This past weekend was a busy one. We had our first 3 in 3 of the season (3 games in 3 days). We played our first two home games on Friday and Saturday night against the Florida Everblades and finished the weekend in South Carolina for a game against the Stingrays on Sunday at 3:00. We won the first and lost the second game to Florida and won Sunday against SC. The win in SC on Sunday was a great character win for our group. It’s not ideal getting on the bus on Sunday morning at 7am after playing the night before, but the boys ‘found a way’ and made no excuses to earn the 2 points.
Since I’m on the topic of ‘3 in 3’s’ and busy weekends, I’ll tell you about my busiest weekend of my professional career. Conditions have presented themselves throughout my career that weren’t necessarily ideal. During my first pro season in 2010-11, I had an AHL contract with the Springfield Falcons. We did not have an ECHL affiliate that season, so I was loaned to the Reading Royals in January where I played 14 games. I was on the ice one morning, doing some extra work after the pregame skate at our practice rink in Reading, when our coach, Larry Courville called me off the ice and into the coaches’ room. He told me that my AHL rights had been traded to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He also told me that the Penguins wanted me to report and play for the Wheeling Nailers that evening…against the Reading Royals. I didn’t know how to react. It was a strange situation. I had never been traded. I really enjoyed my short time in Reading and playing for Larry. I also was really excited for the new opportunity and to play for my hometown (Pittsburgh Penguins) organization.
The game that night between Reading and Wheeling was in Johnstown, PA. Wheeling played a few home games there that season after the Chiefs left Johnstown. Reading was scheduled to get on the bus after our morning skate and take the 3.5 hour trip to Johnstown. Larry said I should probably just get on the Royal’s bus and go with them to the game...to play against the Royals. I reminded him that I had my car so I could drive to Johnstown. I quickly thanked Larry and the staff and said my goodbyes (or see you in a few hours) to the guys. I rushed over to the team apartment complex, packed my belongings. I didn’t have much time to spare. I quickly picked up a sandwich to go, granola bars and bananas which would be my pregame meal during my drive. Once I got on the road, I called my family to tell them that I had been traded. They were already planning on coming to the game in Johnstown, as it is only about an hour and a half away from Pittsburgh. I made it to Johnstown an hour and a half before the game. I met everyone ‘on the fly’ as I received a physical and unpacked my gear. The Pittsburgh Penguins organization at this time had a slew of injuries up top. The Nailers were short players as about half of their team was called up to the AHL.
As I put on my gear, I began talking to my new teammate sitting beside me. He told me that it was also his first game with the Nailers. I asked him where he was playing before the Nailers. His reply: “Nowhere, I coach a Squirt team here in Johnstown.” He also added that he hadn’t practiced at all so was a little nervous going into the game. We shared a laugh and he jokingly told me he could still finish. I told him to just hang out in the slot and I’d try my best to skate around and get him the puck. Once I stepped on the ice, I was reminded that I knew the entire opposing team but only knew a few guys’ names on my new team. Despite the depleted line-up, our team played hard that night and out-shot Reading. However, we lost 1-0 in a shootout.
After the game, I wasn’t sure if I should get in my car and follow the bus or leave it with my family and have one of them drive it back to Pittsburgh. As I waited to talk to our coach, I was greeted by Penguin’s Assistant General Manager, Jason Botterill. He told me that they needed me to play for the WBS Penguins the next night in Norfolk. He said that I would need to drive to Pittsburgh to catch my 8am flight. Luckily, my family was at the game. I walked out of the room with my hockey bag and sticks and told them the news. My brother in law decided to drive my car so that I could get some rest. We stopped at a small diner on the way to Pittsburgh. I was extremely hungry at this point after basically just eating snacks as my pregame meal. Once we finally arrived at my family’s home in Pittsburgh, I went to sleep. I woke up about two hours later for the airport. When I landed in Norfolk, I took a cab to the hotel where the team was having their pregame meal. I missed most of the players but got to meet most of the staff. After a few quick introductions, I ate as fast as I could so that I could get a quick nap in before the game. We won the game that night 2-1 in a shootout. As I walked towards the bus, I was pulled aside by our head coach, Coach Hynes, along with three others players on our team. He told us that we needed to play for Wheeling the next day in Trenton, NJ at 4pm. After the 6.5 hour bus trip from Norfolk to Wilkes-Barre, the four of us rushed to the hotel to get a couple hours of sleep. We quickly ate breakfast then rode in style in a limousine for Trenton. We lost that game 4-2. I remember thinking during the game that I could never tell myself that I was tired ever again. If I could play under these conditions, well, I should be able to play through anything. I played one more game with the WBS Penguins that season and then the last 20 with the Nailers plus playoffs. We had a great group of guys in Wheeling that season and we made it to the conference finals.
|This is my bunk during my first pro season with the Wheeling Nailers. The Nailers’ old iron lung only had about 13 bunks including this closet in the back of the bus that had half of a bunk mattress inside. I was just happy to not be sleeping on the floor…not bad for a rookie! I once woke up in the middle of the night with the door shut, laying in a pool of sweat. I couldn’t see or open the door from the inside. I am still scarred from the experience.|
Happy Halloween! Hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween weekend!
|Halloween 2013 with my boy, Corey Fienhage. He was my roommate with the Gladiators and with the Solar Bears. Earlier in October, we woke up at our apartment in Orlando to see his car sitting on cinder blocks. All four of his truck’s tires were stolen overnight. We dressed as the only people who we believed could have stolen the tires without us noticing, a NASCAR Pit Crew.|