The trade deadline is one of those days when you want your
phone to stay quiet. No news is good news on deadline day. I was at work at the
local ice rink in Indianapolis on the evening of the 2008 trade deadline. It
was about 10:00pm and I had just begun closing the pro shop for the night when
I felt my phone vibrate. I nervously checked
the caller ID: it was the team owner/GM-"Oh boy, here we go," I said to myself. He broke the news to me but ultimately let me
decide my own fate.
The Indiana Ice had added a few
players to the roster from Minnesota High School Hockey. Up north, the high school season was coming
to an end whereas ours was just getting interesting. USHL teams often add Minnesota players to
their rosters at the deadline to secure them for the playoffs and the following
season. These Minnesota boys can then be
protected for the following season without using a draft pick because they
ultimately finish the season on the roster.
But in turn, space has to be freed on the roster, which usually involves
players on the bubble, or over-agers like me at the time that are not be
eligible for another year of juniors due to age restrictions. I had seen this happen in my previous years
so it was not a huge shock to me that my phone was ringing on the deadline. USHL teams, like pro teams, are in the
business of winning games and shuffling players is part of the deal.
I had developed a good relationship
with the GM because of my long tenure in Indiana, so he was very open about my
options: stay and probably not dress another game due to the fact that some
skilled prospects from Minnesota were coming down soon, or take an offer from
an undisclosed team that wanted to add me for the playoff run. He couldn't tell me which team it was, but he
said they would make playoffs.
Considering I was on the number one team in the eastern conference, I
knew that if I left I would be risking a good chance at a league championship-yet
if I didn't dress another game, would a championship be bittersweet? On the other hand, I could pack up and play
for another playoff contender that had a guaranteed roster spot for me. As I considered my options, other emotions
began to tug at me.
I truly loved Indy-the organization,
my teammates, and my billet family. I had been fortunate to land there in 2005,
and had enjoyed two and a half great seasons.
As I contemplated my decision, I realized that it was my last season of
juniors, that I already had a college commitment, and that I would miss Indy
terribly if I left. At that point in my
junior career I wasn't playing for scouts anymore and I wasn't playing for a
roster spot the following year. I was
playing purely for my teammates and the chance to hoist the cup, and most
importantly, for the love of the game. Only two or three months (depending on
playoffs) remained in my junior career, and I felt that I was closer than ever
been to winning a championship in Indy. I
stood in the dark empty lobby of the ice rink staring blankly at my phone while
trying to organize my thoughts.
I was not
happy to do it, but I called my GM back and accepted the trade. He revealed the
team that had inquired about me and I was shocked. Omaha.
Our counterpart in the West that we were neck-and-neck with for the
regular season title. We had played them
in an extremely competitive weekend series two weeks earlier in which each team
emerged with an OT victory (and plenty of pushing and shoving after the whistle). In fact, there were 72 minutes in penalties
during the final game of the weekend. The good news for me was that Omaha was a top
contender and seemed like a pretty decent city.
I had some former Indy teammates who were currently playing for the University
of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and they gave me good reviews. When I spoke with the Omaha Lancers head coach,
Mike Hastings, later that night he laid out his expectations for the rest of
the regular season and playoffs, and I
was thrilled that he had created a roster spot for me and wanted to bring me
in. I told him I was in and we agreed to
meet in Omaha the following night.
family, girlfriend, and teammates were less than thrilled with the news. I had some tough conversations with all of
them that night. The other 3-year vets
were like brothers to me after all we had been through, and it did not seem
right for everything to come to such a sudden end. I had established a great life in Indy and I
was sad to leave earlier than expected, but I accepted the fact that junior
hockey was a business. The GM needed to
build the team for playoffs and the future, and I needed to play.
I was up late that night packing
the car and reflecting on my time there. My roommate, Ron Cramer, helped me pack, but
we packed quietly. He and my billets
were upset with the situation to a point where they were angry with the team. I was disappointed to leave my family and
teammates because I felt like I had earned my spot in Indiana and the chance to
win a cup after three years of dedication to the organization. Looking
back on that night, I think I may have handled it better than my roommate and
billets because I knew I would be back to visit sooner rather than later, but
it was still an emotional night nonetheless. Per the usual USHL schedule, Thursday
would be a travel day and Friday would be game day, except for the fact that I
would be driving alone on Thursday and putting on an orange and black Lancers
sweater for the weekend instead of the
blue and white of Indiana. [More to
follow next week in Part 2.]