By Pete Ehmke
The State Newspaper
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Imagine coming in to work one day and being told you were being let go from the only career you had ever known.
Next imagine that the only other job opportunity for you exists 1,485 miles away.
Finally, try imagining that after you drove 1,485 miles in just over 24 hours being told “Oops, never mind, your services aren’t needed”.
Columbia, meet John Longo.
At the end of October, Longo was skating for the Toledo Storm when he was told that he was being released. With the NHL lockout, the Storm, an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, had an overflow of players and Longo found himself the victim of roster economics.
“We had close to 40 guys competing for spots in training camp,” Longo said. “For whatever reason it didn’t work out and I found myself having to search for a new team and the timing for finding a new team was not ideal.”
Longo found jobs hard to come by due to the season already being underway. After calling various teams and coaches, the 24-year old forward thought he had found a home in Lubbock, Texas. Longo, hoping to secure a position with the Lubbock Cotton Kings of the Central Hockey League, hopped in his car and headed to the Texas panhandle. He arrived in Lubbock only to be told by head coach Chris Dashney that there had been a “miscommunication” and that there were no available roster spots with the Cotton Kings.
Longo’s heart plunged down in his stomach. A native of Trumbull, Connecticut and a graduate of the University of Vermont, Longo always knew the day would come where hockey would no longer be an option. However the scrappy forward had envisioned that day to be years in the future, certainly not now.
So as he packed his things and planned the 1,917 mile trek back to Trumbull, Longo made one last phone call to his old college roommate hoping for a place to stay and a friendly ear on the way back home.
Forward Bryson Busniuk glanced down at his cell phone.
The 24-year old forward was in his first year with the Columbia Inferno after playing last season with the Greensboro Generals. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native was hardly surprised when the caller ID flashed the number of Longo. Roommates their freshman year of college, the two players relationship went through the metamorphosis from teammates to surrogate brothers over their four years at the University of Vermont.
“We probably talk a couple of times a week. In college I would spend Thanksgiving and the holidays with his family instead of making the trip back to Canada.” Busniuk explained. “When he told me (about Lubbock) I told him I would try and help him any way I can. I just didn’t think it would wind up being here.”
Busniuk invited Longo to stop in Columbia on his way back home. The forward told Longo that he would be more than happy to introduce him to the team’s head coach, Scott White, but fell short of making any promises regarding his friends future.
Three days later, Longo arrived in Columbia unsure of his future in or out of hockey. True to his word, Busniuk set up a meeting for his friend with coach White. The Inferno head coach chatted with Longo for a few minutes, telling the young forward he would keep his ears open for any openings in the ECHL.
The following night, after a lackluster 3-2 loss to the South Carolina Stingrays in Charleston, coach White told Busniuk to call his friend and tell him to be prepared for a physical; he would expect him at the arena the next morning.
Just Like Old Times
Longo arrived at the Carolina Coliseum the next morning not knowing what to expect. After passing his physical, the young forward joined his new teammates on the ice for a pre-game skate before that night’s game against the Pee Dee Pride.
“My pre-game skate was the first time I had been out on the ice in almost a week,” Longo said of his first time meeting his new teammates. “My legs were tired but I was so wired on adrenaline, to be on the ice again was just awesome.”
“I had the benefit of meeting a couple of the guys the night before but most them I didn’t know. But that’s the nature of minor league hockey, you always have guys coming and going. It is a little like being the new kid in school.”
Coach White attempted to ease Longo’s transition by pairing his newest acquisition on the same line with his old roommate. The newest member of the Inferno responded by scoring two goals in his first game, helping Columbia to a 3-0 victory over the Pride.
While happy with his Inferno debut, Longo is not taking his reunion with Busniuk for granted. Having already overcome being released twice this hockey season, Longo hopes Columbia will be the last stop on what has turned into a 3,000 mile job hunt.
“I am happy just to get a spot on the team and have the opportunity to show what I can do.” Longo said.
“I know I still have to prove myself to this organization but hopefully the bad luck is behind me and I can make some good things happen. If nothing else the chance to play with (Bryson) again means something good has come out of those 3,000 miles.”
Over a month later, Longo is still with the Inferno, getting ready to spend the holidays with his old friend Busniuk for yet another year. The forward has scored five points in nine games for the Inferno as the Inferno have won eight of their past 10 games heading into the weekend.