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For a glimpse into the life of a minor pro hockey player Jason Cohen provides an accurate tale in his book “Zamboni Rodeo”. Cohen tracks a season playing in the NAHL where he writes about the Texas hockey craze in which Canadians are bussed around from rink to rink in the southern US pursuing the dream and entertaining thousands of hockey nutted Texas fans. Somehow Texas became a hot bed for hockey; supporting an NHL team and a number of minor pro teams.
Cohen looks behind the bright lights of Saturday night games and writes about post-warm up pre-face off cigarettes, the mind games, manipulation and the occasional temper tantrum to get results. He even tells the tale of a veteran player pursuing his dream by leaving a young son and wife back in Toronto; where his wife works as a lawyer. Of course, the story goes on to suggest that the desire of that vet, to get out of bed every morning and do the thing he’s loved most for so long, was beginning to wane.
He tells tales of fog filling areas so badly that games were cancelled and crazy hockey fans living and breathing hockey the Texas way. In his home rink the winner of the local weekly radio contest gets to sit rink-side in a hot tub with a local cheerleader, bikini and all. Those Texans sure know how to excite a crowd and re-brand the Canadian game.
Some players are making as little as $350 a week for only the winter months and are expected to find their own income during the summer while training hard for the upcoming season. Cohen refers to minor pro leagues as the place where the dreams and ambition of hundreds of young Canadian and American men are found; and where they are lost. Of course, for most, its where dreams come crashing to a halt, and where players fight to the bitter end of their careers to avoid the “real world” where people get “normal” jobs to make a living.
The dedication of most players, particularly when in reality, they surely known their hopes of ever landing an NHL contract have long since past, are quite amazing. They are willing to trek it out on road trips spanning eight nights, four cities, and 40 hours on the bus. Which might not sounds so bad; but as both the autors can attest – it isn’t as glorious as it sounds.
Most of the time teams are too cheap to pay for hotels so the bus is where you catch the zzz’s and sleep never really starts until 4 in the morning when you get back to your hometown after a long roadie.
That said, being able to pursue your dream with a bunch of guys in a warm climate with fans wanting your autograph can never be that bad.