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!

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.

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.