Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Guest Contribution #2 with Scott Kelsey
It shouldn’t be difficult for someone who grew up in Clinton, NY to throw some thoughts on paper for a hockey blog, or should it?
Clinton, NY - for those who do not know - is a small town in central New York that recently celebrated 100 years of hockey. From youth hockey, high school hockey, Hamilton College hockey, to the Clinton Comets of the old EHL professional ranks, Clinton has covered just about every level of hockey in those 100 years. And yes, there actually has been an NHL regular season game played there, with Clinton, NY winning the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest in 2018. The local restaurant and pizzeria Alteris proudly has many nostalgic memorabilia covering its walls. One sign welcomes visitors with a sign on the wall stating:
“Welcome to Clinton, NY, a drinking town with a hockey problem”
But, my personal introduction to skating and hockey itself wasn’t on the clean-cut and carefully cared for ice at the Clinton Arena. It happened first on a few ponds we found in the woods or within 100 yards of road that my Father, Ken, and brother, Tony, would shovel off to resemble a good sheet of ice. We would make our way around and over the cracks, bumps, sticks and anything else you can think of, the best we could.
I recall one day my Father falling backwards and hitting his head (Dad was a heck of a baseball and softball player and golfer, but never really learned to skate prior to allowing us to give it a try). My brother and I really thought he was dead... Fortunately, he was not, although he most likely suffered from one heck of a concussion and being a loving parent just supporting his kids any way he could.
We soon upgraded to a home built rink that my dad built out of some handy scrap pieces of wood. Our love for the game grew from there. My sister, Kelly, had a great run with figure skating and probably skated better than either Tony or myself too.
Fast tracking a bit thru learning to skate, youth hockey, and high school hockey, I will just say,
I was blessed to have parents, who - while probably barely affording to do so - supported my siblings and I, in whatever we chose to do.
Hockey in the winter. Baseball, fishing, football, and dirt-bike riding in the warm months. We had some incredible teams throughout these years.
I realize now how important having a break in sport seasons was for my personal athletic development.
All of this led to me getting recruited to play hockey (and baseball) by several colleges all over the country.
Next Shift (#1): Hamilton
I really had no idea what to do, where to go, or why I should even go to college. But I figured that’s just something you “did”.
To have colleges and universities offering to pay for my schooling wasn’t something I could really grasp, and truly something I realize now that I wasn’t really appreciative of at the time. I was a hockey kid, in a hockey town, who wanted to keep on playing hockey... If I was able to get an education around that, all the better.
While it was a hard choice, I was fortunate to get recruited and offered the opportunity to play locally for Hamilton College. I grew up 5 miles away and remember standing in Sage Rink, one of the oldest indoor rinks in North America, watching Hamilton play.
I was fortunate to play my way onto the varsity squad my freshman year and secure a spot to play throughout all four years on 'The Hill', only missing a few games here and there for some injuries. But there definitely were a few times when my off-ice activities almost cost me a spot on the team.
I’m grateful that through thick and thin during those years that I had a great Coach, and coaching staff, as well as many incredible teammates and friends that - for the most part - kept me in line.
College hockey in the NESCACs was, and still is, as solid as they come. I will never regret my choice to attend Hamilton while passing on offers from some Division I programs and some other top ranked schools for baseball as well. I learned a lot at Hamilton and cherish the times there. Many of my longest lasting relationships and friendships started there.
Next Shift (#2): Why go to Wall Street when someone is willing to pay you to continue playing hockey after college?
That was my rationale at the time at least.
Why would I get a resume in order, when all I had to do was keep my skates sharp and my sticks taped?
What I thought was going to be a few years in the minor leagues, ended up being just over about 5.5 seasons of me grinding it out in the minor leagues before growing up and taking a real job.
I’ll gladly fill anyone in on the details of 400+ games, 1000’s of practices, bus rides, broken noses and torn up knees and shoulders - if you would like. But to summarize a few things I learned along the way:
I would not have described it anything like my earlier years. But much like my college hockey career, I believed my professional hockey career was was just a 'given' to me. Or, rather I treated it like I didn’t earn it and never fully appreciated it. With that mindset, I didn’t actually deserve any of it...
I was given the opportunity that a very small percentage of athletes out there get. Not only to play at the collegiate level, but also a chance to play professionally!
And, like many other things in the first years of my life, I took them for granted, and at times, pissed them away.
At the age of 27 I realized that it was time for that chapter in my life to end, and stepped away from the long bus rides and constant ice bags on my face and knees.
Next Shift (#3): Into the working world I would go
I took a job in mortgage sales in the Princeton, NJ area, a place I still call home, and a profession that I am still working in.
While the last 22+ years were filled with many positive things, I truly believe that a part of me - no matter how many adult league games I have played in, or tournaments we have won - was left on the ice in my final game of the minor leagues. Hockey filled a void in my life that I never realized was there till too late.
Without going into too much detail, I will admit a good part of this time was spent trying to chase or find something that I really wasn’t sure of. I was in a dark place for a long time and didn't address it.
On the outside things looked great though. I had a great paying job. I had a lot of friends. I played a lot of golf. I had a lot of fun. I even got married, and have 2 beautiful children. I was living the American dream! Or, so I thought...
Next Shift (#4): The Fall & Prize
April 7th, 2018: Still searching for something. Still grasping. Still fighting. But still pretending everything was “OK”... and, I fall down a set of stairs at our home in Princeton.
Over the previous 47 years of my life, I had battled guys way stronger than me on the ice, had countless bumps, bruises, pucks in the face, broken noses - you name it. I’ve battled mental health issues throughout most of my adult life. I had faced a tremendous amount of adversity - and not all of it ended in my favor either.
Falling and suffering a traumatic brain injury, a nearly life-ending injury, takes the prize... A prize, this time, I believe I earned and needed. Why? Because, this injury has made me take a look at the past and try to learn from it, not only the good times, but more importantly the bad.
Next Shift (#5): “It is okay to look at the past, just don’t stare at it”.
In other words, learn from past experiences and grow from them, but don’t dwell on them.
I am blessed to be writing this right now.
I am on a path of what I hope will be: never-ending learning and a desire to share any, and all, of my experiences to help others. And not only with those that ask for it, but also with those who I can often tell need the help, yet often don’t ask.
The first piece of this puzzle was to learn more about myself.
While I have had a pretty remarkable life, it’s been plagued by self-induced worry, trouble, darkness, pain and lack of appreciation...Not any more.
Time to dig in, put the head down, and stop gliding.
'Gliding' in the respect that I feel that for some reason I was able to glide through a good part of my life. Not to say I just packed it in or was lazy the first 47 years of my life... But, I feel as though I only ever did just enough to get by - just enough to get wherever I needed or whatever I needed.
Basically an unknowingly spoiled brat for a long time.
As a hockey player and a defenseman, we are constantly talking about “gap control” when it comes to our position relative to an opposing player.
I never realized that the gap I have been trying to control most of my life is the gap between where I was, and where I wanted to be, or felt I would or should be. It was also a feeling of “never enough” or that I deserved more. I now realize I am exactly where I am meant to be and I have a vision of where I would like to be, and for many things I would still like to accomplish.
Again, I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old. A loving wife. A good job. Many true friends. Many great times in the first 50 years of my life to reflect on.
My Next Shift, and every subsequent shift going forward, will be focused on one overarching theme:
I am making the commitment to not allow any of my past or future experiences go to waste. I will share them whenever and with whomever and I will encourage and empower others to do so as well to help others.
Our hockey community is a special one. It’s meant, and still means, the world to me. (I know there are other similar communities out there too).
My hope for the NextShift platform is to do just what it has done for me for others... Because it made me realize: Whatever your Next Shift is, it’s better to have 5 people on the ice with you, and another 15 on the bench ready to go, versus trying to go it alone.
Many thanks. God Bless