Hey fellas just wanted to throw out a little intro prior to you reading this. I am a new blogger for The Morning Skate. This is hopefully just a little taste of what I’ll have to offer you readers.
Intro to my Shit Life and Youth Hockey
You know what’s better than signing your entry level contract? Waking up at four thirty every morning to hop on a piece of shit delivery truck and handle dirty clothes, bar towels, rugs, aprons, you name it. If it’s fucking dirty, I touch it. Not really what comes to mind when you think of filthy hands, at least not for me. I work for a linen company called _______ and I simply go around all day and deliver clean goods and pick up the dirty ones to be cleaned and serviced back at our plant. Like I said, clearly much more appealing than signing that entry level deal.
Reading the first paragraph you’re probably like, “okay sick buds, what the fuck does this have to do with hockey?” Totally understandable, but I am trying to lay the foundation of how quickly of a zero you become when hockey is gone. The highlight of my “hockey life” now is skating Friday night at the Cicero Twin Rinks. The guys that skate there are like fifty years plus. This rink is significant however and I figured I would use it as a transition into the meat and potatoes.
I’ll skip my punk ass extremely early hockey days. It’s a typical story, small town kid in a terrible hockey town made his way to really good travel hockey. Cool bro no one cares about your dumb small town. So let’s zip forward. Holy shit I made my way on to the Syracuse Stars 92 AAA team. Some parents don’t just suck dick for their kids to be on this team, they swallow. During parts of this I will use some details that may seem like the ass hole “humble brag” but I promise you they are far from that. The only reason I may say a person’s name or what team they were on or are currently on is so you can get a fraction of the feeling I have every morning at four thirty when I wake up and ask myself, “what the hell happened Howie?”
As you may be starting to see, the beginning of my story is much more exciting than the end, so I guess just enjoy it now. This team was absolutely insane, as squirts we took second in the state tournament, big fucking deal. Well from there we just got better. This team was stacked, by the time we hit Pewees we won states and made it to nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska. Far cry from Sandy Creek, New York, graduating class of 68 people. So there we lost in the semi finals, 8-0 to the LA Hockey Club. Hockey in LA!? Yeah hockey in LA. Ever heard of Matt Nieto and Emerson Etem? If you haven’t, check them out on the “I used to play with studs database”.
Can’t believe I made my parents buy me Eagle Gloves
Another amazing story from Pewees was the Quebec Pewee World’s tournament. All I can say is this was the most memorable experience of my life. This was a tournament with some of the best teams in the world. We played a team from Russia, Switzerland, and Czech Republic. Damn Russians were like smoking cigs in the parking lot with their parents while they were chugging vodka, no fucking joke. The arena we played in was the old Nordiques rink the Colisee. When I say thousands of people were there, I mean it. There was probably close to 10k at some of the games. I remember scoring a goal on a face off play, I got it just to the left of the slot and buried one five hole, classic d man. Place fucking erupted and so did my heart. I will never forget the boys just swallowing me up along the glass as the building’s roof blew off, or so it felt like. Mike Zalewski was the center who won the draw on this play. He played in the BCHL and then went to RPI. He is in the Vancouver Canucks farm system and has played 6 NHL games with two apples. Currently in a European league I believe with his brother Steve. Not too shabby. Pewees were pretty damn successful for the Stars, a state title, bronze at nationals, and a quarterfinal finish at the Pewee World’s (damn Czech’s). Life was great and getting better.
Bantam hockey is when kids start to grow into adults somewhat in the hockey world. Speaking of grown men, the Toronto Junior Canadians were grown men. This team was so stacked it should have been illegal. At one point we beat them in a round robin of a tournament. They smacked us up in the finals though 5-2. Dudes on this team included Jeff Skinner, Tyler Toffoli, John McFarland, Chase Balisy, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Ryan O’Connor. This was literally the best AAA team in the world for a long time. Just thought I would throw that out there to give you an idea of additional studs that my dog shit career path crossed. Anyways back to the Stars. Well another state title fell into our laps. By bantams we had kids from Maryland, Florida, and North Carolina move to the area to play for our team. What the hell!? We were like fourteen years old and these families were moving. This was insane to me but damn who gave a shit our team was sick, but yet again though we get bounced from nationals…by the LA Hockey Club…in the semifinals.
My youth career was out of this world, I was so lucky to play hockey with some of the best players in North America. Whether it be on outrageously stacked summer squads like the East Coast Selects, or just playing for my regular season team the Syracuse Stars.
I was blessed to have been selected to two of the National Development Select Fest camps or whatever the hell you’d like to call it. This was dope because you could eat endless cocoa puffs at breakfast, shit my mom never let me eat. I remember being on a team with Nick Bjugstad and I just was in shock how big and how well he moved with and without the puck. The kid was a stud at like fourteen. I was just pumped to be there probably rocking a Magic Johnson jersey with some strange colored shorts, but these kids were like machines. I was always an outcast when it came to hockey, no one in my family before me played. I somewhat felt like I wasn’t quite yet a man but Bjugstad will do that to just about anybody when you’re fourteen and the kid was like 6’2’’ or some shit. Those camps were literally the cream of the crop and I couldn’t believe I landed there. One presentation they gave us was describing how statistics show only 2 out of the 200 kids would have NHL careers. The other 198? Well go fuck yourself buds. Maybe some will go AHL or KHL, shit maybe even the East Coast League, not bad. But what they didn’t tell you is what was to come for the bottom half of that 200. I found out in what felt like a blink of an eye. At one of the regional camps for the Select Fest before the games even began on the weekend you would have like a Friday night skate, just a warm up with some drills. But this camp was all about impressing scouts. So what did I do, I did what I knew how to do, hit. I stepped up and smoked a kid in a one on one drill. Classic open ice bundle, it was great except for the fact that I absolutely ruined my back that day. Went straight to the locker room and my dad came down and I literally couldn’t move. Guess who didn’t lace up the skates the rest of the weekend, me. Goodbye 15 year old select fest. Oh well Juniors was just around the corner and I couldn’t wait.
Pack a fucking lip and hit the bus you schmelt, here comes Junior Hockey. Sick I couldn’t wait, mainly because I hated my god damn coach because he was a political dick sucking type of guy. Well lucky me, he became our Junior B coach in the Empire Junior B Hockey League. What a sick league full of bearded twenty year olds. I remember it like it was yesterday playing at Natty’s at the New England Sports Complex. FUCKING LEGENDARY rink by the way. I was on the bench and a kid from the New Hampshire Monarchs had an unreal ginger beard, I sat from the bench calling him dad, asking him when we were going on our family trip. He thought it was pretty fun showing a little smirk. Well Natty’s didn’t work out for us this time either. We failed to make it out of the round robin, classic. However that summer I got invited to play for team Central at the Empire State Games. This was literally the Olympics for New York. It was actually pretty insane. Got to have a ceremony just like they do wearing our different colored sweat suits to signify which region we came from. Central came out to the song Walk It Out by Unk, #hoodrich. Our team was yet again stacked, most of us were from that 92 AAA stars team. We went undefeated and won the gold medal. Pretty legit. I actually played pretty damn good and got a few letter packages in the mail from some Division 1 schools like RIT and Quinnipiac. I was pumped, but that’s about all I was. Those turned in to absolutely nothing so don’t get excited, I sure wish I didn’t.
Yeah I played Juniors buds.
Here comes the spiral downward for good ol’ Cooner. I rotted for two more years playing Jungle B. My third season I played like 20 games maybe. I quit hockey for the most part my senior year because I knew I deserved better and should have been able to play for the Junior A team but guess who fucking got promoted to that position after my first year of Junior B? You guessed it, and if you haven’t noticed by now I didn’t have the best relationship with coach dick stain. I got a call with like half a season left from the Junior B coach and he told me to come play for free so I said fuck it. Cool that season was lame, not much competition and I just got worse at hockey. The two years I played Junior B after my first year did absolutely nothing for my progression as a player. All of my buddies from my unreal AAA team were on the Junior A team but I wasn’t. Damn dad you could have sucked a little more dick and maybe I wouldn’t be typing this right now. Well my dad was a heavy drinker and not much a coach’s butt buddy so they clearly were best friends, not. Rotted away playing Junior B, sweet bro. Not that there is anything wrong with it, I truly don’t mean to look down on anyone, but when you’re deserving of a spot on a team and you’re a real hockey player who doesn’t just think that, you know it, then it stings and makes you hate the sport that much more. Grinded out senior year like any other schmuck playing Junior B when you’re 17 (by the way if you’re 17 playing Junior B, hang em up, just saying) and then came summer. I decided to continue chasing the dream, you know the one where you have to sift through dirty bar towels and aprons to separate them and to your surprise you see a lovely family of maggots you don’t want to disturb? Yeah that dream.
Quick side note, I played high school hockey as well as junior hockey which I recommend no one to do. Drove an hour to junior practice and then an hour home to step on the ice for a high school game at 7:30. DUMBBBBBBB. But high school hockey was cool all my friends came to watch. Little did they know that me playing Center and leading the league in points was a joke and far from reality when it came to legit hockey. I am a stay at home defenseman who threw big hits, extremely far from a goal scorer. But whatever, high school hockey was dope, I was a big deal there and I was the only one at my high school my junior and senior year to play on the team. My team consisted of FIVE different schools to make up the team. Like I said, far from legit hockey.
I’m a high school grad not knowing where my hockey career was going. Lucky for me I found myself in a meeting with Oswego States head coach just to discuss what a good route for me was in order to get good looks from college programs. He referred me to a league which at the time was called the Central Junior Hockey League or the CJ. So I went to tryouts for this team called the Nepean Raiders. I got a call back to go play two exhibition games with them towards to middle to end of August. I played really good in these two games, my first shift against the Kingston Voyageurs I absolutely blew a kid up at center ice when his d man gave him a stretch breakout pass. All was good, after the second game I signed my first and last hockey contract. I was a Raider, sick.
Harrow sticks what a blessing
That year was absolutely miserable for me, shocker. I was constantly hurt and in and out of the lineup due to it. My prior back problem, yeah that only got worse. I also fucked up my shoulder in the second exhibition game I was telling you about. Damn thing would pop in and out of socket for some reason and I couldn’t hold a stick once it happened. So I ended up playing like 40 games that year. Not awful for my first year of Junior A. This league was fucking stacked too. The year I played there a kid name Matthew Peca got drafted out of it and now plays for the Crunch, kind of insane. The team I played on had some unreal players too. One d man Ryan Johnston plays for the Canadians farm team I believe and another guy named Buddy Robinson is with the Senators organization. Together they have 17 NHL games, meanwhile I scored one goal in the CJ haha. Being injured a lot my drive to play was shot. I made the team by being physical and moving the puck, but at this point my coach called me into his office and told me I was playing like a pussy. No shit I was, I could barely stand on skates my back was so fucked, I didn’t want to touch a fly. Well here comes more great news, last regular season game we’re playing the Kemptville 73’s and there is like a minute left. When you’re the third d pairing and your team is winning, you get that lovely garbage time. This is the fucking absolute worst. Guess who is on the ice usually during this garbage time? Ding Ding Ding you guessed it, most likely the other team’s third or fourth line if it’s a blowout. All these dudes were grown ass men that were big as shit trying to go D1. So just imagine what a fourth line might look like in Canadian Junior A hockey. I’m like a tick under six foot and luckily then I was like 200lbs but still, dudes were like 6’4’’ and yolked. So here I am retrieving a puck behind the net and this monster comes barreling around the other side of the net at me. I quickly move the puck up the wall and go to throw the cold shoulder into him. We both dropped on our asses but I felt a lovely pop. Survey says…SEPERATED SHOULDER. Good bye playoff hockey. Went back to the states to get it looked at. Was really looking forward to playing in the playoffs and becoming a pk guy the coaches could lean on (insert crying laughing emoji here), hopefully gaining trust and grounds for more playing time next season. But whatever I went back next season…just kidding, I said fuck it, bye bye career, HELLO COMMUNITY COLLEGE!
Community College Ride, Club Hockey Fall
My body was so fried I pretty much just decided to hang up my skates. But in high school I got a visit from a scout who watched me play a few games. This school remained in the back of my mind when I was at home trying to figure out what the fuck to do and sure enough I made the phone call. Ironic thing about this was when this scout came to one of my high school games I took the pamphlet he gave me and chuckled while tossing it in the trash. Holy tits that was karma in the truest form.
Pack your bags you’re going to Rochester kid, this is what would sound like a cool junior hockey quote, but instead it’s just what played in my head when I realized I was now going to community college to play hockey. I had no idea what to expect, I figured dudes would be wearing rental skates with wrist guards and I could just cruise around and enjoy scoring a million goals. Well that didn’t happen either. Junior College isn’t exactly where studs go to play hockey like they might do in baseball or football, but damn our team was actually really good and I don’t know how. I thought I would be the only loser there that was any good but our whole team was losers who were good. Literally a team full of degenerate all stars. Mom, I’m home. This is the feel good part of my story, I guess you could call it that. Going to Monroe Community College was the best, worst decision I have ever made. Should I have gone back and played two more years at Nepean? Without a god damn doubt, the next two years the Raiders were filthy and who knows how I could have done. Classic line right? Whatever MCC was honestly two of the best years I will ever have in my life. My freshman year our team was insane. We went like 25-4 and ended up winning a national championship. FINALLY a damn ring. Thing is so damn fat. But the best part is, I have never played on a team with such great guys, honestly. These dudes were fucking animals and I loved every minute of it. The whole team was united and that played a huge part in us winning the first year, by united I mean we raged like crazy. Not to get stereotypical hockey guy on you, but the group of guys from that year could never be replicated in any way. It was the biggest group of beauties that I think the hockey world has ever seen, I promise you if you were on that team it would have been the best year of your hockey career, minus a Stanley Cup. We had kids from all over the states on that team as well as from western and central Canada and Sweden. We were literally a D3 team stuck in JUCO (Junior College). The second year a new crop of freshman came in and they were okay, nothing like the first year but we still had a good core group of returning players. We rode such a high from winning nationals the prior year I don’t think anyone really cared all that much about the second year. We ended up losing to the team we beat the prior year in the finals. It was a really bitter sweet way to end my career at MCC. Bitter because we lost, but sweet because my freshman year’s team is the only team in school history to win a national title. So that was pretty fucking awesome, but then comes another spiral.
So there I was, at the hockey house sitting next to the boys playing Mario Kart and crushing beers, with my laptop trying to email D3 coaches. Just trying to find someone to give me a sniff of Division III. I think only one kid from our freshman year team went on to play D3 and that was Dan Turgeon, he ripped it up at Buff State. Can you believe it!? A Coon finally made it to D3 hockey…yeah my fucking sister went to Postdam. FUCK. At that point I knew I was a no body but still wanted to do something respectable since my childhood hockey career and present hockey career didn’t really align too well. I emailed every single Division 3 school in New York State, not even a fucking sniff. I would get hammered and just talk to the boys about how badly Cooner just wanted to play D3 haha. My coach told me Canton was interested, well I was not, to say the least. They weren’t a true D3 school at the time and played some independent schedule. I wasn’t about to live in Canton, New York and play somewhat fake D3 hockey. That is by no means offense to anyone who has or does play at Canton by the way. If they had been a true D3 school at the time with a legit league and schedule I would have in a heartbeat, but they had shit on their schedule like Mercyhurst Club team, which they lost to at one point. The best email I got back was from one of the best D3 programs in the country, Oswego State. The coach told me that I was more than welcome to come skate and try to “walk on”. He just let me know that if I was just as good or worse than someone they already had then there was no sense wasting a spot on me, which is 100% understandable. So I had it in my head that I was going to go there and beat someone out of a spot on the team just by working hard and grinding. Remember that whole spiraling downward thing? Yeah my hockey career was basically nothing but a continuously flowing toilet.
Oswego State. Boom I am here, going to try and make the D3 team. But I still wanted to be able to play hockey if something went wrong here. So I had to try out for the club team. Well first day of club tryouts was a Friday. It was three days long and absolutely boring as shit. First day I got annoyed with how awful it was, so what do I do, try and light kids up. Well I did that and sure enough fucked my back up. I skated the Saturday skate but not Sunday and by Monday morning I was laying on my mom’s living room floor in so much pain I couldn’t get up to go to class. Yayyyy! Another dream crushed because I’m a loser. I finally went to get an MRI of my back, it just you know took me six years to go do it. Sure enough I walk in and the doctor takes out my medical records or whatever and shows me I have two herniated disks, nerve damage, and arthritis. Guess what I didn’t do that year…play D3. Instead I waited for my back to get better and played fucking club. The reason I say it that way is not because club hockey is bull shit, I say it that way because what I had left of a redemption tour on the Coon train was yet again derailed and I was stuck settling for something less than I aimed for.
Mom’s rode the bus with us and packed sandwiches. My coach I shit you not at one point in the season at the hotel says to me, “It’s just like youth hockey again ain’t it Cooney!?” I wanted nothing more than to just walk my ass back to Oswego at that point. I stormed back to my room and rifled through half a can of Cope, spitting into a hotel glass, compliments of Dan Going. Yes it was exactly like youth hockey except my youth hockey team was fucking unreal. This was a joke. Some club teams were filthy, we were ughhhh….yeah. So we got bounced our first game of playoffs and the year was over thank god. I’m so not playing next year, screw that. Well I did of course but thankfully we fired that coach. Best part of club hockey is the players actually can do whatever they want. Bye buds see ya never. So we hired this guy from Rochester. Real smooth talker, didn’t know shit about hockey. Greeeatttttttt. Another miserable fucking year and another bounced early from playoffs. By this point I was so god damn happy to be done. I was the captain of a team where kids were smoking weed at rest stops and the coaches weren’t on the bus. One game, kids were late for a bus to Rochester so I told them they were scratched because it was getting close to game time and coach was nowhere to be seen. He shows up with like 5 minutes to warmups and totally removes any balls I have. Tells those kids to get dressed and re submits the lineup. No one knew who was and who wasn’t playing until then. I had to make a god damn lineup! What a joke. So as you can imagine I hated my fucking life at Oswego, I was 21/22 and playing with kids who were fresh out of high school who just wanted to smoke weed and be late for the bus. Far cry from Junior A. Oswego, New York is where I finally laid my hockey career to rest. I kind of regret that is where I played my last game, I actually would have been better with just calling it good after MCC. I became such a dog shit hockey player at Oswego it was honestly kind of sad. Looking back my fourteen year old version of myself would have kicked my ass. Luckily retirement is much better than club hockey at Oswego.
Pitchers, toe drags, and chicken tenders. Boy oh boy Friday nights are literally made for me. If hockey ever comes full circle for you as it as me you will be astonished. The rink I grew up playing in, the rink that had my two state championship banners hung up in with my name just under kids like Shane Prince, Mike Zalewski, Joe Wilson, Andy Ilse, etc., is now the rink I slam $9 pitchers of Molson pregame at and where I am called Connor McDavid by my buddies in Men’s League. Hilarious I know and by no means do I feel good about it, but it’s fun to just catch a buzz and go skate on the same ice that as a kid I thought was going to lead me to the NHL. Even more amazing is the fact that my first time going to skate at this Men’s League on Friday I walk into the locker room where my team is assigned and I shit you not my best friend growing up as a hockey player for the Stars was in a dead stare with me. My buddy Billy and I were inseparable as kids playing for the 92 team, mainly because our parents got along well because we were both lower middle class families who just happened to cross paths with dads that chugged beers. But regardless, now Billy and I skate together on Friday and it just gives me a little piece of my childhood back when I used to be something.
It’s crazy how when we were little kids there were always names thrown around the hockey circle of who was a stud and blah blah blah. Now when I come to the rink it is mainly talk about how shitty work was that week or how a guy is happy to be out of the house. Simple stuff like this. It’s actually kind of nice just to go to the rink and not have to worry about the “Howie kid” being something special. I’m just another guy in line waiting for a beer now and I am completely fine with that. That being said, I am still waiting for my name to be called at the draft and I am still waiting to put pen to paper on my entry level deal.