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Backchecking: Feamster flips NHL career for pizza profits

Dave Feamster played 169 NHL games for Chicago, tallying 13 goals and 37 points. (THN Archives)

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Dave Feamster played 169 NHL games for Chicago, tallying 13 goals and 37 points. (THN Archives)

By Alan Bass

“What do you do in life? You learn to tie your shoes, then you play hockey.”
– Dave Feamster

Dave Feamster sums up his life with that simple, yet brilliant quote.

The youngest of five boys, Feamster grew up in Detroit living and breathing hockey. Every winter, his father would flood their backyard so he and his friends could play.

“Every afternoon after school we’d have a big game,” Feamster recalled. “Everyone in the neighborhood would come over and we’d have the draft, pick the teams; my dad would bring hot chocolate out between periods. It was kind of like the neighborhood hangout, built around the rink in our backyard.”

Feamster joined his first team at nine years old, the Little Caesars hockey club. At 14, he was awarded a scholarship to play hockey at Colorado College and, in 1978, was drafted in the sixth round (96th overall) by the Chicago Black Hawks.

In college, Feamster enjoyed great success, scoring 184 points in 150 career games. After staying an extra year to obtain a business degree, he played a season in the Central League with the Dallas Black Hawks before turning pro in 1982.

But Feamster did not enjoy the same success as an NHL defenseman.

“I just never had a coach who gave me the confidence to (let me make plays),” he said. “I always thought of myself as an offensive guy in college, but when I got to the NHL, I became a penalty killer. I never saw one minute of power play time in the NHL, yet in college, I was on the power play every shift.”

Nerves also played a big factor in his pro game.

“You play a little bit more reserved and don’t want to make any mistakes, because you may not get another shift,” Feamster explained. “That pressure of not allowing yourself to make a mistake was bad. I always wanted to move the puck and never get too far out of my position; where in college, I could take chances and if you didn’t succeed, well, you’re going to go out there the next shift.”

His NHL career was short-lived. In a game against the North Stars in his third season, Paul Holmgren hit Feamster from behind, slamming his head and back against the boards.

“I was kind of dazed,” he said.

Feamster didn’t think much of the injury and wound up finishing the 1983-84 season. However, during the 1984 Canada Cup training camp, he started to lose the power in his legs. After a visit to the hospital, he was informed that he had a stress fracture of his L5 vertebrae.

“If you were my son,” the doctor told him, “I’d tell you to go out and get a real job.”

After taking a year off to rehab his back and attempt a return, Feamster realized there was no hope of returning to the NHL. He tried to make a transition into management, but after two years of scouting for the Detroit Red Wings, he realized it was not the field for him.

“The only thing scary about working in hockey is that you’re only a phone call away from getting the gas pipe,” Feamster said. “If a new regime comes in and your GM is out the door, you’re going to be, too. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”

In a strange twist of fate, Feamster entered the business that gave him his first opportunity in hockey – Little Caesar’s.

“The transition was very tough, because I was forced to leave the game, I didn’t choose to leave,” Feamster said. “I was feeling like I wasn’t at a good place with my confidence.”

Feamster spoke with Little Caesar’s and Detroit Red Wings owner Marian Ilitch, who he said was “very positive and very encouraging.”

The Ilitchs, along with their son, Mike Jr., started Feamster on his second career with his own Little Caesar’s pizza store in Denver. Today, he owns seven additional stores in the state.

“You have to follow your passion,” Feamster said. “If you don’t have passion, you’re not going to be able to take it to the next level, you’re going to limit yourself. You won’t have the fire to show up at six in the morning for practice.”

However, Feamster recognizes that his success stemmed mainly from the generosity of his bosses.

“The Ilitchs have just been so kind and generous to me, from the time I was a kid, to helping me get started in the pizza business, to financing my first store, to letting me work with the Red Wings for a couple years scouting,” he said. “I am nothing but grateful to them; they’re great people.”

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