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Sean Pronger's Blog: 'Making it' in the low minors

Columbus was one of seven NHL clubs Sean Pronger suited up for during his career. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/NHLI)

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Columbus was one of seven NHL clubs Sean Pronger suited up for during his career. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images/NHLI)

Before I get into my usual drivel, I'd like to thank the readers out there who continue to show their support and patience. Believe me, I'd like to write more, but it’s not easy writing a paragraph per month!

As for you haters, keep firing, it's all good. I've learned a lot in my travels and have concluded there are two types of people in this world: those who get the joke and those who don't. For those of you who get it, life is good, so enjoy it. For those of you who don't, fear not, you will figure it out soon enough. I really hope someone is writing this down.

Anyway, on with the blog.

I'm not sure when my first year as a professional hockey player began. Maybe it was when Vancouver gave me an outright release or maybe it was when I was about to sign a contract with the Red Wings, only to have the GM get fired days before I put pen to paper. Either way, I should have known what was in store for me as I began my journey as a pro hockey player.

As I reflect on what some might call a career, I realize I missed a few signs along the way. If someone was to sit down and watch my career, I imagine it would have been a lot like a horror movie. People yelling at the screen, “Don’t go in there you idiot!” I'm sure some might call my game a bit of a horror show, but whatever.
 
In the middle of training camp in the fall of '94 for the Las Vegas Thunder of the International League (that's right, Vegas Baby!) I was this young, tall, skinny, fat, slow kid fresh out of Bowling Green having a pretty good camp and there were a few spots open on the roster. Did I mention the team was located in Vegas? Did I mention I'm a degenerate gambler?

Sidebar: we stayed at the Imperial Palace for training camp and every morning at the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet they give you a free ace with your meal, so, on the way to practice, why not sit down for a few hands and let the ace play? Genius! 

But, back to the training camp.

Things were going pretty well and I liked my chances of making the team; that is until the 1994 NHL lockout hit. As you can imagine, Las Vegas was a popular spot for a lot of NHLers looking to keep their game sharp during the time off; I believe four or five – Radek Bonk, Alexei Yashin to name two - came down to play for the Thunder.

The writing was on the wall, but I didn't want to read it. I kept plugging away in camp right up until the last day and finally they gave me “the tap” and put me out of my misery: "Sean, you had a great camp, but blah, blah, blah. Your flight leaves at 6 a.m."

Guess who had a rough flight home?
 
Fast forward to October. Since I managed to fool them in Vegas for the entire month of September, I missed everybody else's training camp. Now, I had nowhere to go! I decided to stay in Toronto with my girlfriend (now Mrs. Journeyman) and wait for the Leafs to call. Just kidding. I hate the Leafs. Deal with it.

It took me two weeks to review all of the offers that poured in. All two of them. Though I guess I did have a third option; I could spare everyone the pain and suffering right there and quit. But I’d never do that. 

My options were: play in England with my old midget coach or play in Knoxville, Tenn. Of course, my first question was: Knoxville has a team? "Yeah, they got uniforms and everything."

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After I realized Knoxville wasn't the newest NHL expansion team, I started to think England might be a fun place to play.  However, after conferring with my family advisor, Mr. Canadian - Mr. Molson Canadian - I decided it was not time to head overseas yet. Let's give it a try on this side of the pond, I thought. Looking back, I'm starting to question whether Mr. Canadian ever knew what he was talking about, but he was a good listener.
 
Mid-October: After I had everyone in the sports world holding their breath as to what my decision would be, I decided to play for the Cherokees of the ECHL in Knoxville. I knew absolutely nothing about the league or the team when I got there and I was expecting a bunch of felons with sharp blades carrying weapons.

As we all know, the salaries in the ECHL are not what you would call "lucrative." I made $500 per week and the team paid my rent; I thought I was rich.

A couple of us had a great idea to try and stretch our money a little further. We found a farmhouse 30 minutes out of town in backcountry Tennessee. I can still hear the banjos. The owner was going to tear it down and build a mansion in the summer. He said: “If you guys want to stay in it go right ahead, rent free.”

What? And pocket an extra $300 per month? Done! This place was classic. On site, we had a barn, a horseshoe pit and a house. Oh, and did I mention the horseshoe pit and barn? 

The only questions that came to mind were, "When should we have our first party?" and "Where can I buy horseshoes?" Looking back, we never had a party in the barn or used the horseshoe pit…idiots! What we failed to check for was cable, heat and signs of rodents. Believe me when I tell you I won't fall for that again.

"It won't cost you a thing, Mr. Pronger.”

Really? How much do you charge for the mice?" 

A couple hundred dollars in mousetraps later and we only had a cable and heat problem. I didn’t think it got cold in Tennessee, but oh, it does my friend. Come December guess whose pipes froze? I can't imagine why.

Oh, I know why; there's no &$%ing heat! For four days we showered at the rink and heaven forbid you had a "movement" after 2 p.m. You’d had to drive about a mile down the road to a truck stop.

I'm thinking of one word: Awesome.

Sean Pronger, the brother of Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, played 260 NHL games with the Ducks, Penguins, Rangers, Kings, Bruins, Blue Jackets and Canucks. After playing four years at Bowling Green, the Dryden, Ont., native bounced around several leagues, including the ECHL, IHL, AHL, NHL and Europe.

Sean will blog regularly on THN.com about his experiences as a journeyman. You can read more about being a healthy scratch and other blogs at chrispronger.com.

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