Fire and Ice
I was a sophomore in high school and had only lived on the East Coast for a matter of months. The move from Arizona to Virginia had been an incredibly rocky one, and I was struggling to connect with my classmates who had all been friends since childhood and didn't need an intruder in their friend group. Luckily for me, another girl moved to town that year and we became fast friends. It was through her that I met Jordan, a boy who immediately caught my attention and intrigued me.
I remember meeting him for the first time at a pep rally, and him yelling after me in the chaos of the crowds of students flooding the hallways to leave when it ended. Somehow, we connected on social media and I gave him my number, and by the fall of our junior year, we were a couple. I can't think of a single memory from my junior or senior years of high school that didn't involve Jordan-- from trips to the river to picnics in our secret field to countless hours at the rink, we were always together.
If anyone around our high school or town said the word "hockey", I'm certain the first person to come to their minds would have been Jordan. He was intensely passionate about the sport, and that fire defined him. He spent hours on the ice most days, whether at our local rink at practices and games, or traveling around for tournaments. Everyone knew Jordan was the hockey guy.
I knew him as so much more, though. He was more than just an athlete, he was also an artist. He wrote lyrics to songs that were haunting-- layered with intricate and complex meanings I never quite understood, these incredible pieces of poetry that came from the deepest parts of him. He processed his life's experiences and his relationships through the words he penned and rarely showed to the world, and I always felt honored to receive them and get to peek into his soul through them. He loved his family deeply, followed hockey and current events religiously, thought about Boston and living there constantly.
We were similar in many ways-- stubborn, passionate, fiercely loyal, with big dreams and even bigger hearts. We both have pretty intense personalities, which led to more disagreements and arguments than either of us probably care to remember. We always came back together, though, the pull between us always winning over our own stubborn strong wills.
During the two years I spent with him, I never saw him seem more alive and free than when he was on the ice. It was the place he was most himself, the place where the rest of the world faded away and he could lose himself in the game. It was his first love, and he made it all look effortless. It was captivating to watch, and I, too, fell in love with the sport as I watched him play it. I'm a huge Capitals fan now because of him-- we stayed up late so many nights in high school watching games, analyzing plays, talking about the players and their stats, cheering like crazy when we scored or won a game.
I went off to college after our last high school summer, and he went off to play hockey. Our paths diverged as we chased our dreams, but we reconnected at a Starbucks in our home town a few years later. As I listened to him talk about where hockey had taken him and how it had changed him, I was amazed at his resilience and dedication to it all. We've stayed close friends over the years, and I've loved keeping up with all of the things he's doing in his new life in Boston.
I always knew he would be intertwined with hockey forever, in one way or another. He's given more to it than I've ever seen anyone give to a sport, and although it hasn't been an easy path, he has impressed me with his perseverance and endless passion.
Here's his story.
My name is Jordan and I am a 22 year old senior at Boston University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English. I play club hockey for BU and, over the course of the last year, have been working for Harpoon Brewery in Boston’s seaport district as a tour guide/bartender. Born in Hartford, Connecticut and raised in Richmond, Virginia, I adopted a fairly nomadic lifestyle shortly after I graduated high school in 2010. Since that time, I have had brief stints in northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, Connecticut, and most recently the greater Boston area. On paper, my transience generally suggests that I am simply an indecisive person, while the reality is quite the opposite. Since age 8, I’ve been cursed with the insatiable passion for ice hockey, and I was resolute in immortalizing that love as I gradually carted my hockey bag up the east coast in search of more competitive opportunities.
We pick up in June of 2010 somewhere in the depths of a wealthy Maryland suburb. I am here with my stepfather, Shawn, and I have come to interview with the former Washington Capital and current sports broadcaster for the team, Craig Laughlin in order to earn a spot in his summer-long ice hockey development camp, NHDP. As he stares me down across an antique coffee table, all I can think about is how important this program will be for my growth as a player and how it’s my last real option in order to position myself for a college or professional hockey career. With high school graduation merely one week away, I know that come August, while all of my friends are shopping for comforters and MacBooks, I’ll be packing to go play junior hockey for an undetermined number of years in the hopes of acquiring an athletic scholarship to a competitive school.
Hardly anyone who knew me at the time even knew what junior hockey was, let alone what it could mean for a kid from Virginia. Plenty of folks scoffed when I told them I wasn’t planning on going straight to college and that this was my only chance to make a real run at this sort of thing. As far as they (and most of my teachers) were concerned, I was simply a good student who was throwing everything away in exchange for a temporary hobby. That didn’t matter.
Odds are, anyone who has ever played the sport before has fallen in love with it in the same way that I did, and they will all quote the same idol— The Great One, Wayne Gretzky—in saying: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” There was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to get a degree, but college is a constant option and competitive hockey is not.
The following fall, I signed a one-year contract with the Frederick Freeze, a fairly young junior team based in Maryland. I moved in with a host family for the year, and a week after training camp, I was named captain of the Freeze.
The season began in October and lasted through mid-March, and although the team saw limited success and barely missed the playoffs, we traveled all over the northeast gaining exposure to scouts and having plenty of fun along the way. I already had begun to see results from the summer development camp, having been nominated for the Empire Junior Hockey League All-Star Game and finishing the year leading the team in points.
It was the combination of those results, along with another summer of development at NHDP that landed me a fresh contract with the Bay State Breakers in Massachusetts. Having always had my heart set on Boston University and the city as a whole, signing with the Breakers seemed to be a perfect fit.
I spent the 2011-12 season living in a house with the rest of my out-of-state- teammates and enjoying every second of it. My ice time, however, took a dive after a number of difficult injuries that kept me away from the rink for a good chunk of the season. After losing in the first round of playoffs that year and not receiving any real offers from any of my desired schools, I was faced with one of the hardest decisions of my life: whether to do it all again for one last year or go straight to school and possibly stop playing.
I was eager to make up for lost time academically, but the thought of hanging up the skates was almost unbearable. So, I flew around the country to participate in various tryout tournaments and speak to coaches in the offseason, but I never quite felt comfortable with any of the options I had, so I took that to mean that maybe I had already reached my peak and there was not going to be an upgrade by fall 2012.
The discouragement made the decision for me. I attended Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut in the fall of 2012. It was tough to swallow the pill of all that dedication, money, and time failing to yield the success I envisioned. I was forced to ask myself: Aside from becoming a better player, what did all of this yield? I was now stuck in the rural countryside of Connecticut without any hockey in my life.
For the first time in school history, QU had a competitive Division 1 team; so competitive in fact, that they were the best team in college hockey all season long and ran all the way to the NCAA National Championship. Needless to say, dumb luck played a key role in preventing me from trying out and walking on to the team that year. On top of all that, the school did not offer a club-level hockey team as a substitute, so no competitive hockey was readily available for me, dampening my spirits even further.
And while I thought the discouragement was painful, the shame was even worse. For someone like me who prides himself on such passion and his dedication to it, self-accountability is paramount.
It became difficult to look in the mirror and avoid feeling as though I had betrayed everyone who had supported me throughout. Fostering this kind of guilt forces you to admit to failure. A guy can only take so much of that feeling before changes must be made. I began to understand why hockey players never seem to stray too far from the game after retirement. I had to get it back.
I applied for transfer to Boston University in order to get back to the area and the hockey I loved the most. When I finally received my acceptance letter, I had already been in contact with the coach of the club hockey program, who inspected my resume and encouraged me to tryout. I made the team a few months later and I felt more comfortable playing for the Terriers than I had in all of the 14 years of prior hockey.
The irony of that statement is that last season was arguably my least productive season on the scoreboard, and the team saw even less production in the standings. Were those factors frustrating? Absolutely. It is impossible for a competitive mind to accept anything less than perfection.
The reality of the situation, however, (and the reality I had managed to overlook as I struggled with my decisions) is that I never played the game simply to make the NHL. I play for the sound of skates hitting the ice. I play for the smooth, glistening, fresh-cut sheet. I play for the sweat, the soreness, the pain, and the pressure.
Sure, dreams were established and pursued, but for me, the means always justified the ends. If I hadn’t done what I did after high school, or after junior hockey, or after my first year of college, I never would have learned to read and react to the roadblocks I encountered in the same way I would an impending body check. I would have more regrets than I do now, even knowing full well that I will never make the NHL. I never would have learned that success is subjective and passion is impervious to goals, wins, trophies, or paychecks.
True passions—the ones that keep you up at night and burn in the darkest corners of your heart—they’re the ones that allow your dreams and aspirations to adapt to realities as they present themselves, and with that adaptation comes peace of mind.