A taste of success: Making it back to the pros

Dan LaCosta, who played in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets, still hopes to make it back to the pros. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Dan LaCosta paces alone around the University of New Brunswick cafeteria. With a receding hairline and a furrowed face, he looks as well-traveled as his pro resume suggests.

LaCosta knows that playing in goal for UNB will likely be his last shot to showcase his skills, and one day making it back to playing professional hockey.

“At the end of my two years I’ll see what happens, that’s why I came here to see. I still wanted to have the opportunity to play pro.”

LaCosta sits in the same boat as many former professional athletes who desperately want back into the top levels of pro sports. But that dream is one that more often sinks than swims.

Whether LaCosta wants to admit it or not, he knows that the dream of one day making it back to the NHL is unlikely. He is getting older and playing weaker talent now. Drafted in the third round in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 25-year-old Newfoundland native played four years of pro hockey. After playing his second minor stint in the NHL, LaCosta was soon out of professional hockey all together.

“It was like I went from the highest point of my career to a month later I wasn’t playing in the minors. The thing in that industry, it’s like the business world, you don’t always feel you get what you deserve or you want, but you just got [to] make the most of what you get.”

The life of a fringe minor league athlete is one that is filled with more downs than ups and more disappointments than successes.

As former Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguer and author Dirk Hayhurst recounts in his book The Bullpen Gospels about what a manager once told him: “It’s a game of luck and opportunity. . . Call it luck, call it opportunity. The bottom line is you always have a chance if you have a jersey on your back. What you do with that chance, is a different story.”

LaCosta’s voice cracks when he talks about his brief stint in the NHL. He believes he deserved a better shot, but understands that logistically, it comes down to more than just how he played.

“You know I went up there and I don’t think I could have played better than what I did. But at the same time I understand it’s a business. And I knew that on the terms that in which I got called up on that I was going to be sent down eventually. It’s just the way things worked out when I got sent down back to the minors.”

Chris Morehouse is in a similar situation as LaCosta. His chance to pursue pro hockey ended abruptly.

Chris Morehouse (Shane Magee/AQ)

The 24 year-old Saint John native received an invitation to a St. Louis Blues rookie camp in 2009. He didn’t make the team out of the camp and was sent down two levels in the minors, and ended up playing in Alaska and Cincinnati.

“I was able to experience things that I wouldn’t have and learned a lot about who I was and what I wanted to do in life.”

After two brief seasons in the East Coast Hockey League, Morehouse realized that hockey may not feasible as a career. He enrolled at St. Thomas University to study journalism while also playing for the Tommies.

“The decision to leave pro hockey and come to St. Thomas wasn’t an easy one but now, looking back, it was the right one. I know now what I want to do and I am ready for school and the challenges that come along with it.”

Morehouse says he doesn’t regret his pursuit and considers himself very blessed to get the opportunity.

“I think that I was so fortunate to have been able to play a sport I love at the professional level and I have no regrets. A lot of people never have the chance to play at the level that I did and I consider myself very lucky.”

Whether or not he plays pro hockey again, Morehouse says if he is given the chance to play pro hockey, he will definitely consider it.

Now in the pursuit of an education, LaCosta and Morehouse both know that being a regular student and not playing professional hockey may be their calling.

But for now, as Morehouse says, neither one of them is quite ready to give up on their fading dreams just yet.

“If the opportunity comes to try and play pro again and I don’t have any real good options, saying no will be really tough.”

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