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Last Cut Is The Deepest: The journey of an oft-cut emergency backup hopeful

Getting axed in my quest to become the Los Angeles Kings emergency backup goalie is the latest smear.
Courtesy of Travis Ridgen

Courtesy of Travis Ridgen

You know that defeated feeling you get when the coach pulls you into the office and strokes your ego a bit before telling you you’re released? If you play in the NHL, you may have never experienced it. But I don’t, nor have I gotten even a sniff at that level, so I know what it’s like to get cut. It would probably be more efficient if I told you the teams that haven’t cut me.

But that would take the fun out of it, so here goes: the Prince George Cougars of the WHL; the Steinbach Pistons, Selkirk Steelers and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior League; the Seven Oaks Raiders, Fort Garry Twins and St. Boniface Riels of the Manitoba Major Junior League; the North Winnipeg Satelites and St. Malo Warriors, then of the Keystone Junior League; the Soo Firehawks and Traverse City Hounds, then of the U.S. Premier League; the Soo Thunderbirds and Iroquois Falls Eskis of the Northern Ontario Junior League; and finally, the Dryden Ice Dogs and English River (renamed Red Lake) Miners of the Superior International Junior League.

Oh, and the Los Angeles Kings. In September 2017, my buddy Chris Peters told me the Kings were holding a tryout for an emergency backup goalie. Thousands applied, and few get chosen to try out, as I learned when I had failed to make the cut with the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. The application asked why L.A. should bring me down, and I said something like, “It would give me a great Tinder profile pic.”

I got the call, so I skipped three days from college, put on my best shorts-and-flannel combo and headed down to L.A. to chase the dream. The Kings have three emergency backups. One must be at practice every day and each rotates every three home games. If you’re ever pressed into service, you sign an amateur tryout contract and sit on the bench as the backup. That’s great if you live there but, remember I’m a Winnipegger, studying business, while playing my overage year of junior in Arborg, Man. Would I have made it work somehow for the microscopic chance I might someday get into an NHL game? Hell yeah, I would have. We all dream of playing in The Show one day, even to be the next Scott Foster, the 36-year-old accountant thrown in by the Chicago Blackhawks last season, stopping seven shots in 14 minutes of work and being named the first star.

I got to the tryouts, and there were about 30 of us there. I was the only guy who wasn’t from California and that, combined with my 6-foot-5 frame, beard and heavy Canadian accent, made me stick out a little. I made it down to the last 10 goalies. When I left, they told me they would email us when they made their decision. I never got that email, but I did see on their social media feed not long after that they had made their three choices, all local guys. I had been cut but, like every other time, it was another noodle in the spaghetti pot.

You see, I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start playing goal until I was 10 and didn’t play AAA until I was 16. You’ll probably find empty nets with better stat lines than I had in Jr. A. However, I’m now the third goalie at Vancouver Island University of the B.C. Intercollegiate League, which is one step below Canadian USports hockey. To this point, I’ve played one game this year. The stats line says I’ve played 30 minutes and have a goals-against average of 7.94 and save percentage of .789.

I know what you’re thinking, because almost everyone I know thinks it: “Just give up already!” I keep asking myself whether it’s worth it to keep chasing the dream, and that same thought comes back into my head. Why would I give up something I’ve been working toward since my dad first taught me to skate at four? Hockey is a measuring stick to life. People who quit in hockey because of adversity are the same kinds of people who quit in life, something I learned from my dad, Frank, and my goalie coach Nolan Kurceba.

That’s why I tried out for the Kings, why I chase the dream today and why I will until I can’t do it anymore. All the teams that cut me didn’t think much of me, but here I am, still playing. I love this game and wouldn’t change it for the world. — with Ken Campbell

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