Many Canadian kids dream of pulling on an NHL jersey for real. As the Tommies’ Chris Morehouse found out, it’s not just about getting a taste of the big leagues; it’s about remembering what got you there in the first place.
As I stand at centre ice, the noise in the rink is electric. I look across the ice and I am staring into the logo of the New York Rangers. I look down at my jersey and can’t believe I’ve made it. For that moment, I’m representing the St. Louis Blues and am part of an NHL team.
The rest of the NHL rookie tournament was a blur for me. When the tournament wraps up, our team gets on our private plane and travels back to St. Louis.
A week later, I’m sitting in the locker room looking around at “blue notes” on the wall when the head coach at the time, Andy Murray, calls me into his office. Within five minutes my dream of playing in the NHL is stalled; next stop is Peoria, Illinois and the American Hockey League.
All I wanted to do was get back to that moment at centre ice. With just that taste of the NHL, I knew my life would never be the same.
At a young age, I knew that if I was going to be successful in hockey it was going to be because of hard work. It’s my passion and love for the game that separates me from players with better skills. Growing up in the Saint John minor hockey system, I was never a standout. By the time I was 14, I knew that I wasn’t going to be any taller then 5’8”. I realized that if I was going to be able to play against bigger players my physical conditioning was essential. Doing whatever it takes, like fighting guys twice my size and blocking shots, was what gave me the opportunity at a NHL camp. I would play whatever role was needed.
I remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap in front of a fire and telling him that I wanted to play in the NHL some day. He told me anything can happen if I work hard and stay true to myself.
After just one week at the AHL level, I found myself on a nine-hour flight to Alaska to play for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. Even though it’s my third team in three weeks, I am excited to start my pro career and work my way back to the top.
It didn’t take long for me to make my mark. On my first shift, on my first shot, I score my first goal. After being named first star of the game and praised by my coach, I really thought it was the start of great things to come in Alaska.
Just four weeks into my pro career and trips to Vegas, California, Idaho, I really liked the way things were going. That all changed when Alaska signed a couple of veteran forwards. I’ve never been traded, so hearing those words was very tough. Just when I was getting settled into Alaska, I was gone. My next adventure led me to Cincinnati.
After battling it out in Cincinnati for four months, I woke up one morning unable to lift my right arm above my head. After MRI’s, x-rays and many doctor visits, my only option was surgery. I was devastated.
Although not playing was tough, my coaching staff in Cincy gave me the opportunity to join them for playoffs. It was their way of having me help the team even though I could no longer play. Instead of sulking, I was part of something special.
More than 13,000 fans stood and cheered as the clock wound down. After an up-and-down season full of trades and injures, for me to lift the Kelly Cup (ECHL championship) over my head made it all worth it.
Nobody can take that away.
During a course of a hockey season, life can sometimes get repetitive. You get up and go to practice in the morning, then workout. Before noon, your day is done and you’re free to do what you please. For a young guy it’s a great lifestyle. Your living expenses are paid for, you have lots of time to party, and your only real worry is to perform at the rink. Hockey becomes your life and it’s easy to lose focus of reality.
I remember everything about that day, Oct. 17, 2010, like it just happened. To hear the words “your grandfather died” was like a knife through my heart. Suddenly everything I loved about hockey had vanished. My grandfather, whom I spent every summer with since I was a child, always believed in me. When my dad left our family when I was 11, my grandfather was my rock, he helped me stay on the right path. When I was in need of advice or encouragement, he was always there for me. If not for him, I would have gone down a much different path.
The last time I saw him was the summer before he died when I was home visiting. He told me how proud he was of me and how I turned out to be a very respectful young man. Those words brought me to tears.
Unable to go home for the funeral because of my hockey schedule, my focus was anywhere but the rink. After a bad weekend on the ice, I was traded to Greenville S.C.
After three more games and less than two weeks, I was released from Greenville.
Sitting in my apartment with moving boxes all around me, I tried to figure out what’s next. With my shoulder still in intense pain and my heart not fully in it, I didn’t want to go to any other pro teams. I decided to pick up my computer and send an email to the then head coach of St. Thomas University men’s hockey team, Mike Eagles.
My beard is full of snow as I slip my way up the campus hill. The crisp air sends chills down my whole body. It’s a long way from feeling the California sun against my face. The days of playing afternoon golf in January are over for now.
It’s been almost a full year since I arrived in Fredericton. Going to school while waiting to regain my eligibility – the hardest part of leaving pro – is almost over. With my shoulder almost 100 per cent, and my first game later this month, the excitement is building.
I am at a good place in my life. Being a student athlete has allowed me to appreciate my time at the rink and put life in perspective. I know my grandfather, a principal for more than 50 years, would be proud.
I’m hoping to combine my love for the game with a journalism degree. Reaching the pro hockey ranks in some way, shape, or form is still my goal.
My love of the game is back.