By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – To make ends meet, most ECHL players find it necessary to get a job in the offseason.
Some coach youth hockey camps back in their hometowns. Some work construction. Matt York wears a gun and defends the peace in Ludington, Mich.
York, a rookie for the Gwinnett Gladiators, works for the lakefront city’s police department during the summer.
From October to April (or later, if he’s lucky), York pursues the dream of playing hockey at its highest level. For the months in between, York does the job that will sustain him long after his playing days are done.
York got his bachelor’s in law enforcement from Ferris State University in three years. That degree certified York to be a police officer. But that certification expires after a year if he isn’t on the job.
“So I needed to find a place that would hire me for the summer so that I could go back to school and finish my fourth year of hockey,” York said.
“Then I got my master’s degree while I was there,” the 25-year-old Detroit native said casually.
Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle looked up from his desk at the comment and was impressed.
“You got your master’s, too?” Pyle said. “That’s pretty good.”
“It was tough with hockey, but it’s worth it now that I’m done with it,” said York, who Pyle recently moved from defense to forward due to callups. “And it was all paid for.”
A smart man — and one who knows himself pretty well.
When he was playing junior hockey, York took a few college courses and entered Ferris State with 15 credits.
“Then my first summer I stayed up there, took some extra classes,” he said. “So I had that choice of either taking it really slow and not having hardly any classes or picking it up, taking 20, 21 credits a semester and getting it in three.
“I just figured I’m there, I might as well get it done. I think it actually, it helps me out when I don’t have free time. When I have something I have to do, it kind of keeps me on track.”
Which leaves him a little at loose ends here where hockey is his only responsibility.
He certainly plays the game with abandon.
York came to the team as a defenseman, recruited by Pyle and encouraged to come by another Ferris State alum, Troy Milam.
“I had played with a few people that played here, (Mike) Vigilante, (Phil) Lewandowski and all of them said Jeff’s a great guy, a great guy to play for,” York said.
The past three months have done nothing to dissuade York from that. Even when Pyle asked him to change positions.
When Brad Schell was called up to the American Hockey League earlier this month, Pyle was again short on forwards. He had already moved defenseman Steve Slaton up, with excellent results.
“I saw him forecheck a couple times,” Pyle said. “I used him up front when he was on D. When I needed him, he looked good. So I figured, let’s test this out and see what he’s got.”
Pyle put York on a checking line with gritty forwards Adam Smith and captain Cam Brown. It took a game or two for the line to find its rhythm, but it’s there now and paying off for the Gladiators.
York assisted on Smyth’s first goal in more than a month (a game-winner against Charlotte last Saturday) and his intensity in the offensive zone has caused havoc for the opposition.
On Monday against Columbia, York blasted up the wing and was taken down as he slid through the crease on a scoring opportunity. Columbia was tagged for holding and Gwinnett got two minutes with a man advantage.
“I don’t think other teams really expect my line to dominate like that in the offensive zone and I think we’ve taken some teams by surprise,” York said.
It’s one of a myriad of ways York is helping the Gladiators maintain their position near the top of the league’s standings.
“He wins faceoffs, he knows defensively what to do because it’s automatic there,” Pyle said. “It’s kind of a little diamond in the rough there. You take a chance. You know he’s going to get dirty all the time, that’s what you want.
“With him, Brownie and Smitty, I’d hate to play against those guys every shift. They shut teams down and bang on them — there’s going to be some long nights for some teams.”
York is not unaccustomed to playing up front. As a teenager playing junior hockey, York was a forward.
“One of my coaches just thought I had a better chance of moving on as a defenseman and so I went back,” York said.
Since York earned a scholarship to play defense for a premier collegiate hockey program and a job in the professional ranks, his old coach wasn’t wrong.
Now York’s ability to return to his former position has greatly benefited the Gladiators.
“It’s all hockey, it’s just different types of it,” York said. “I don’t really have a preference — just whatever is going to keep me on the ice.”
And it will, at least until the summer when he’ll head back to Ludington, where the population triples in the summer because of the city’s location on the shore of Lake Michigan.
“It’s just nice,” York said. “If I wasn’t there, they would have to retrain someone every summer.
“It’s beneficial for both of us because they don’t have to retrain me, I can step right in where I ended last summer, and it’s beneficial for me because I keep my certification and it’s a summer job.”
One that’s a little different than most.