By Gary Hawkins
Kennebec Journal / Morning Sentinel
Farmingdale’s Ben Gray began Tuesday’s 15-hour bus ride from Valley City, Utah to Victoria, British Columbia without complaint.
The former all-state goaltender from St. Dominic Regional High School in Auburn is on his third professional hockey stop this year and loving every second of it.
“Next year I hope not to be sent around so much,” Gray said. “I know I’m not a rookie and I’m not the only one it happens to.”
Gray, 24, has waited awhile for his chance. Following his graduation from St. Dom’s in 2001, he attended Lebanon Valley College but left after a year. He tried out for a professional team a couple of years ago but went nowhere because of the NHL lockout. And he missed last season following a double hernia operation.
He nearly gave up this fall after a tryout with the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL.
“It is discouraging getting cut from a tryout,” Gray said. “Family and friends kept pushing me not to give up. Thank God it’s finally paid off here.”
Gray was about to accept a coaching job with the Maine Moose hockey team in Hallowell when he got a call from Pensacola.
Joe Clark, the head coach and Gray’s uncle, needed a goalie in a hurry. Gray boarded a plane and two days later was between the pipes.
“We had Ben in training camp and he surprised a lot of people,” Clark said. “He’s a good goalie.”
Gray played 11 straight games upon his arrival, going 4-7 for the struggling Ice Pilots. Clark said the Pilots may have burned Gray out but they had no goalies and no choice at the time.
“He got a couple of big road wins,” Clark said.
The 6-foot-5 and 220-pound Gray also had equipment problems. His 38-inch pads didn’t arrive and he was forced to wear 35-inch pads a few games.
“I was getting hit in the knees on a daily basis,” Gray said.
Gray was traded to the Cincinnati Cyclones, the North Division’s top team and an affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, and went 2-1-0 there before he was moved to the Utah Grizzlies at the trading deadline. He has yet to play for Utah, but with 12 games remaining, expects to see a few starts on the current road trip.
Gray stayed in shape but nothing prepared him for the daily grind of professional hockey. He faced 53 shots in his first game, not an unusual occurrence in an offensive-minded league where goal scorers get promoted.
Gray plans to attend a pro camp next summer and work on the footwork and quickness “I’ve lost over the last two years,” he said. For now, though, there’s nothing like a 15- hour bus ride.
“I give him credit,” Clark said. “He’s never given up.”