I’ve decided to start a new addition to the Hockey Advocate. A series of Hockey Advice related anecdotes that I hope will impart some small nugget of Hockey related wisdom.
When I started out as a fresh faced Sports Agent, there were no books worth reading or courses worth taking to tell me what to do and one can only watch Jerry Maguire so many times. The few books that I read were self-aggrandizing garbage that name dropped famous players and gave ‘advice’ from the top of a big fat pile of money that had more to do with luck then a “How-To” blueprint. However, I was lucky as I somehow found a Mentor who got me through the rough times with great pearls of wisdom. I’d call my good friend Charles and tell him my sad-sack tales of woe and he would regale me with stories from his career as an NHL Agent in the late 1980’s and 90’s. Typically, those stories would give me either the advice I needed or help me commiserate with his own foibles and tragedies.
What I’ve found in the intervening years is that when I talk to my own clients or their parents, the majority of my own advice is based on 10+ years of hockey related shenanigans that somehow relate to the issue at hand. It is these stories and hard earned experience that I think will make interesting reading and hopefully, they just might impart some hard earned and potentially valuable advice, if only so that you don’t make the same grievous mistakes!
Drive, Determination & Going that Extra Mile to Make the Team – Or – Sleepless Nights in Tournout!
We all hear that you need to do what ever it takes to make the team. The lucky few manage to sign after just one tryout camp, but the vast majority of players have to slog their way through showcase after tryout camp. If you don’t learn to have thick skin, the constant rejection can wear you down, not too mention empty out your bank account. Last season, one of my Junior Clients, in a 10-month period literally tried out and played for 8 Teams across 5 different Leagues spanning 2 countries, 2 provinces and 5 states. Talk about determination and persistence. He ended up as one of the lucky ones who would move on to start his NCAA career.
It reminded me of my first year trying out for minor-pro teams in Europe. I’d skated for teams in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. After a few adventures I’m sure I’ll tell you about in the future, I met this coach who was running a summer hockey school in Tournout, Belgium. I’d got suckered into working it myself by the unscrupulous Manager of a Pro Team I wanted to sign with. He made indirect promises that if I worked at the camp for free and played in a few international events for their club, I had the inside track to the job. Clearly, I needed an Agent because I was the biggest Naïve sucker in the world. Anyway, I met Gert – who ended up becoming a good friend – who happened to be the Head Coach for a rival club. What I didn’t know was that he was a fun, loyal and great friend to have but he wasn’t that great at logistics and what I’ll call ‘minor’ responsibilities. So after a few beers one night after the hockey school, he invited me out to come back the next week for a skate with a group of Veterans from his team to see if I’d be a good fit with their club. They were trying to move up out of relegation into the Elite League and were looking to add a few new imports to the roster. So I took 3 trains and 2.5 hours to find my way back to this ice-rink for an 8PM skate, with the understanding that someone would give me a ride back to my home town or provide me with a couch to sleep on as the last train was at 9pm. The tryout went well and afterwards we went to a local pub in the country for dinner, a few tasty Belgian beers and some schmoozing by the team to convince me to sign.
So as things tend to happen in Europe, before we knew it was 3am, we were all slurring out words and enjoying the best refreshments Belgium could offer. Well, by this point, most of the players had slowly trickled off home as they all had off-season jobs to attend the next morning, but there was a small group of 3 of us hard-core types left. What we hadn’t noticed was that the life of the party and my soon to be fearless Coach had disappeared without saying good bye, leaving me stranded. He ‘mis-remembered’ that I needed a ride and took off home. He’s come through for you if it was important but he clearly didn’t sweat the small stuff! The local hotels were all closed, we were in the middle of no-where and the first train in the morning was not until 9:30am and the station was locked down. The remaining players were sympathetic but one guy was on a Motor-cycle, the other had to drive across the border to Holland and the third lived the direct opposite direction from my home town and really wasn’t going to drive a stranger 5+ Hour return trip. So they all just left me there and the bartender tried to explain to me in half Flemish and broken French that I had to leave and I definitely couldn’t stay there.
‘Luckily’ some random person said that they could give me a ride in the back of his work van into town and since I really didn’t have any options I figured I’d just wander around town for 6 hours and call it a lesson learned. We get outside and it is pouring rain like a veritable monsoon, I clearly can’t catch a break. Once we arrive, we part ways and he goes into his apartment and I’m stuck standing in the rain with my stinky hockey bag, and just enough money for a train ticket home but nothing else. I guess I must have looked pretty pathetic because after 3 minutes in the downpour trying to figure out which way to go, the good Samaritan comes back out and says I can sleep in the back of his Van. Now he’s like a mason or brick layer and it is full of equipment, bricks, wood, and there is just enough room for me to stuff my bag in and sit on top of it with my knees up against my chest. He may have felt sorry for me, but understandably did not trust a stranger in his work van, so he sets the alarm, locks me in and tells me in a hardly understandable French dialect that If I move too much or try to get out and steal anything the alarm will go off and he’ll personally beat me up and take me to the police. So I spent a sleepless night huddled soaking wet, freezing and all folded up on myself afraid to move a muscle for 5 hours before he let me out of my temporary prison/hotel room.
In the end, I got home and received a call from Coach Gert saying my very first professional offer was official. I was so excited to be getting my big break that I didn’t mention the nightmare evening I spent in the back of some random guys Van. That kind of thoughtlessness from Management would become the norm during the season, but that’s another story for another day. Honestly, I just didn’t want to risk rocking the boat and him changing his mind. I really had zero courage to complain in case it looked bad on my ‘character’, something that I see happen to young players and parents all the time. They get mistreated or promised one thing but delivered another only to take it without complaint because they are scared to get black-listed.
I think that the lesson I try to impart from this story for my clients as they travel around the country is that while most of us will go anywhere or do almost anything to make our dream a reality, make sure you either book a room in advance or keep enough money in your pocket for a long cab ride home!