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!

 

 

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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.