The odds may be tough, but Spartan hockey alumni are proving that going to the big leagues after Castleton is no fairy tale.
And while playing professional hockey can demand blood, sweat and tears, student athletes who once-walked around this campus are now having a blast traveling the world and getting paid to play the sport they love.
Spartan Colin Murray, who graduated in 2014, has been able to explore the United States while earning dough being a pro. Since graduating, Murray has played for the Evansville Icemen in Indiana, and now is a member of the Kalamazoo Wings in Michigan. Both teams are in the East Coast Hockey League, which is one level below the American Hockey League. A couple hours outside Detroit, Murray laughs thinking about the journey. “It doesn’t feel like a job. I have the privilege to be able to do this for a living and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he remarks.
Murray’s classmate and roommate, Ryan Delorme, is also proving that Spartan hockey can lead to the big leagues. Delorme graduated alongside Murray and is in his second season playing for “Les Remparts de Tours.”
That’s right, he’s playing in France’s Division 1 professional ice hockey league.
The city is Tours, which is located in the Loire Valley region. It is about a two-hour drive south of Paris. The Loire Valley region is known for its wine and beautiful chateaus.
When asked about the pleasures of playing pro, Delorme stated “I’d say the best part about my job is being able to continue to play the game I love at a high level, while being able to travel and see the world. It’s definitely an experience I would recommend for any athletes who have the opportunity.” Inexpensive travel has allowed Delorme to travel to Italy, Morocco and Greece.
During the 2013-2014 season, 31 percent of players on active NHL rosters had played in the NCAA. This number had grown since the year 2000, when only 20 percent of NHL athletes had come up through college hockey. And while most NCAA hockey athletes in the NHL played Division I college hockey, more than a handful of players have graduated from Spartan Arena to play pro hockey.
Having graduated in 2013, Spartan Josh Harris is now earning a living playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League for the Peoria Rivermen, in Illinois. The Spartan goal-scorer has even had the opportunity to play for the Las Vegas Wranglers, just off the strip in Las Vegas. “It’s the best thing to be playing hockey for a living, getting paid to do what I love. Another sweet thing is constantly meeting new people,” Harris says.
Hockey in Vegas? Not bad.
Harris laughs as he recalls the city of sin being a “great time.” Harris also said some of his earnings are paying his student debts.
Like Murray and Delorme, Harris’ teammate and roommate Justin Alonzo also went on to play in the big leagues. Currently playing for the Port Huron Prowlers, Spartan Alonzo has recorded 52 points in 29 regular-season games. That’s four professionals who all lived at the “factory” on Elm Street. That yellow house seems pretty auspicious.
While playing hockey for a living has its benefits, Harris, Murray and Delorme maintain that it’s not all fun and games. Murray cites how there are weekends where he has “a six-hour bus ride through the night, play Friday night, then another three-hour bus ride to play the Saturday, and then another seven-hour bus ride back to play on Sunday. It definitely taxes your body and you really have to stay in shape.”
Harris details how being on the road is definitely tough, but says there are some things that are even tougher.
“Being away from family is a big one, as well watching nephews grow up via pictures,” he said.
Delorme is trying his best to learn French, while teaching his teammates English. He says he doesn’t think he’ll ever quite understand one of his teammates, who is from Russia. “Let me tell you… this guy is a character. He looks like a 35 year-old twin of the DJ David Guetta with that long hair, except he is missing his front teeth. He is always half naked in the locker room, blares techno music and pretends to be a DJ.”
Among other current Spartan senior hockey players, William Laking is hopeful that he will also get to live the dream and play pro hockey. Laking hopes to play either in the east-coast of the United States, or earn a spot playing in Austria, France or Germany.
He says leaving Castleton, where he is comfortable and familiar with, will be hard. But Spartans before him have proven that he has every right to pursue his dream. He says Europe would be great exposure and a great experience. He looks forward to immersing himself in different cultures.
“I’m really looking forward to playing hockey as a career. I mean, how cool would that be.”