Cover Photo Credit: Rome Sentinel
Preface: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of minor league hockey, is the promotional teddy bear toss that the Hershey Bears do each year. Tens of thousands of stuffed animals are thrown onto the ice after the Bears score their first goal of the game. The animals are then donated to charity as gifts for the holiday season.
While it is known for its great promotions, minor league hockey also has hundreds of wonderful athletes who compete at the highest level. They compete day in and day out for a shot at the professional leagues.
Behind every player is a great story, no matter what level of the league they play in. Check out below on what a new platform is doing to share those stories in a fun way.
-Carson, Stadium Gear & Apparel
A New Way to Hear Minor League Hockey Stories
A year ago, East Coast Hockey League player Brayden Low drove across the country from Reading, Pennsylvania - where he played for the Reading Royals - back home to western Canada. That's a lot of time to think - about 43 hours if done straight through; and there was a lot to think about. The 2019-20 hockey season had just been indefinitely suspended, only to later in the season be officially cancelled as COVID-19 was entering the world’s vocabulary. The open road was an opportunity for Low to talk with current and past teammates, and spawned thoughts of what comes next.
Players in professional hockey’s minor leagues are paid much less than the boys playing up in the NHL. Off-ice endeavors have always been important for minor league players to supplement their income, and with the pandemic preventing players from performing their on-ice job, Low and those he spoke with on his several-day drive home were talking about what comes next.
Many hockey players quickly transitioned to utilize their other skills, to be business owners and teachers. Low, joined by his friends and brothers Adam and Jordan Helewka launched Minor League Madness as the pandemic raged on and called into question the possibility of playing during the 2020-21 season. Minor League Madness is an important platform for players throughout hockey’s minor leagues to build a single large unified community, rather than individual player’s or team’s separate fan bases. Through this community, players are able to share their stories and experiences and talk about their off-ice businesses as well and reach a larger audience.
The ECHL and AHL would cobble together something that felt a little bit like a season, but not until early 2021, not with all teams participating, and not involving fans. Competition would be limited strictly by geography, COVID tests, and some luck. For players though, the opportunity to work in the profession remained an important focus. Adam Helewka started the season playing in Zvolen, Slovakia. He then returned from Europe when the AHL season began to play for the Cleveland Monsters. With the Royals opting out for the season, Low traveled to Europe to play in Lindau, Bavaria, Germany.
Photo Credit: AHL.com
Players have often been involved in work outside of their professional hockey careers, but the pandemic certainly expanded that as many needed to rely on a different source of income. Stanley Cup NHL’er Nathan Walker, splitting time thus far in the 20-21 season between the St. Louis Blues and AHL’s Utica Comets, used the time off to think about a new endeavor. Walker, who was the first player from Australia to play in the NHL, is preparing to launch a new clothing company, The Storm Down Under. Walker discussed some of the challenges related to playing during the pandemic on a recent weekly Minor League Madness podcast and shared how he used the delayed start to the season to look into getting infrastructure in place to put together a clothing company with a focus on comfort and a good fit.
Photo Credit: NHL.com, Washington Capitals
Some pros like Josh Healey, currently a prospect in the Nashville Predators system playing for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, have had their off-ice endeavors operational for some time. Healey created an app for professional hockey players to provide feedback and ratings of their coaches and agents, so that others have access to information that is important for players to make good decisions about things that will impact their careers. Agents and scouts can also use the app to track players at all levels, monitoring their stats and development.
Despite the constantly changing circumstances and fluid game schedules, the group is still able to carve out time to maintain their weekly podcast, where each week a new pro joins to discuss their experiences throughout their pro hockey career and their off-ice projects. The weekly podcast, typically about an hour long, gives hockey fans an opportunity to hear some of the stories that players share with each other. A recurring favorite segment of the program prompts guests to share stories about their first “WTF moment” in pro hockey.
While the podcast is perhaps the most notable facet of Minor League Madness, the website also features news and updates from around the ECHL and AHL, a section to house players’ stories, and links and information for players’ other pursuits. The MLM Instagram page (@minorleaguemadness) features video and audio clips of the stories shared during the podcast, links and tags to players and their ventures, and some fun video of the MLM hosts showcasing their typical day during the off-season.
If you are looking to support minor league hockey and its great cast of remarkable athletes, follow Minor League Madness for stories, updates, and other ways to keep up on the players and the game.
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