Ten Years Later…

Ten years ago tonight was a night that forever changed my life.

18 year old me left work (after school at a law office) around 5:15pm, headed home, grabbed some dinner and then got in the car to head to Hartford, CT for hockey practice. I played on a Midget AAA program based out of Newington and Cromwell, CT. It was our last week before holiday break and we had just come off a big tournament win in New Jersey.

My car was in the shop for an oil change so my mom let me borrow her car for the evening. We were on the ice from 8-9:30pm. After practice I showered, threw my gear in the trunk and left the rink for the 1 hour 15 minute drive home. I pulled up to the light to turn on to I-91 North and popped my favorite CD into the CD player (Linkin Park, I know I’m dating myself). Then my life changed forever.

While sitting at a red light, I was rear ended by someone who had fallen asleep at the wheel. He hit me while going approximately 50mph. My car was pushed clear across the intersection and into oncoming traffic. Luckily, it was 10:15 at night and no one was coming. My head was shaken back and forth and hit the headrest so hard that it bent the seat in half. I was knocked unconscious, out for an unknown period of time. The trunk of the car was completely impacted into the body. One of the last memories I have of that night is calling my mom and letting her know that I was “going to be home late, I got in an accident but I have to go because the police are here”.

That accident ended my hockey career and started a 3 year odyssey of doctors, lawyers and post-concussion syndrome. I went from being at the top of my class to barely graduating from high school, missing 50 days of school in four months. I struggled through my freshman year of college (academically and socially). I spent countless hours with neurologists, psychologists and psychiatrists. I still have huge memory gaps from high school – Senior Year? Prom? Graduation? Various other events and years of time that happened in high school? They don’t really exist in my mind other than the knowledge that something like that happened and I was there.

I am sharing this story as a means of recognizing and celebrating the ten year anniversary that changed my life. This story is not a sob story, rather a celebration of all that life is and all that you can become when life knocks you down. So what happened next?

I refused to let this event define who I was and was I was capable of.

After having a GPA of 2.45 my freshman year, I graduated from Notre Dame in 2009 with a 3.1 – the result of 3 years of 3.67 work in the classroom.

I spent five years with the Notre Dame Hockey Program as a student assistant – spending every extra minute I had at the hockey rink, and doing whatever task the coaching and support staff needed done. In five years at Notre Dame, I received a CCHA Championship Ring (2009), a National Finalist Trophy (2008) and a jersey as recognition of my work and dedication to the program.

I parlayed my work in the classroom and with the hockey team at Notre Dame into a Graduate Assistant position with the University of Massachusetts. After two years in Amherst, I received an M.S. degree in Sport Management and turned the Director of Hockey Operations/Video Coordinator into a valued asset on the coaching staff and a full time position at the school.

In the Summer of 2012, I left Amherst to become the Assistant Coach at Colby College. I have spent three years living out my dreams coaching and recruiting for a college hockey program. I work for a great school and am surrounded by great people both on our team and at our school.

Why do I coach college hockey? I coach to help young men have the opportunity that I never did. I want them to appreciate every moment they have in the game because you never know when it’s going to be taken away from you – and you never know how long and hard you’re going to have to fight to get back to where you were.

Ten years ago, I was involved in a violent car accident that forever changed my life. I am convinced that I never would have been a hockey coach if I had been able to continue my playing career. The fight and the climb back from ten years ago tonight has been long and never easy, but the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have made me a better person. Events and circumstances in life happen for a reason. You can either let them define you or you can take the reins and make your life into what you want to become. The choice is yours.

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Moving & Athletic Success

This weekend, my fiancee and I moved in to a new apartment. Why am I blogging about that? While I was lugging boxes and furniture up and down flights of stairs I couldn’t help but think of the similarities I found in my move and being successful in athletics.

Determination – After a day of picking up and putting down heavy objects, one more trip to pick up the last of your things is often the last thing you want to do. However, the same determination it takes to finish the task is what is needed in late in a game to overcome a deficit or hold on to a lead.

Communication – Moving a two beds, a sectional couch, two dressers, etc up a staircase with a bend in it requires communication. The two people moving need to talk about how they are going to manipulate the furniture up the staircase successfully. If one person needs to put the item down, if one person is moving too fast, whatever the circumstance is, it must be communicated. Moving as a pair requires constant communication – you have to know what your partner is doing. Team sports requires the exact same communication – you have to know what your teammates are doing and where they are going to help you be successful.

Planning – Moving is not a successful activity if you just pick things up, throw them in a box truck and drive to your new place. You have to have a plan of attack, a method to how and what you are going to move when. We ran into some rain and would not have finished our move if we had not planned successfully. Sports are the same way – you cannot be successful if you just go play, you have to have a plan to attack your opponent.

Mental Toughness – Late in the day, the last thing you want to do is start to unpack and put away your stuff. After a day of moving, you often want to just sit and relax. Having the mental toughness to finish the task and put things away will help you get ahead of the curve after your move.

Windows vs Mirrors

Life is all about outlook. Do things happen to you or do you make things happen? The concept of windows vs mirrors is all about how you view events. Mirrors reflect back to you – how could I have changed the outcome? Windows are used to see outside – who else other than me is responsible for what happened?

I had a conversation a few nights ago that reminded me of the importance of outlook. I was baffled when I heard “I hate (blank) because he and his team stole state championships from me.” This outlook is everything that is wrong with the world today. Championships are not deserved, they are earned. Obviously not enough was done by the losing team to prevent what happened – there was a lack of work ethic/attention to detail/execution/talent/teaching/learning etc that caused the team to not win a championship. Whatever it was, championships are never “stolen”.

Too many people today have a mindset of “deserving” something. In my opinion, nothing is ever “deserved”. Everything in life is earned. You earn a job, you earn a paycheck, you earn results, etc. Even people on vacation don’t “deserve” a vacation – they earn it (hence most company’s policies towards 90 day probationary periods for new hires). Part of this “deserving” mindset may come from advertisements and commercials we see today – how many include the phrase “you deserve”?

Earning things in life is what makes life worthwhile. Things that are earned are much more valuable to the recipient than things that are taken for granted because they are “deserved”. Life is about the journey, not the destination. If it wasn’t challenging and didn’t require hard work and dedication, it wouldn’t be worth living. Approach life with a window mentality – earn everything you get and look to yourself to create the success you wish to have.

Real Hockey

Out on the road recruiting, you watch a lot of hockey. In a span of 48 hours this week, I saw approximately 13 hockey games. While the sport of hockey is fundamentally the same in all of these games, there are many different types of hockey being played. The type usually depends on the relative ability level of the two teams.

When they are far apart, the game often appears like the ice is tilted strongly in one direction. The puck is in one end for most of the game, and one team has a superior talent level and is able to showcase their offensive abilities. While this can be entertaining to watch, it is not a great game to scout players from.

Teams that are close together and have a high skill threshold tend to play a game that goes end to end, up and down the ice. There will be some physicality but it generally consists of grinding along the boards or rubbing guys out along the wall. This is a game that is good to watch to identify high skill level players.

Two teams that have a similar skating ability but slightly different puck skill levels will typically play a more physical type of game. One team will be the aggressor and finish all of their checks, while the other team will begin to do that to stay in the physical game.

When looking for college hockey players, I like to watch games with a physical component. It closely mirrors the college game and it forces teams and players to work for their ice. It requires patience, intelligence and poise with the puck, as well as skating and communicating without the puck. The mental toughness needed to succeed in these games translates well to the college level.

For me, grinding hockey is real hockey. It is a game played between two relatively evenly matched opponents who force the other to work and grind for every inch of ice and every opportunity. If you can succeed in a game like this, you may be well on your way to a career in college hockey.