By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – After three years in the same city, Sean Venedam began to get the itch.
Sure. Life was good in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he toiled for the always competitive Komets in the United Hockey League.
And, yes, Venedam was a big part of the success over the past three seasons, including a league championship in 2002-03.
But the itch just wouldn’t go away.
For Venedam, a career in minor league hockey is an opportunity to explore. A vehicle to allow him to enjoy the journey of life.
This past summer, it was time to take that journey to a new destination, which wound up being Bakersfield.
“I thought the ECHL would be a good change,” he said. “As far as picking a team, I sent out seven or eight resumes to teams on the West Coast. I wanted to come to the West and get a taste of this, the experience out here.”
It didn’t take Condors coach Marty Raymond long to respond to the resume. After all, Venedam was coming off a career-high 39 goals, had won the UHL defensive forward award in a previous season and had scored nearly a point per game (500 points in 555 games) over an eight-plus year pro career.
‘He’s all character, a great professional and he’s a pretty damn good player,” Raymond said of Venedam, who is the team captain. “A guy like that is great to lead your team.”
Undrafted despite an impressive junior career with his hometown team — the Sudbury, Ontario, Wolves — Venedam figured he’d give minor pro hockey a try and see where it led.
It’s been a journey he doesn’t regret.
He played 13 games in the American Hockey League right after completing junior play, thanks mostly to a former junior coach who was with the Adirondack (N.Y.) Red Wings, and began his first full season the following year with Toledo in the ECHL.
The next stop was Greenville, S.C., where he spent three seasons, finishing there with an ECHL title in 2001-02.
“I would have liked to stay in Greenville, but it was a situation where the owner was going in a different direction,” Venedam said. “They were trying to cut costs.”
That’s when Venedam hooked up with his old coach from Toledo, Greg Puhalski, in Fort Wayne.
Traveling with Venedam on his journey is his wife, Jenny, who he said actually affords him the opportunity to play hockey and pick and chose his playing locations.
“My wife is a registered nurse and able to work in the states,” he said. “I’m fortunate she could get a job wherever we went. Family is very important. From Day 1 it had to be good for her as much as it was good for me.
“If my wife wasn’t a registered nurse I don’t think I’d be here talking to you today. It makes it easy for us to go different places. It’s not hard to pick up and leave. We’re in this together and we enjoy every place we go.”
Now Venedam is enjoying the weather in Bakersfield (“It was a little cold in Fort Wayne,” he noted) and a different style of play. UHL teams are allowed seven veteran players while the ECHL limit is four veterans.
“It’s definitely a little slower,” Venedam said of the UHL, “but a little more controlled. The players are a little older, a little more experienced and I think they move the puck a little better. They can read situations a little better and it’s not as hard hitting so you can play a little longer.”
And the ECHL?
“Here, I like to call it controlled chaos. You do have some young guys that are fast and looking to move up to the next level and they play all over the ice.”
That’s even a change from Venedam’s first four years in the ECHL.
“It’s a lot quicker, a lot harder hitting,” he said. It seems like guys go out of their way to finish a check which is a good thing. It’s a younger league, a bigger league. I think the play has definitely picked up.”
Venedam said his role has also changed over the years and now, at age 29, he is looked to as a leader.
It’s a role he relishes.
“You want to help these young guys improve and move on,” he said. “They are the nucleus and corps of your hockey club. We have more young guys than old guys. You want to help your young guys get better and progress as the season goes on (so) that will improve your chance of winning hockey games.”
For Venedam, the role is a rite of passage.
“We’ve all been in their boots before,” he said of the young players. “I remember when I first came up there was always an older guy who took me under his wing and kind of helped out. As an older guy I understand my role is not only on the ice but off the ice as well.”