Updated: Feb 2
Guest Contribution #1 with Tom Cantwell
Growing up 9 miles away from Lake Placid, I had big dreams of playing Division 1 hockey and then heading straight to the NHL. Chasing this dream helped get my Saranac Lake high school team to the Final Four for the first time in school history and then on to the Taft School where we won a Founders League championship.
When I think back on my time playing prep school hockey, I’m honoured to say that during these teen years I played with and shared the ice with players like Max Pacioretty, Cam Atkinson, Patrick Kane, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nick Bonino, Alex Killorn, etc. My roommate at Taft was none other than George Hughes; ever heard of him? Not a big deal at all really, but he went on to play at St. Lawrence and led all Division 1 defenseman in points his senior year.
I had always wanted to play at St. Lawrence but the cold-hard truth was that I wasn’t good enough to play there right away. They wanted me to play in the USHL and see how I did but I was ready for college. After considering a few options, I applied early-decision to Middlebury College in the hope of winning a Division 3 National Championship and getting a good education. Playing for Coach Beaney (legend) made sense for me; he understood where I grew up and I trusted he would always have my best interest at heart.
Not long into my freshman year we ended up playing Curry College and I felt like absolute dog shit. I had a fever of 102 degrees but went out and played my best game of the season. After the game, I recall Mr. Townsend telling me,
“You were the best player on the ice tonight.”
In hindsight, I now know that was a random act of kindness as opposed to the truth, but nonetheless it was nice to have validated how well I thought I played even though we lost.
The next day in practice, I was still riding high on the elation of yesterday’s performance and had a teammate come up to me half-way through and say, “If you’re gonna practice like this, get the fuck off the ice and go home.”
I thought he was just being a dick and finished the practice without giving it much thought. Afterwards, the assistant coach came to me and said,
“Move your shit in the JV room, you’re done!”
I sat there, bewildered at what was said. After realizing it wasn’t a joke, I collected my gear and lugged it down the hallway. The lack of pride in the JV room was a stark contrast to the tidiness and cleanliness of the varsity room I had just been asked to leave. The walk back to my dorm room was long and lonely. I remember thinking, “What the hell was that? He can’t just cut me…”
I had to talk to Coach Beaney — surely, he could help me make sense out of this and get me back on the right path. So, I made an effort to track him down after my JV practices. I would sit and wait outside his office. He would leave and I would stand up and ask, “Excuse me coach, may I please have a minute of your time?”
He would answer, “I’m sorry, this is a bad time” and walk off.
I did this for about a month and half. He ignored me constantly and I continued playing on the JV team. I’d go to the cafeteria and people would ask, “Aren’t you supposed to be at practice right now?” Oh, the joy of informing them that I had been cut…
During this time, I expected and yearned for teammates to be there for me and help me during this difficult time. They were nowhere to be found; they had their own shit to worry about. Everywhere I looked, I couldn’t get an answer. Who was going to help me?
After growing increasingly frustrated with a total lack of support I realized I was the only one on the face of the earth who was going to help me get out of the situation that I had created for myself. It wasn’t Coach Beaney’s fault, it wasn’t my teammates' fault that I got all high and mighty after I played decently in a 4-2 loss.
I snapped. I started bundling kids in JV practice and turned into a psychopath. I knew I had to wreck my JV teammates to get the attention of the coaching staff. After one such practice, Coach Beaney met me in the hallway as I got off the ice and said, “Are you ready to join us?”
The timing was perfect. The team was headed into the playoffs and I knew I could help them prepare with a renewed zest for the game, and more importantly, self-respect.
Never again would I allow myself to go through the motions and take the game for granted.
We ended up having a good run that year and just narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. The following year we won the NESCAC and lost to Plattsburgh at home in front of a sold-out crowd. Had we won this game; I would have had a chance to play at home in Lake Placid for the NCAA Final Four.
My junior year I fell out of love with the game of hockey entirely. We lacked leadership and I gained about 30 pounds in the spring drinking beer and eating chicken wings. I could barely weasel into a 36-inch waist.
My girlfriend at the time (now wife) mentioned that I was growing a nice pair of breasts.
Embarrassed, I tried to go for a run after this and made it about ½ mile before I collapsed. I had completely let myself go but realised I had to finish the journey I started. I got in great shape over the off-season and headed into my senior year committed to leaving every ounce of my being on the ice.
My love for the game didn’t return over the off-season but my love for the community and my teammates was what drove me.
I was so honoured to be selected as a team assistant captain and lastly, I wanted to make my dad proud. He loved watching me play hockey and I knew this would be his last chance to see that.
My dad played at St. Lawrence back in the day but was told that he didn’t have enough game experience. Because of this, he set out to make sure that I was never told this; hockey was my life.
My parents gave me every opportunity under the sun to excel at the game and to pursue this passion. The least I could do was stick it out one more year before moving on.
We ended up losing to Amherst in their barn. It was a close game; we rattled the post a few times and were buzzing in their end the whole time. With a pulled goalie, I sat on the bench and watched. With each breath that passed, I knew it wasn’t going to end here. We were going to score; we had to.
When the buzzer sounded, I felt empty. There was an immediate hole in my heart. We played a hell of a game and we simply lost.
After taking time to reflect, I paralleled this loss to“that’s life.” There are winners and there are losers. After a loss, life goes on, but what’s next?
My Next Shift came completely out of the blue.
I was gearing up to move back home and start a roofing business when I got a call from my roommate’s father about an opportunity down in Boston to distribute figure skating blades. I remember putting the phone down for a second and laughing to myself when he mentioned this.
I hate that version of myself and I’m grateful to my wife for encouraging me to at least interview. I graduated May 23rd and I started June 11th of 2012. I drove down to Boston and moved in with my boss.
I poured every ounce of energy I could based on what I was learning in the figure skating world to fill the void in my heart. Hockey was gone and figure skating was in.
I devoted all of my time to learning about the sport—what the difference between a lutz and flip was, who the key coaches are, how equipment was evolving, etc.
After deciding that figure skating would be the recipient of my passion, good things started to happen.
I doubled the business in North America for the brands I was responsible for and then got a chance to move over to Sheffield, England and run the company that manufactures the world’s best figure blades.
Over the last 6 years, we’ve grown the business over 56% and had 75% of all Olympic figure skaters wear our product in the last Olympics in PyeongChang. More impressively, I’ve travelled to places like China, Russia, Japan and Korea all in the pursuit of becoming the world’s foremost authority in competitive figure skating blades. I have my name on two patents and we’ve created the lightest blade ever made by over 20%--the only company in the world to make a full-bodied carbon fibre blade.
Hockey has forged who I am but figure skating has fine-tuned the best parts. I’ve become more compassionate, humble and forgiving. I am equally indebted to figure skating as I am to hockey. I wish there wasn’t such a disconnect between the two sports because we both hold the same principles near to our hearts.
The beauty of an athlete is in their relentless pursuit of greatness.
No matter where life takes us, we must compartmentalize what the game has shown us and apply it to our Next Shift. When we don’t win, we learn, and we always chop the woodpile in front of us. If you’re ever in doubt of what’s next, know that a dump and change is always at your disposal.
Dump and change your perspective from hockey onto your next pursuit. Chase your next objective with the same zest and commitment you gave the game that was so good to you. Anything less than total commitment is a disgrace to the game that has shaped who we are today.
From one grocery stick to another, Godspeed and may you always find joy in the journey.