By Peter Langella
After college, I was fortunate enough to play for the Huntsville Havoc, a minor-pro team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. There was some pressure to perform to keep my spot, longer bus rides than I'd ever taken in my life, and the chance that, as a smallish New England prep school guy, I would get beat up by an enforcer from the Canadian junior leagues (which thankfully only happened once!), but, overall, it was a great experience that I wouldn't trade away.
Game days were intense, especially on the road, but the rest of the time was very laid back. We didn't make that much money but we had it pretty easy. So easy, in fact, that it's actually kind of hard to believe that we got paid any money at all.
My daily non-game day schedule in Alabama went something like this:
8:00 AM: Wake up
9:00 AM: Arrive at rink for stretching and team meeting
10:00 AM-12:00 PM: Practice
12:30 PM: Team lunch
1:30 PM–2:30 PM: Community Event/Video Games
3:00 PM–4:30 PM: Team Workout
5:00 PM – 6:30 PM – Community Event/Video Games
6:30 PM – Dinner.
7:30 PM – 12:00 AM – Reading/TV/Video Games.
What a life, huh? After the grind of college it was like I'd won the lottery. I was living out my childhood dreams. A much smaller version of my dreams, sure, but I was still getting to play hockey for a job!
All I had to do was skate. Nobody expected anything else out of me. Just like during the winter breaks back in college.
And that's why this is the most wonderful time of the year for our favorite Division III hockey players. Once exams finish next week, they're home free until the second semester begins. Their schedules will look something like the one I listed above. It will be their job, so to speak, to play hockey, even if it's only for a month.
I can remember one year at Norwich, I must have been on the ice 4-5 hours a day during some of the break. We'd usually have a morning skate after breakfast, and then most of us just wouldn't leave the ice. We'd hold 3-on-3 cross-ice tournaments, play makeshift games of horse and baseball with pucks, and have breakaway contests until the third-string goalie could barely stand up. One time, we even got a game of lacrosse going, but that didn't go over too well with one of the rink guys.
By the time our real practice rolled around in the afternoon, we'd already been on the ice for the better part of the day. It was like we were little kids out on the pond or something. Like when our parents had to drag us inside because it got too dark. We just couldn't get enough of it.
It's the most precious time of the college hockey season. League play-offs are great and the NCAA tournament is even better, but how many teams are lucky enough to enjoy success in those events each year? Only a handful. Heck, only one team gets to win it all.
But winter break is universal.
Even a last place team's players get to live out their dreams during winter break. Even players that might not be getting a lot of playing time get treated like pros most days during winter break.
It's such a treat after managing a jam-packed schedule of hockey and school to focus on just hockey for a little while.
It's such a privilege. It's so memorable.
Most importantly, it's just fun, like hockey should be.
Peter Langella played at Trinity College and Norwich University and has also coached at Williams. He is now a writer and librarian in central Vermont.