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

 

 

Leave No Doubt

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“We may place blame, give reasons, and even have excuses; but in the end, it is an act of cowardice to not follow your dreams.” – Steve Maraboli

 

And so it begins.

After 17 years of playing hockey, my professional ambitions have brought me to Fayetteville, North Carolina. A member of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), the Fayetteville Fireantz (yes, with a z) are my new employer. They contracted me to get hit by 100mph projectiles. This is my job. My office is the 8,500 seat Crown Coliseum. My coworkers are a bunch of 20-something men running on nothing but testosterone and blind ambition. Here there are no spreadsheets, no sensitivity training sessions, no 9-5 workdays. There are no Brooks Brothers suits, no commissions, no bonuses, no 401(k) plans, no cushy work spaces. Here our contracts are week to week. Any day could be our last as a professional hockey player. Here no one plays for the money or for the security. We do it for our unadulterated passion that we felt before we grew up. Before they told us we’d never make it. We play for each other, for the men we’ve known for less than a fortnight yet already consider brothers. We aren’t making millions of dollars, we don’t have thousands of fans. We aren’t famous, and the vast majority of us never will be. But we all have made the choice to see our dreams through. To have no regrets, to leave no doubt.

Writing about my hockey/life experiences is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I have always made excuses not to. I was too busy/too tired. I was afraid of the judgment of others. I was afraid of coming off as self-absorbed or cliché or attention-seeking. But, in the spirit of leaving no doubt, fuck all of that.

I hope anyone who reads this finds some humor, some heart, and some insight into the minor league hockey lifestyle. I also encourage anyone who reads this to please reach out with questions, comments, or just to say hello. A big part of why I decided to start this blog was to stay connected to all of the amazing people I’ve met along the way, especially in Minnesota, Texas, Langley, and at Dartmouth. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

More to come.