Last week I posted a nostalgic piece on the Rink Round Up about my time as a student athlete at Ithaca High School. I didn’t publish the article because I felt as though the world needed to know about my “glory days” or to be that guy who boasts of championships won from a barstool despite being more than a decade removed for that stage in my life. I wrote it for my teammates who made that time in my life special and the parents and coaches who made it possible. I told the story because it was part of my sports experience, and shared sports experience is a major part of what Sportsideo is all about. While my career after high school never led me to the NHL, the game did offer me the opportunity to make a few more stops along the way, and I still have some stories to tell.
When I graduated from Ithaca High, I had a lifetime of memories but few Division 1 offers. Actually in the interest of full disclosure, I had just one. By the time I was 18, I had been playing the game for 14 years and playing with the serious goal of one day being a collegiate hockey player for about five. I grew up with incredibly supportive parents who offered me every opportunity to succeed on and off the ice. My father told me from a young age that if I set goals and worked hard, I would have choices in life. Wisely, he never promised me that hard work would pave the way for whatever I wanted in life, just that it would lead to the opportunity to have choices. By the end of my senior year, I had reached a pivotal point in my life and hockey career. While all of my classmates were choosing their destination to pursue higher education, I sat in my parents house, thought about the goals I had set for myself, and stared blankly at the sole letter that had come offering me the opportunity to live out that dream of being a college hockey player.
It was time to make a decision and my mother sat by my side and asked me what I was feeling. I explained to her I felt disappointed. Sure I had choices just like I was promised. I could hang up the skates and pursue a degree at one of the many great state schools in Upstate New York. I could have opted not to go to school altogether, learned a trade, and started a career. Or I could have picked up that single letter, called the coach, and graciously told him I would see him on campus that August. You always have choices. But in my mind, those choices were unacceptable. I had worked and worked hard my entire life towards achieving my goal to not only be able to play college hockey, but to have choices with regards to where I wanted to play when the time came. I wasn’t a blue chip prospect waiting for the phone to ring and hear Jack Parker or Jerry York on the other end. I was just a hard working kid with a passion for the game who knew I wanted and could get more out of my experience than was currently being offered. I looked back at my mom and told her something that would change my life forever. I am sure at 18 years old it didn’t come out quite so eloquently, but basically I told her “I have one letter in front of me with the opportunity to fulfill a dream and play college hockey for he next four years at this school. One letter is not a choice, it is an option.”
I was stubborn and I “needed” to have those choices I had worked so hard for. With the blessing and support of my parents, the journey towards taking the necessary next steps to have those choices began. Rather then calling that coach and accepting the kind offer or putting the skates away for good, I chose the path less traveled by the average American teenager, but one all too familiar to the aspiring college hockey player. I decided I would spend the next two years playing junior hockey and would do so in the Eastern Junior Hockey League for New York Applecore.
Later this week I will publish my story about that crucial next phase of my athletic experience in junior hockey, the chasing of a dream, and the memories and bonds created along the way.