jb utah smile

Re-post from my original, personal blog. Hope it helps you understand the nature of the pro hockey life for someone who isn’t rich and famous.

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My favourite call-up story:

As you probably know by now, I’m engaged to Clark Gillies Daughter, Brianna.

At the time of this story, I was playing for the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL (that’s me up above, shortly before my coach became the 64th one I’ve had tell me to smile less), and she was finishing her Masters at Stonybrook University (Long Island, NY), interning and taking classes to become an Occupational Therapist.  Finding time to be together was tough.

Coincidentally, my team had a homestand in Salt Lake City over Valentines Day – being that Bri was probably going to be said Valentine, she adjusted her schedule (read: skipped classes) to come out on the Friday, and booked her trip to return home on the Sunday.  Not a whole lotta time, but when you see each other once every Wayne Primeau goal, you take what you can get.

The best case scenario for me was to get called up and play in Bridgeport, which was a 70 minute drive from her parents place on Long Island.  My slow offensive start that year wasn’t exactly helping our cause.  But, I had started to pick it up, and we committed to a weekend together in Salt Lake City until Bridgeport needed a right winger… not that we were wishing for their bus to roll or anything (a horrible truth about playing in a farm system).

Her trip took her through Chicago and got to Salt Lake around nine PM, so I had gone to dinner with Jordy Hart, which is when she called.

“No complications or delays in Chicago, just boarding to get outta here babe!”

Beautiful.

I headed home to tidy the place, as is the standard panic move of a dude living with two other dudes whose previous dude places were dude dorms or with their parents.

About 30 minutes later and five minutes from my place, I got the call from our coach:

I was going up.

I was to drive to the rink, pack my gear, get home, pack a bag and some suits, and my flight was to leave at ten PM.  I’d get in to La Guardia around 4 AM EST or so, hop in the car they sent, and get driven the 90 minutes to Connecticut, either to a hotel, or to make the money-saving move of going directly to the rink for practice (where I was told I could sleep on the couch in the dressing room for a few hours).   ….Thanks.

Oh, and there was that one other minor complication:  Bri was still in the air.

And where had she departed from?  You guessed it:  La Guardia.  Well isn’t this special.

I was panicked.

I was plotting.

I did the only thing I could do – you can’t turn down a call-up.  I packed my stuff up, and headed to the airport.  I bought her a one-way flight (thank god there were seats) on my flight (annnnd then I was broke), and waited for her to land.

By the time her flight landed and she made it off, it was 9:15 – 45 minutes ’til her return flight, and there I was – hockey bag, sticks, duffle bag, suit bag, and holding her ticket.  No long awaited run and hug.  Minimal smiling.  My travel-weary, bummed out girlfriend cried.

But I mean… this is a good thing… right?

We flew through the night to La Guardia, and Bri wasn’t willing to give up on our weekend.  Almost 24 hours later, she arrived with me at the hotel, where we dropped our stuff off, and I carried on to the rink, taking the only ride I could get, the sent car.

At least when the weekend was over, I’d still be close by, right?

I barely had time to see Bri over the next day or so before she had to head home, but we were happy because I’d be close.  A week later, I travelled with Bridgeport to Portland (Maine), so Bri wasn’t able to drive up on the weekend, but we had made plans for her to come up after work the following Monday.

After the Portland game, we were standing in line at Tim Hortons, grabbing a snack for the road. I was ahead of coach Jack Capuano in the line, when this conversation happens:

Boahny (Boston accent for Bourny) – Yoah goin’ t’ the ahll-stahh game tomorrow, aight?  When we get back, yoah flights at seven outta La Guahdia, the cah will pick you up just aftah three.”  Yup, A.M.

Oh.  OH.  Okay….”  *thinking* “Was that just weirdest send-down ever?“  I had a hunch I wasn’t being flown back to Bridgeport after the game.  I was right.

The ECHL all-star game was in Stockton, California – not so close to New York, for you geography buffs.  After the full day of travel, I was the last guy to arrive.  Some of the players were fully dressed for the skills competition, taking place in 20 minutes – that’s how tight my cross-continent adventure was.  I was gonna have to bust it to get my gear on in time for this thing to start.

I literally didn’t even know:  What effing event am I in?

I checked the schedule, hoping for a little time to warm up and a little information about what I was to be doing.  And there is was, in 17 minutes:

FIRST EVENT, 7:00 START
PUCK HANDLING/AGILITY SKATE

FIRST UP:  JUSTIN BOURNE