Mon Jun 27 11:45am EDT
The long road to the NHL — or any pro hockey for that matter — isn't always as glamorous as it seems.
During the Canadian Hockey League season it's a daily mix of practice, working in the weight room, breaking down video, school, community events, autograph signings and, of course, the never-ending road trips.
But for many players, that's the easy part. The hard part comes in the summer, when they have to hang up the skates and jerseys, and get real jobs.
"The real world kinda sucks," says Belleville Bulls captain Luke Judson, who is spending his summer pounding the pavement — literally -- on a road crew.
"Playing hockey is way easier," admits fellow OHLer Tyler Brown of the Kingston Frontenacs, who's working in the warehouse of his local IKEA.
And with many players making only a pittance per week — somewhere between $50 and $100 -- playing in the CHL the extra spending money saved over the summer comes in handy during the regular season.
"It certainly helps to go into the season with a little extra pocket change," says Judson.
So here's the first in a series on how some players across the Canadian Hockey League are spending their summers…
Luke Judson (Belleville Bulls)
Pothole crew - Northern Ontario:
The Crew (L to R): Frank Books, Maverick Judson, Luke Judson, Jordan Meyers.
The Belleville Bulls captain has been spending his summer working on a road crew, fixing potholes in Northern Ontario. His dad owns a construction company — M.L. Judson Trucking -- that has a contract to fix the highways between Rainy River, Ont., and Fort Frances, Ont., a stretch of road close to 100-kilometres, plus everything in between. Their crew shovels a cold mix of asphalt to patch the holes, but that doesn't make it any easier when the summer temperatures peak.
"(The asphalt's) black and there's tar in it," explains Judson. "So it gets pretty grueling sometimes."
And while he enjoys leaning new things about the construction business, he admits the long days — which begin at 7 a.m. — combined with hitting the gym five days a week to prepare for the hockey season have left him a little worn out.
"When you're doing this 10 hours a day, it definitely makes you appreciate your (hockey) lifestyle a little more," says the 20-year-old winger.
In Judson's estimation, the worst job on the road crew is the person holding the stop/slow sign to warn oncoming motorists.
"People might think that's an easy job when you drive by, but that's the worst job in the world," says Judson, who's had to take his turn holding the sign. "You're standing in the same spot with a sign … you've drawn the short straw if you end up with that job. It's hard to keep yourself entertained, you're standing in the sun and it's hard to keep your mind from wandering."
Wes Vannieuwenhuizen (Vancouver Giants)
Johnston's Meat Packers - Chilliwack, B.C.:
Vancouver Giants defender Wes Vannieuwenhuizen goes from blueline to blowtorch.
Just call Vancouver Giants Wes Vannieuwenhuizen the 'Mr. Fix-It' of the WHL thanks to his job as a maintenance guy at Johnston's Packers.
He works shift -- 5 a.m. to 12 p.m., five days a week -- at the plant that packs and processes meat. Vannieuwenhuizen's job consists of making sure everything is clean and working properly, which means he doesn't get to play Rocky Balboa -- punching sides of beef in the freezer -- to prepare for season.
"I don't actually have to deal with any of the meat," says the 19-year-old. "But I definitely work around it."
Since some might consider junior hockey a type of meat market it begs the question: What smells worse, a meat packing plant or sweat drenched hockey gear?
"I don't know if (the meat smell) is that bad," says Vannieuwenhuizen with a laugh. "I can't really describe the meat smell, that can get pretty bad too sometimes."
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenceman says he's very lucky because he enjoys his job, the people he works with and his employers are good enough to keep his job open for him every summer. The only downside to his job was during the time his girlfriend decided she was going to be a vegetarian. Luckily for Vannieuwenhuizen, the move to meatlessness was short-lived.
"It was pretty funny," says Vannieuwenhuizen. "She never really came around the plant, but I would always bug her about it."
He says a university degree is at the forefront of Vannieuwenhuizen's plans in case hockey doesn't workout, but the defenceman admits the some of skills he's learned — a little mix of plumbing, electrical work and welding — will surely come in handy.
"I get to learn new things," says Vannieuwenhuizen whose summer stint will be ending soon so he can get back to Vancouver to train. "I get to try almost everything you can imagine doing maintenance. It's pretty cool."
And while some of his friends and teammates tease him about working at a meat packing plant, Vannieuwenhuizen believes his job has made him savour hockey even more.
"Some days when you're at the rink and you're getting all tired, you think back to the summer when you're at the meat packing plant for eight and a half hours a day and it's quite the grind itself," says Vannieuwenhuizen. "It definitely gives you an appreciation for what you have, to just be lucky that you're playing hockey and doing something you love."
Kevin Bailie (Oshawa Generals)
East Side Mario's - Belleville, Ont.
Oshawa Generals goalie Kevin Bailie dishes the dirt at East Side Mario's.
From stopping pucks to washing plates, Oshawa Generals goaltender Kevin Bailie is showing he has deft hands. The 19-year-old works part time at his local East Side Mario's as a dishwasher, where he's biding his time for another few weeks before he starts work as a goalie instructor at a hockey school.
"It's not a really glamorous job," says Bailie of his first real foray into the working world. "It's really hot and washing dishes you get pretty dirty.
"It's a job. If anything it makes you want to go deeper into the playoffs next year, because you don't want to go to work, you'd rather be playing hockey."
Bailie says the most challenging thing about the job is the hours, since he works a lot of weekends. So while his buddies are out having fun, he's being Mr. Clean.
In the slightly awkward category, is the fact that the restaurant is where the Generals usually eat on their road trips through Belleville en route to Ottawa.
"It's going to be really weird," says Bailie of the regular season return to the restaurant. "Mike, one of the chefs, is a huge hockey fan so maybe I can get him to make me a special meal."
Oddly enough, Bailie's goaltending partner in Oshawa -- Peter DiSalvo -- is also spending the summer working in the food industry at a catering company.
"We're two Italian guys, so we've been raised around food," says Bailie with a laugh.