You wake up to the annoying ring of a telephone and groggily reach for the handset.
“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” a journalist on the other end of the phone says.
You worked late the night before at your summer job and you were enjoying the rest.
“Oh, it’s okay. I needed to get up anyway.”
Welcome to the world of hockey when you’re good enough to get noticed but not quite far enough to be a pro.
Many people seem to have this misconception that all professional hockey players aren’t quite human. They talk about them as if they’re machines, not human beings that have feelings and problems in life like the rest of us. Every hockey player has had to work his way up through the ranks and work they do.
In the above scenario I’m the “nasty journalist” who woke the poor hockey player up. The “poor hockey player” is Kris Mayotte, who graciously answered my questions and talked with me despite just waking up.
As a 19 year-old goaltender Mayotte still has a little ways to go before becoming a professional player, however, he’s come a long way.
In High School, at 16 years old, Mayotte played for two different teams. His High School, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, and the Cleveland Midget Major Barons of the Michigan National Hockey League. During that time his hockey schedule consisted of three to four hockey games a week and approximately four and a half hours of practice a week. The drive between Pittsburgh and Cleveland is two hours, one way. And you thought you had a stressful schedule in high school.
During that time Mayotte was quoted in the local paper as saying, “Homework? I do in the car. Sleep? I don’t get much of that at all.”
His hard work paid off though and the next year, the 2000-01 season, he earned a spot with the Cleveland Barons of the North American Hockey League. The team cycled through six goalies that year. Mayotte played the second most number of games for the team with 17 starts behind only Freeman Falloon who had 21 starts.
The stress level “goes up in juniors, just wondering if you’re going to get recruited and all the fans…”
But once again someone noticed him and he was offered a roster spot for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League and he stepped up to a higher level of hockey.
Mayotte was reunited with one of the five other goaltenders he’d played with in the NAHL, Andy Franck. Mayotte was once again the back up goaltender on the team but the time was split quite evenly for the first three-quarters of the year. Together Franck and Mayotte backstopped the Muskies to the Clark Cup finals.
But it was a bittersweet time for Mayotte, his stepsister, Veronica Matson, after battling cancer passed away four days before the final game.
He flew home to be with his family after Veronica passed away missing the third and fourth games of the five game series. He flew back for the final game and arrived during the game, the Muskies were losing. The team, who wore Mayotte’s number on their helmets in memory of Veronica, rallied and tied the game to go to overtime. Ryan Geris became the hero scoring the game winning goal for the Muskies in overtime. It was the first time the Muskies had won the Clark Cup in 16 years.
“It (winning) was good because it gave me a distraction, an escape.” Mayotte said.
Mayotte was offered a scholarship with Union College in Schenectady, NY, which he accepted. Union’s Mens hockey team is a Division 1 team in the ECAC. Mayotte has a chance to win the position of starting goaltender with the college and be seen by many pro scouts.
I asked if he had to do it over again would he still play for two teams in high school before making juniors?
“Yeah, it was good” he said.
Despite the stress level going up when he got to juniors his best year of hockey so far has been his year with the Musketeers.
“The group of guys there was great. It was a really good year.”
The players work hard to get to a professional level, the NHL is the very top of that professional level. Many try to get there but only a select few make it. They didn’t work there for the status quo or the money but because they love the game of hockey. They provide us the joy of watching their hard earned talent.
So next time you watch those hockey players remember what it takes to get there and they are people just like you and me.
Kris Mayotte is my third cousin, so I tried not to be bias and just put facts. I think that it should be mentioned as a note that we’re cousins. I haven’t seen Kris since he was about three though so it’s not as if we’re real close. Although after talking the other day we’re going to see if we can meet up sometime.