It’s pretty rare to get to top of the hockey pyramid. There are 30 NHL teams with roster restrictions of 20 players per team you have roughly 600 players in the show. Add in the 600 players in the AHL, the 440 players in the ECHL and 200 players in the Central Hockey League and you have 1840 jobs in North American pro hockey in any given year. If you include the various other solid pro leagues in the world such as the KHL in Russia (560 players), DEL in Germany (280 players), SM-Liiga in Finland (280 players), SHL in Sweden (240 players), and the EIHL in England (200 players) you have another 1560 elite pro players in the world. So, 3400 players (not including those players in the system at other levels) represents the total number of jobs in professional hockey. If you think that with all the junior and college hockey teams in the world turning out players each year (close to 200,000 players yearly)…it’s bloody tough to make it to the next level.
Here’s the story of one player trying to make it in pro hockey and the journey he is taking. Unless you score 50 goals a year in every league you play in or backstop your team to 40+ wins a season it’s most likely you have experienced this kind of journey in hockey, know someone who has or is going to go through it soon.
Dan Spence is a professional goalie playing in the SM-Liiga league in Finland. Born in Vancouver, BC here is his career highlights and story:
- Made the u17 team pacific club as BC’s top goalie sharing the goal with Alberta’s top goalie Leland Irving.
- Made the Calgary Hitmen at age 16- played there for over 4 seasons and set the franchise win record- Was named CHL goalie of the week 4 times as well as numerous rankings among Goalies World magazine Monthly CHL top 10. Was a WHL Allstar as well was awarded Calgary Hitman Humanitarian.
- After 18 year old season had serious talks and meetings with the Leafs as well as a prospect camp invite- was told i would be picked in 4th or 5th round of the draft…
- Went to OHL for 5th major junior season- Set single season win record with Sting and recorded over 100 major junior wins.
- Received tryout from Calgary Flames and went through Rookie camp as well as Main camp and stayed through 6 exhibition games. Got assigned to Abbotsford Heat where I spent 4 weeks with them. I then turned down an offer from the 1st league in Austria to stay in North America and went to Laredo of the Central Hockey League where I was told I would be the clubs starter. After making the 4 day drive from Vancouver to Laredo and spending roughly 3 weeks and only playing 30 mins of an exhibition game I was released and sent home after a goalie from the Anaheim Ducks was sent down.
- This was a heartbreaking experience as I drove the lonely road back to Vancouver. Just less than a month ago I was taking warmups with an NHL team and now I had nothing. I couldn’t understand what what was going on. My agent at the time, was telling me that there were just too many goalies and not enough jobs. I still didn’t understand. The Central was a league I had offers from in my overage year of junior and it wasn’t even on my radar; not even close, and now I was being sent home? Anyways, with a bruised ego and shattered dreams I sulked into my bed at 3am after the long drive home. I sat at home and waited for someone to call. I had some offers from lower level leagues like the SPHL but I had been advised that it was better to sit out and wait rather than be labeled as a player from those leagues. I decided to activate my WHL scholarship and I committed for the second semester to a CIS University in Alberta which we will leave unnamed, but a week before I was to join the team the coach left me in limbo when he said my high school grades weren’t enough to get me in. At this point my season was over. Too late to go to other schools and pro teams all had their rosters pretty well set.
- I stopped feeling sorry for myself and looked at this season as an opportunity to reinvent myself as an athlete. I got in touch with strength coach guru Coach Pollitt and we worked out programs that got me in amazing shape. I used this time to address on ice issues that needed improvement. This was definitely the lowest point in my hockey career and probably my life to date, but having amazing coaches and friends like DP were able to not only pull me through it but make me stronger in the process.
- After a year off I joined with the Mt Royal Cougars, split a season there and then went out to play CIS at Nipissing University where I spent the next 2 seasons. I currently hold the clubs win record there too and was named an All-Star as well as leagues Top Goalie in 2012/2013. After last season I had interest from 3 NHL clubs, but when nothing concrete came to play i decided to sign in 2nd division Finland. So far it has been a great opportunity to develop and move up. There is a great coaching staff and the main focus is player development and getting guys to to the next level. My plans are to move up to 1st division and then work my way back to North America for another crack at the NHL.
So the message in this blog post is about perservance. Dan has been trying to crack the North American pro leagues for almost 10 years and countless heart breaking stories…yet he continues to work hard and get the job done. Hockey can be rough. This sport can eat you up and kill your will to play on. But, there are only 3400 pro jobs in the world…and lots of guys looking to make the next level. What will you do today to get there?