Pensacola to Memphis, Pensacola to Macon (GA), Roanoke to Fayetteville.

Heard Around the Rink

“I didn’t even score. It wasn’t even close. I just started celebrating and the ref counted it.”

“Hey Krugs, holy shit! You’re making your way around half the league!” – Fayetteville fan during a media timeout. And it’s a third of the league, thank you very much.

Beer of the Week

Surly Abrasive Ale – Surly Brewing, Minneapolis, MN              Score: 10/10

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Finally got my hands on a few of these when I went home for Christmas (Thanks Nana Pat!). By far my favorite beer, just go out and buy some. Only available in MN, unfortunately. I’ll be savoring my stash that I brought with me down to Virginia.

Movie of the Week

Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea was an amazing film. I saw it alone at a little theater down the street from my house this week. I went to see it alone because I knew it was about grief. Given the recent passing of my grandfather, I didn’t want to risk showing emotion in front of anyone. It’s a very, very subtle film, despite dealing with some extremely heavy/horrific stuff. Casey Affleck pulls off his understated role flawlessly, and the film is laden with nostalgia, dry humor, and an appreciation of life. Definitely make the trip to see it. The film also oddly mentions my hometown (Minnetonka, MN) a few times!

 

-Thanks for reading, and as always, questions and comments are always encouraged and appreciated!

 

 

 

 

Getting Some Action

Getting Some Action

Alright, here’s the latest and greatest:

Once my three-game contract with Pensacola expired, I was happy to learn that I had earned a standard player contract. This doesn’t offer much more stability or anything (again, none of our contracts do), but I am making significantly more money than I did on my tryout contract, and shows that I’ve been a good enough goalie and teammate to stick around in the eyes of the coach and management.

I also saw my first game action as an Ice Flyer on Saturday night, although it certainly wasn’t expected.

Saturday night was one of those games that demonstrates why the SPHL is often jokingly referred to as the Southern Penal Hockey League. The game included 114 penalty minutes, 3 fights (including a goalie fight- more on that later), 7 misconduct penalties, a spearing penalty, a guy taken off on a stretcher, 3 ejections, and multiple blood samples splattering the ice of the Pensacola Bay Center.

It started out as a tight game, but early in the second period there was a massive line brawl that led to a Huntsville player leaving the ice on a stretcher. From then on,  after every whistle there were extracurriculars. Guys were face-washing, sticking each other, and letting the fists fly every chance they got.

Things reached another boiling point when about halfway through the second period, the Huntsville goalie speared one of our players crashing the net. He received a double minor for the spear, and that stoppage of play also happened to be a media timeout. During media timeouts, the goaltenders go to their benches. In the second period, their respective benches are on the opposite ends of the ice, resulting in the goalies skating by one another to get to their benches/back to their nets. My goalie partner Matt Zenzola decided to take things into his own hands and confront the Huntsville goalie, Tyler Steel, at center ice. We had a goalie fight on our hands (watch it here).

It was a good scrap, but I don’t think Steel knew Zenzola was actually left-handed, despite playing goalie right-handed. Zenzola also probably had about 2-3 inches and 20-30 pounds on Steel, but Steel hung pretty tough as both goalies landed a couple shots before Zenzola finally overpowered Steel and brought him down. I was impressed, and the crowd was going absolutely bananas.

This also meant that both parties were ejected from the game, and I was heading into the game ice cold. I hopped the bench, went to retrieve my helmet and stick, and took my place in the net, my first action in an Ice Flyers uniform.

I played well, stopping 14 of 15 (including several big saves), playing the puck well, and giving our team a chance to win. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete the comeback and lost 4-2 with an empty netter.

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Watching everybody beating the shit out of each other

 

Off the Ice

Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some great experiences away from the rink! Last week we visited Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, and brought all of the stuffed animals donated at our Teddy Bear Toss the weekend prior. It was a humbling experience to visit with children going through infinitely tougher times than I ever have, all while keeping a positive attitude and having fun. We played board games, joked around, and visited with families for a few hours. It was great to make a few kids smile and make their stay a little brighter.

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The same week I also volunteered at the Waterfront Mission with a few teammates where we helped prepare and serve dinner to those in need. Again, another humbling experience that was rewarding. Many of those we served expressed a ton of gratitude, and I realized how lucky I really am to be living the life I’m living.

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Preparing some taco salad for the Waterfront Mission

Other activities in Pensacola have included shark fishing, hanging out at the beach, checking out local restaurants and coffee shops, and even going on a couple dates. I also caught a free Chris Janson country concert.

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I spend more time in the sand than David Hasselhoff

Frankly, I’m falling in love with this town. It’s big enough that there are lots of things to do. It has a fun night life (shhhhh) and great restaurants. It also has phenomenal weather and pristine beaches. In addition, I love that it’s a pretty laid back town. Everyone is friendly, and it has a relaxed atmosphere that suits me. I was chatting with the owner of a local coffee shop the other day, and she told me that since she moved to Pensacola from Ohio, she could never dream of living anywhere else. She told me she believes that Pensacola is a place where people find their destiny. I’m not sure about all of that, but I can easily see how people have a special place in their hearts for this city. It’s certainly carved out a place in mine.

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It’s not often I look short in a picture (6’9″ 6’3″ 6’5″ left to right)

Continuing Uncertainty

With another goalie on our team coming back from the IR this week, my status is uncertain as ever. We will have three goalies, and one of them will have to go. Stay tuned…

Heard Around the Rink

“Let’s put it this way, we got a lot of great guys on this team, but we got a lot of baaaaaad boys.”

“No, the dollar sign goes after the number. You don’t say dollars twenty, you say twenty dollars.”

“Yeah, [the enforcer on the other team] hooked up with my aunt.”

Random Musings

  • It’s amazing how fast you forge close friendships with teammates. This is my favorite part about playing hockey. It’s been just 3 weeks and I already feel part of another family. I wouldn’t trade anything for coming to the rink everyday, giving each other shit, and going to war with these guys. So grateful.
  • No state income tax in FL = More craft beer money
  • If you haven’t already, read this piece by John Scott. Awesome.

Beer of the Week

Jai Alai- Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, FL)

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Great local beer, definitely give it a go if you’re in the Gulf Coast area!

 

 

Life’s a Beach

Life’s a Beach

Remember when I said it’s tough to feel safe in this league?

The day before Thanksgiving I got a call from our coach telling me they had put me on waivers (released me). The explanation? “Going a different direction.” OK then. After nearly two months in Fayetteville, playing just one game, I was gone. I was part of a massive restructuring of the team following a stretch in which we went on a big losing streak.

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Going to miss these guys!
5 or 6 guys texted me saying they couldn’t believe it. No one, especially me, saw this coming. I know I’m good enough for this league, and so did my teammates. I got along with everyone, always worked hard, and always put the team first. It didn’t make sense. However, like I said before, contracts are week to week, and any coach can pretty much release any player for any reason at any time (with a couple exceptions for injuries).

My time in Fayetteville had worn me down a little bit. Although I loved my teammates, I wasn’t playing in games. My sense of purpose and enthusiasm was gradually eroding away. With each additional game that I sat on the bench, I felt a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction in the back of my head creeping its way toward the front. It didn’t feel like I was making any progress. My hockey career/life felt stagnated, stuck, insignificant. Part of me wondered if I had made the right decision after all. Coincidentally, two of my Dartmouth classmates and closest friends who were also playing pro decided to hang up the skates the same week I was released. They were ready to turn the page, and I felt I might be right behind them.

I left Fayetteville with one pro game, a loss, on my resume. With nowhere to go and nothing likely to pan out with another team before Thanksgiving weekend was over, I flew home to Minneapolis for the holiday to figure out what the hell I was going to do (also of note- this was my first Thanksgiving spent with family in 7 years because of hockey).

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Essentially sums up my time in Fayetteville
In pro hockey, the goalie market is insanely saturated. Every pro team only keeps two goalies. There are hundred of goalies out there competing for those spots. As a rookie goalie, when you don’t get one of those spots, or lose one, it can be hard to get back in the door. It’s not that I’m not good enough for one of those spots. It’s not that simple. Unfortunately professional hockey suffers from some of the same problems that other professional settings do. Politics, contracts, age/experience, and connections all matter for goalies looking for roster spots, often just as much as how good/talented the goalie is. Many minor league coaches are also far from goalie experts, and will bring in different guys seemingly randomly until the team starts winning. Essentially, you need to get an opportunity and then start winning quickly to establish yourself. Unfortunately I haven’t really had that chance yet.

Another team didn’t claim me after being released, and I started to think that as much as I love hockey, maybe hockey didn’t love me back anymore. The possibility that I might be done playing hockey was an abstract concept to me. For my entire life hockey has been a massive part of my identity. I planned on playing pro for a couple years, hopefully including a stint in Europe before I retired. I hadn’t planned on being released anytime soon, and thus hadn’t even started considering what I would do after. Frankly, it was terrifying. I had something of a miniature quarter life crisis. If I’m not NetminderJim who am I now? CorporateLadderClimberJim? WriterJim? WorldTravelerJim? BaristaJim? Shit. I started considering everything from pursuing job leads in Boston with my friends to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

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On the road to FL
But the Saturday after I was waived, one of Pensacola’s goalies suffered a shoulder injury. I received a tip regarding the injury, and that they would likely need a goalie to come in. I acted as my own agent and gave the coach a call. Within two days I was flying back to Fayetteville, packing up my car, hugging a few of my ex-teammates goodbye, and making the trek down to Florida.

Essentially, my hockey career died on the operating table for a few minutes before being resuscitated miraculously by the defibrillation paddles. My quarter life crisis can wait at least a little while longer.

I’ve only been in Pensacola for a few days, but it’s been incredible. The guys are great, and we all literally live on Pensacola Beach. The condo I’m staying in has a direct sightline to the ocean and its own balcony. I’ve already been sunbathing and taking long walks on the beach. It’s December. The city also has a lot of cool places to go and things to do, so I’m excited to spend some time and explore here. It’s definitely a big step up from Fayetteville in terms of the overall lifestyle, and the ocean air has left me feeling revitalized after my tough experience in North Carolina.

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The boys on the beach, about 50 yards from our condo
I signed a 3-game contract with the Ice Flyers, with nothing more guaranteed as of now. But at the very least, I bought myself a little more time living the dream, and another chance to prove myself and get in the door. I’ll keep controlling what I can control and working hard to earn a chance to establish myself. Life’s a beach, and I’m just playing in the sand.

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Latest mug shot, complete with the signature “white patch” in my beard

Random Musings

  • A walk along the beach is an A+ addition to my pregame routine. I really love the ocean air, and the fine white Florida sand. Might have to live in a beach town someday.
  • It’s nice to be playing for a team with no spelling or grammatical errors in its name again.
  • Do you ever wonder what the difference is between what you want and what your culture tells you to want? Do we make decisions because that’s what we truly want, or is what we choose just something our culture tells us to want, that has been embedded so deeply in our thinking that we don’t know the difference anymore? This is something I’ve struggled with as an introspective 20-something trying to figure himself out. For the few days I was unemployed, contemplating my next chapter, this question was an important one.
  • The Minnesota Vikings. You know what, no. I’m not even going there. It’s a Sunday morning and I shouldn’t start drinking this early.

Beer of the Week

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Jade IPA– Foothills Brewing Company (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

9/10

Fantastic. One of the more unique IPAs I’ve ever tasted, is that a little spiciness i taste? I’ve been trying to drink local, and this one came up while I was doing some research. Glad I bought it! Grab a few of of these if you’re ever in North Carolina.

Also try: Freak of Nature DIPA– Wicked Weed Brewing, Pernicious IPA– Wicked Weed Brewing

Movie of the Week

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The Night Manager

Alright, so this isn’t a movie. It’s a six-part miniseries. Anyways, it‘s the best thing I’ve watched lately and it’s not even close. Slick, perfectly paced, and beautiful to look at. The Night Manager  boasts Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie as compelling leads. It’s an espionage thriller, adapted from John le Carré’s novel of the same name. Watch it.

The First Start

The First Start

I realize it’s been a while since my last blog. Lots to catch up on. The death of a close family member and a tough travel schedule have put blogging in the back seat during the last couple weeks. With that being said, Here is the latest and greatest.

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Trying not to play the puck outside of the trapezoid!

The First Start

After a month of not seeing the ice and debating changing my social media handles from “NetminderJim” to “BenchminderJim”, I started my first game this past weekend against the Mississippi Riverkings. I was ecstatic to get back in a real game for the first time in 8 months.

Our team started off great, going up 2-0 after the first period. I felt sharp and in control. In the second period, we slowed down a bit. Mississippi came back and tied the score. I still felt great and made a couple huge saves despite allowing 2 goals. The third period was pretty much chaos, with constant breakdowns on both sides. The score ended up being 6-4 for Mississippi with an empty netter. I was particularly frustrated with this result because I let in a bad goal with the score tied in the third period. For any goalies reading, it was a short side jam-in play that snuck between my arm and the post while in the Reverse VH position. There was no excuse for that goal, and I felt I let my team down. The frustrating part is that I actually felt good out there for most of the game. I was in control, seeing the puck well, making big saves, controlling rebounds, battling. But that one bad goal and another couple from the point through traffic that I felt I could have stopped turned what should have been a good outing into a frustrating loss. As a goalie, any time you give up 5 goals, you have to take a look in the mirror, no matter how you felt during the game. I have to be better, plain and simple. Time on the ice is earned, and I’ll need to make a couple more saves when I get my next chance if I expect to stick around.

On the bright side, after playing my first game in this league, I know it’s a place where I can have success. If I can clean up a couple things this week in practice and execute a little better, I should definitely be able to be a great goalie in this league. The challenge so far has been keeping myself mentally confident and sharp despite not playing much. I know I can play at this level, in addition to higher levels of professional hockey, and I try to remember that every time I hit the ice. Habits, habits, habits…

 

Living in Fayetteville, NC

Fayetteville is located about an hour south of the capital city of Raleigh, NC. It is also home to Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the world (in terms of population). Basically, it’s a military town. Tons of military personnel and contractors live in the area. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but overall it’s been a good experience so far.

  • Pros-
    • The weather is very nice. Warm, dry, and just starting to get a little cooler. Very comfortable.
    • Our apartments are nice! I live in a 3BR/2BA unit. It’s furnished, with a large kitchen and living room area, high speed Internet, and cable. All of it paid for by the team.
    • I have 2 great roommates. Both are from Michigan and played hockey at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
    • I found a craft brewery, Dirtbag Ales, just a couple of miles from our apartment. They have a few great brews and their Mocha Cold-Press Porter is A+ stuff.
    • We get a membership to a fairly nice gym, which also has a steam room, sauna and whirlpool. In addition, a local Crossfit gym puts us through team workouts once a week, which are extremely tough, but I love them.
    • People here seem to be friendly, and are fans of the team. Several individuals around town have stopped and chatted me up about the team and our games. There seem to be some loyal fans around town.
  • Cons-
    • It’s a rough town. We are talking in the 95th percentile for violent crime, with 20% of the population living below the poverty line. Lots of rundown strip malls and fast food joints lining the streets. Luckily, we live a few miles outside of the city in a suburb called Hope Mills, and things are a little calmer and safer there.
    • Hurricane Matthew did some serious damage here. A month later, roads and bridges are still being rebuilt, and detours/traffic are a part of the daily routine here for the foreseeable future.
    • Everything in the area is spread out. It seems like it takes at least 25 minutes to get basically anywhere whether it’s our apartments, our rink, the gym, or local restaurants/grocery stores.
    • There isn’t a ton to do around town, at least at first glance. Other than your standard movie theater and sports bars, I haven’t found a whole lot of interesting stuff to do. It’s far enough away from the beach to make it inconvenient for a day trip, and there isn’t much in the way of hiking or natural outdoor attractions/activities either, which is disappointing. May have to start looking into some potential Sunday day-trip destinations in the area, or talk to people who live here to find some hidden gems.
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Making the young fans happy

Other Random Musings

  • It’s tough to feel safe. Our contracts are essentially week-to-week, meaning we can be cut at any time. Only a month into the season, we have had probably 20 guys show up at various points that aren’t here anymore. We carry 18 players on our roster. If you don’t perform, they will find someone else. Period. This threat looms especially large after losing a few games in a row.
  • The 2016 Presidential Election- A global disaster, really. We will all remember where we were/what we were doing when Trump won this election. That’s not to say I support Hillary either. Just an absolute embarrassment all the way around. The candidates, the media, all of it. We can do better.
  • Ezekiel Elliott will be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
  • Right now my equipment setup includes red, white, and blue pads, green pants, a purple practice jersey, and a green helmet. Absolute comedy. My goalie gear style points have severely diminished since my Dartmouth days.

 

Heard Around the Rink

“Don’t fart in the training room. Have some respect. Fart in (the locker room), fart on the ice, not in the training room. Show some respect.”

“Your hips are shit, you know that?” (Chiropractor talking to yours truly)

 

Beer of the Week

For those of you that know me, you know I have a passion for craft beer. I’ve decided to review a new beer every week, and look forward to tasting some new ones.

Stingray Imperial IPA (Coronado Brewing Co. – Coronado, California)

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8.5/10

Picked up a sixer of these last week at the recommendation of the owner of a small craft beer/wine shop near our apartments. Very easy drinking DIPA. Extremely citrus forward with enough bitter hoppiness for balance. The 7.9% ABV is hidden extremely well. One of the best I’ve had in a while. Still doesn’t touch my all-time favorite DIPA though (Surly Abrasive Ale- if any readers are willing to ship some down to me from MN, please let me know!)

 

Movie of the Week

Again, for those of you that know me well, I love watching movies and discussing them with my family/friends. Having so much free time lately, I’ve been watching a lot of movies. I figured I’d pick one per week to recommend to everyone.

Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio investigates climate change. An extremely well done documentary, it captures the urgency and incredible scope of the problem, as well as the absurdity of the global politics that make it such a hard issue to tackle. Definitely worth viewing. Leo is watchable and genuine, and the detail of the evidence is fascinating. Definitely a relevant film, especially considering our next president denies climate change is a real thing. My roommates and I all enjoyed this a lot. The environmentalist in me was definitely inspired, and I felt compelled to pass it along.

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Finally, just wanted to pay a quick tribute to my Grandpa Bruce. One of the greatest men I’ve ever known. I learned a lot about being a better person and a better man from you. Wishing like hell you could’ve seen my first game as a pro. You’ll never be forgotten.

 

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A Sunny Start in Pensacola

A Sunny Start in Pensacola

The Trip

Our first road weekend brought us to Pensacola, Florida for a two-game series against the Ice Flyers on Oct  21/22. We left Fayetteville on Wednesday night just before midnight and drove through the night. The total drive time was about 11.5 hours. Our bus is an old sleeper bus with 22 beds, some of which can be converted to couches with tables. I was a fan of this schedule. Sleeping through the long bus ride would be welcome. However, about a half hour into our trip, it became apparent that our air conditioning/circulation systems were down. When we left Fayetteville, it was 84 degrees and humid. After an hour on the road, we were all stuck to our vinyl “mattresses” and dripping with sweat. I didn’t really sleep, but rather teetered on the verge on consciousness for hours on end. The bus incessantly rattled and swerved. At one point, I woke up and felt as though I couldn’t breath. The stale, hot air, layered with the odor of 20 guys sweating their asses off, was overwhelming and I felt an intense wave of claustrophobia. I checked my phone. 4:30 AM. Seven more hours to go! I’m fairly certain I lost part of my mind that night that I may never get back.

We arrived a little early in Pensacola, and getting off of that bus was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had. We had some time to kill, so we went to the local mall before our practice at Pensacola’s arena.

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The view from our team dinner on Thursday night

We then headed to the rink and had a quick, hard practice. Afterwards we checked into our hotel, a nice Hampton Inn about 100 yards from the ocean. Next door was a restaurant that had a dining area right on the beach. The entire team elected to spend a good chunk of their per diem (money we get for meals on the road) there. It was about 70 degrees with a cool, salty breeze drifting in from the ocean. I’d say it was chilly, but after that bus trip I vowed to never complain about being cold again.

The Games

Friday night, our first game, was a wild one. Lots of scoring, a fight, and a Fireantz victory. The score was 6-3 with an empty netter. Pensacola had a good crowd, coming off of an SPHL championship last year. It was their banner-raising night, and we were able to spoil their party.

Saturday night’s contest was much tighter, and neither team could come up with much offense during regulation, which ended with the score tied at 1-1. Similar to the NHL, in overtime we play 5 minutes of 3-on-3, and then go to a shootout if no one scores during those 5 minutes. The 3-on-3 period was all Pensacola, but Sean Bonar, my goalie partner and fellow Ivy League graduate, made a few huge saves to keep the score tied. In the five-man shootout that followed, our first three players scored, and Bonar stopped their first three shooters, mathematically eliminating any chance for Pensacola to win despite having two more rounds to go. The road sweep was complete!

I didn’t see any action over the weekend, as Bonar started both games. I knew that as a third year veteran he would start the first game, and after a good showing/win on Friday night he got the nod again for Saturday. Hopefully I’ll see some action soon, but it’s always great to win!

The bus ride home was happy and comfortable (we were able to fix the air conditioning while in Pensacola). We played cards and consumed a couple of celebratory beverages, before sleeping the rest of the trip away and waking up back in Fayetteville.

 

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The Antz walked to the pier after our warmup on Saturday morning
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The Pensacola Bay Center
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Happy Antz after a 4-point weekend