Story Note: Adam Lovick played three years in the NAHL from 2012-15, all for the Coulee Region Chill. He is a veteran of 163 career NAHL regular season games, five playoff games and played in two NAHL Top Prospects Tournaments. This past season, he was the captain and leading scorer on the team with 66 points in 60 games. He recorded 115 points in his three years in the league. He parlayed his experience of playing in the league, along with hard work, dedication and strong will into an NCAA Division I commitment to Bemidji State University, where he will be a freshman on the hockey team this Fall.
A couple of days ago, he decided to write down his thoughts regarding his experience playing junior hockey in the NAHL, what he remembers about it (both good and bad) and his advice to future players. His shared this story from the heart on Facebook at which point the NAHL reached out to Adam to see if he would be willing to have it shared on nahl.com. It offers a unique perspective from a player, which the general public and fans don’t often get to see nor hear. It is also totally unsolicited, which gives it a very genuine and honest approach from a player who spent three years of his life in the league, developing as a hockey player and as a human being.
From one player to another
By Adam Lovick
I found myself through the game of hockey. Winning and losing taught me progress is more important than perfection. Memories off the ice were clearer than the game itself. Junior hockey gave me the informal education college doesn’t offer. All these factors combined shaped my perspective on who I am and what I am capable of.
There would be times I would ask myself if it was worth it? From the long days at the rink, to the extra sprints, to staying in on Friday nights while your non-hockey friends go to the party, and at the gym on Saturday getting an ear full from the trainer. There is no planned schedule or itinerary to be the best at what you do. No one will hand it over on a silver platter and say thanks for showing up. It is solely up to you and I questioned if it was for me.
I am a 21-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up around the game since day one. Whether that was watching siblings, skating, or knee hockey tournaments in the basement. This is an area where hockey moms and their seven-year-olds show up to the rink at 6am on a Saturday with smiles on their face. Where 18,000 people show up every year to watch a handful of high school hockey games for the State Tournament. We have season tickets….they come in the mail every year. As kids, when you weren’t on the ice you strapped up the roller blades with your buddies in the neighborhood. That’s how you grow up around the game in this area.
After graduating high school I went on to play Junior hockey in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Coulee Region Chill out of Lacrosse, Wisconsin (what a mouthful). I played there for three years. In the hockey world, “grizzled vet” and “dad” is your title after that many, all for good laughs. Some call it living the dream, while others beg to differ. And the reality of it is, we all aren’t “beauties”. We like to have a good time with friends and hang out. We don’t assume all girls love us. We would by lying to ourselves if we did because we sure as hell struggle on that end. Most of us don’t go to school and after four hours in the rink we usually go home and sit on our butt because we are tired. Junior hockey can be broken down by people who have never played the game or at this level, but they will never truly understand what one can gain.
The summer after my second year in the league, unsure whether I was going to go back for one more, I asked myself a question. I sat down and truly asked myself if this is what I wanted to do. I love the game, but wanted to dig deep and find out if I could live without it. When I was frustrated and a little depressed, I thought about what might happen or not happen, which were some of the worst feelings I have ever felt. I got nowhere thinking like that. I was on the fence and considered hanging up the skates, the skates that have shaped my entire life. I was scared to throw all of that away. I was in a great panic to find out where I was going in life and didn’t see direction with hockey.
One important lesson I learned over the years, the time it takes to manifest, whether that has to do with a goal or a dream, it is part of your own learning process. It is hard to realize these things when they aren’t coming fast enough. Everyone said it takes patience. Failure is part of learning, growing and developing. Ultimately, I felt at a standstill in life. All my friends, who did not play junior hockey, went off to college all over the United States. Coming back over the summer to help them move into their new house, hear about internships and new girlfriends was the hardest part. You originally pictured your life with them during those years. Our friendships were never going to fade, but I didn’t feel connected or involved in their lives. You will sit there and say that is how life goes. The “entourage dream” cannot happen to everyone. But when you get asked what you do, having to explain junior hockey and why you haven’t been to school at 20-years-old as they walk away with a straight face.
I eventually got over myself, pushed everything aside to chase down the dream for one more year and to prove to myself what I am capable of. I didn’t want to let my friends down and to this day it was the greatest decision of my life. The goal was to get an NCAA Division I scholarship, as is everyone’s goal in Junior hockey. Fully committed to that vision, I took it upon myself to do everything during the summer. I was fortunate enough in my last year at Coulee Region to commit to Bemidji State University in the WCHA where I will be a freshman this fall.
The work paid off and I am blessed for the opportunity. Coming into that third year I was a captain and promised I would be the best leader I could be. I would teach the younger guys what I wish I would have known coming in. I knew if I didn’t pass on what I learned in my years they wouldn’t mean anything. Outside of being able to further my career at Bemidji State, whether that was going to happen or not, I can look in the mirror and say everything that was in my control, I did to my full potential.
There were some ups and had a fair share of downs through the 70-game, 120-something practice season. The ups always outweighed the downs. My final year in junior hockey has become a milestone in my life. I realized how big of an impact those years had, and the change I saw in my life for the better. What you learn and experience is not comparable anywhere else. I sit and reflect on those days and they pile up to be one long period in my life, a very good one at that. I learned, “everything will eventually work out, it always does” – Vinny Chase.
The memories remain vivid from traveling all over the Midwest, up to Alaska and out East. I have met guys from coast to coast and everywhere in between. I have made friends with multiple Europeans, some that can’t speak a lick of English. These friendships truly last a lifetime and I still continue to keep in touch with a lot of them. Being together every single day makes it easy to call your teammates in Junior hockey your family. I cannot emphasize that enough. There is no way around it. A true friendship is the best possession and I will always consider the people I have met and grew with while playing the game family.
At the end of the day, you want to know what I miss most? All the guys lounging in the basement watching multiple episodes of ‘Entourage.’ Talking about this kid and that kid from the opponent you face next weekend (you have no idea who they are, they bother you on the ice so you talk ‘smack’). Driving around in the car to absolutely everywhere around town. This was never a problem because guys were willing to cram into the car to tag along for a chicken tender basket and ice cream cone from Dairy Queen. Coming into the locker room after a “bag session”, sprawling out in your stall, grabbing a cold Gatorade, finishing it in five seconds, to then find out what the team DJ has on deck. Bret Bukowski, the greatest DJ I have ever come across. The guy had everything from 80’s cover bands to the infamous YG. He would surprise us everyday. You want it, he has it. After debates, you would walk out of the rink to find yourself asking what you are going to do for the rest of the day. These are the things I miss.
Think of that. I sit and laugh, because Coach would constantly preach how this is the gravy of our lives. He was clearly right. He would say, “You don’t go to school, you come to the rink for 3-maybe 4 hours a day. We only ask to give your everything in that time frame. Then you are free to go do whatever you kids do now a-days.” Everyone around the locker room would shake their head and give the “yeah, yeah” look. These things might not sound eventful, but what made it unforgettable was the bond you had with them. You could talk about anything and everything (sometimes would be out of bounds) because we were all at the same point in our life. We all had one common goal instilled in our heads, with the same mentality. Being better than yesterday at the game we loved and it was our only responsibility for 8-9 months.
You don’t realize what you have until its gone. The biggest cliché there is because it’s true. Very hard to wrap your head around when it all flies by so fast. Next thing you know you are sitting in a desk writing some subpar story wishing you could go back.
In hindsight, if I were writing to myself three years ago, I would say enjoy the process. The journey is the most important part of the story. Enjoy the moments with the guys. Enjoy the wins. Shut the hell up and listen and take in what people have to say. Be a learner. Be quick to correct. Have a large optimistic vision. Don’t get sucked into always looking forward to your next chapter in life. Enjoy the season you are in. Stop trying to look good on the ice because that will take up a lot of time. Don’t be afraid to take a puck to the teeth. The girls aren’t coming either way. Remind your coach how much his input has helped. Tap that rookie forward on the butt as hard as you can after his shift.
If someone asked me about the games played, I could come up with maybe five over the three years, but what I could remember is when the boys went to dinner the night before a game. This one time, we were served bacon cheeseburgers instead of the standard pasta bowl (Eddie, a teammate, was mad because he is the health nut). Everyone outside of Eddie started cheering. You should have seen the look on his face when they came out with cheeseburgers. I’m dying! He didn’t say a word the rest of the meal.
I could tell you the time we slept in the airport at 4am after our flight got delayed. 25 of us sprawled out all over the gate, half of us coughing up a lung with sore throats. Guys were so sick they were throwing up on the plane and it was a mess. But those are the things you remember, little moments like that. Not so much the actual games and it makes you realize what is most important.
Everyone wants to win. We are competitors, but you have to enjoy the moments, give it everything you have, be honest with yourself, look in the mirror, smile and have no regrets. That feeling trumps every win I have ever been apart of (*I have never won a championship). After all of this, I would say find out what you truly want in life, sit down and think about it, maybe write it down and do everything you can to get to that point.
This isn’t an inspirational story that will end with “never give up”. There is a time to tear down and rebuild and I did that with myself. This is a story about a kid who came out to talk about his perspective, what he has gained from his journey so far, his honest thoughts about the tough times and how some nights he wishes he could go back in life, and also not to change anything and just to feel a couple things twice. I don't have it all figured out and accepted that fact. Ignorance is bliss they say. Learning about yourself and finding out what you are passionate for is important. To the kids that are nervous for the future, scared for what is to come… bring your lunch pale and sunblock. Enjoy your life journey. Enjoy where you are. Prepare for what is next and don't wish for it to speed up.
I know in the grand scheme of things, the game of hockey can be taken away from me at anytime and the game will end one day. I am trying to best prepare for what is next, but I have been thankful for the opportunities it has given me, the moments I have stored up and all the good things I have learned. The GAME has paved a path, one I am truly grateful for. Take a step back, thank your family, thank them for their patience in letting you shape your life, allowing you to grow into the person you aspire to be. Thank your friends, the ones that motivate us in every regard. I know I would be lost without them. Thank your coaches and mentors for their time. Most importantly, thank your teammates, your brothers, your second family, who are the ones that ultimately care about you. For putting up with you and all the memories you have created together.
Thanks for winning and losing together. Thank you for giving me life outside the game. Thank you for allowing me to be me. I am Adam Lovick and I played hockey in NAHL. I found myself through this game.