Growing up in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, a small Canadian village of only a few hundred people (at most), there weren’t many off-season jobs to be had in the summer months after a hockey season. After hockey season, it was baseball season, with anticipation of football season around the corner. Wilcox was a town where every kid played every sport because the numbers meant you had to, as well as playing for neighbouring towns to fill out their numbers too.
In my early teens, my Dad was able to convince the long-time librarian at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Jimmy Williams, to let my younger brother Jason and I spend a few weeks repairing books that would be used the following school year by the students.
Jimmy showed us how we could bring the old books back to life. We would cut the frayed edges with scissors, use some tape and then form a small point on the four corners of each book to spruce them up for another school year. We’d snip any loose strands on the spine and repair any snags or bent pages as best we could and then help to file them in alphabetical order and to which genre they belonged.
Jimmy took meticulous care of his books and would spend each year making sure each book was accounted for and no students were what he termed “packrats”, keeping books in their dorm rooms longer than their terms of rental. Always eccentric, Jimmy was the town’s jumbo pumpkin and tomato grower, picking weeds and dandelions from his garden and lawn by hand. As a bachelor in a tiny town, Jimmy’s house was always circled by us growing up as a “double back” spot to try to snag a second full-size chocolate bar that he offered to all of the kids at Hallowe’en.
Other than weeks of summer hockey schools at both Notre Dame and at my alma mater at which I played College hockey, the University of North Dakota, with a short stint in working construction in Grand Forks one summer, that has been the extent of my non-hockey offseason jobs.
Professional hockey players don’t generally have the typical four seasons of a year. There is the season and then the off-season. In professional contracts it usually states that you are unable to play other competitive sports and then still be covered by insurance, so for most it’s now a one (contact) sport life. Sure, golf and fishing and other sports are popular with hockey players, but there aren’t any dual sport athletes in professional hockey.
The hockey season is spent going through a tough training camp in which your physical shape is measured and tested and then 50-80 games, with hundreds of practices, meetings and workouts. Throw in nervous anticipation for each game, a lack of sleep due to travel or a high heart rate during games until 10-11 pm and time away from family and friends for what can be up to 8-9 months of a year. In most cases, unless a championship is won, there is disappointment in defeat, the handshakes and hugs as teammates part ways and a flight or drive home to relax, reflect and then ramp it up again in the second season for a hockey player, the off-season.
A player’s off-season can be a chance to add strength or lose weight, as over the course of a long season the body changes from what it would have looked like during training camp. Players also have the chance to work with a skills coach or on their own to refine their game and improve individual skills. Most importantly, players get a chance to see family and friends and relax away from the rink. Part of an off-season is giving the hockey muscles (groins, hip flexors, etc) time to heal and rest, while also giving your mind a break from all of the inevitable concerns and ups and downs of a season. Playing golf, fishing, barbecues with family, travel with a wife or girlfriend as well as just not thinking about hockey is vital to being able to play a long time in hockey without burning out.
As a believer in playing several sports as a kid without specializing in just hockey, I think it is extremely important to turn off the “hockey mind” and enjoy life (while still staying in shape) for at least a month or two after the season. It may not work for everyone, but I believe that is the main reason that I have played pro hockey for nearly 20 years and still enjoy it.
Athol Murray College Of Notre Dame’s beloved librarian Jimmy Williams passed away in June of 2015. He devoted the last 58 years of his life to serving the students at Notre Dame. He had also spent 15+ years bringing weekly roses to a girl that I attended high school in Notre Dame with after an unfortunate accident put her in the hospital, where she will remain. A selfless man, Jimmy always stressed doing the “small things” and I believe that can relate to all walks of life.
So, as I come up on the ending of season 19 and the uncertainty of whether it will end with a championship or a bitter defeat, I know what the off-season will bring. I will work on “small things” that I can do to improve my own game. Like he taught us to do with his beloved books, I will seek to repair my frayed edges and start fresh for year 20. Thanks Jimmy.
Thanks for reading.