What does perseverance mean to me? It’s my ability to keep moving forward regardless of the setbacks and obstacles I have encountered. My hunger is what keeps me moving towards my ultimate goal of playing hockey at the highest level attainable. I know where my potential can take me and I know I’ll come across challenges, but I’m determined to keep putting one skate in front of the other and as they say ‘keep on keeping on.’ As a goaltender and student of the game, I have experienced my fair share of difficulties along the way- one bad game, an injury, a month or two without playing, discouraging confidence in my abilities, bad luck, being traded multiple times in one season, all of which have played their part in my hockey career. These barriers really put a toll on my mentality and physical presence in net, but it’s precisely because of this full spectrum experience that I am proud to say I’ve accepted a NCAA Division 1 Scholarship to play at the University of Miami of Ohio next fall. How did I get there? Here’s my story and what I’ve learned along the way.
August 2013, my first season of junior hockey began as I was playing for the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the NAHL. Things seemed to be going well to start the season. We had two rookie goalies on the team and pretty much split time down the middle, both getting the opportunity to gain that valuable “game experience.” I came out of the gate playing well, and after our annual league showcase that took place in September, I started receiving phone calls from D1 schools-how exciting. My goal has always been to play D1 hockey and give myself a legit chance to play professional thereafter, so I felt things were right on track with my plan. Seemingly out of nowhere, my game went from good to bad and just never recovered, like a tumbling snowball accumulating more and more weight with each game. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop it from rolling downhill and growing. That season concluded in a way that fell very short of my personal expectations. Looking back, I can see how I let the outside world (external distractions) burrow in my head and affect my game. I knew schools were there to watch our games and I let that change my game; thinking every save had to be a “game changer” instead of just making it look simple, taking an extra look into the stands to see if that scout just saw my fleury, or frantically checking the league stats to see where I ranked. All these things I had absolutely no control over. My head wasn’t in the right place and I felt off; I played not to lose, a recipe of disaster for any athlete, especially a goalie.
That following summer I logged a lot of time at the rink, continuing to work on what I needed to get better at and off the ice getting physically stronger and more flexible. I was skating four times a week and in the weight room 5 days a week in hopes to correct my weaknesses. That is one thing I have noticed in every great goalie I’ve played or trained with; they want to work on what they’re not good at just as much as what they are. I didn’t want what happened the past season to creep it’s ugly head into my game again. I felt much stronger, my skating was crisper and I was prepared to dominate the upcoming season. Everything was aligned for success, or so I thought.
August, 2014 I returned to Wichita Falls for my second season, but this time I had one thing going for me that was absent in years past; experience and maturity, something I’ve learned can be very powerful if used correctly. Despite my best intentions, after our showcase games, things took a turn for the worse. I played in 1 game for Wichita Falls that season before being traded to the Fairbanks IceDogs in Alaska. I couldn’t even explain the feelings running through my body when I heard the news, hearing that you’re “not good enough” is a blow to the ego to say the least. I had such a strong relationship with everyone back in Texas and now having to start over on a new team that has already been together for over a month made it very nerve racking for me. Let alone the transition from 100 degree weather down in Texas to below 0 up in Alaska, I had no idea what to expect going in there.
October, 2014 I arrived in Fairbanks awaiting the new journey in my career. Things started out slow, not many guys opened up to me right away, and there was still 3 goalies at practice which made the whole experience that much more difficult. I wanted to march into the coach’s office and demand he get rid of the third goalie so that I could start getting the appropriate number of shots in practice, etc, but calmer minds prevailed and I kept my mouth shut and just did my job like a true professional. As weeks went on and I began to feel more comfortable and “a part” of the team, my thoughts shifted more positively and I believed as if this could be a good fit for me. I went into Alaska knowing they had a returning goalie from last season, so it was going to be be a battle for playing time, something I was well prepared to do. Being the hardest competitor on the ice was the only way to show the coach I was the man for the job. During a three month span I only ended up playing in eight games, despite being the hardest working goalie day in and day out, which was frustrating none the less. It was a reality check sitting on the bench for most of the time, but I tried to stay positive and remind myself, patience patience patience. Come December, playing our final two games before heading into Christmas break things were getting better as I was finding my niche within the team dynamic. No matter where you are, the season is a grind and holiday break was exactly what I needed; getting to spend time at home with the family, take a break from the hockey world, recharge my batteries and prepare for a stellar second half. Yet again for the second time this season, my snowball started rolling downhill fast.
Sitting at home over christmas break I was scrolling through Twitter just checking what’s going on around the world when I come across the headline, “Goaltender returning to Fairbanks of the NAHL.” My heart skipped a beat and I felt nauseous, no good thought permeated after reading that . The goalie who played in Fairbanks the previous season just announced he was leaving his D1 school to return and play another year of juniors. There was only one thought running through my head now, where am I going this time? I immediately called the GM and head coach of Fairbanks…no answer, that’s never a good sign. What in the world was going on? How do I not know anything? How do they not at least have the audacity to tell me themselves that I’m being cut, no, I have to read it on Twitter…I hate hockey.
A day goes by and finally I get a call from the coach who long story short tells me my services are no longer needed in Fairbanks- shocker. They had no answer for me as to where they were sending me and kinda left it up to me to find a team to play for – shocker again. Instead of having this relaxing trip home spending Christmas opening presents and sipping hot chocolate, I’m left scrambling to find any opportunity that would allow me to play hockey again this season. Lucky enough I reached out to a few teams and contacted past teammates I’ve been close with (something every goalie should do and an example of why you don’t want to burn any bridges in the hockey world) and ended finding another team in the NAHL that was in need of a goalie. There was no hesitation for me, I couldn’t afford to be picky this late in the season, so away I went onto my 3rd team in 5 months, playing for the Michigan Warriors.
The transition to Michigan was much easier for me since I knew two kids on the team already, and having the experience of coming to a new team this season made it a much smoother transition. I guess practice does really make perfect. Again, I was coming into a situation where they already had a “number 1” guy so icetime was going to be limited. The year rolled on and I finally got the opportunity to play a little towards the end of the season. I even helped our team get into the playoffs and earn a sweep over a division rival. We made a solid postseason run, but the season ended in the second round and I knew there was no time to waste in preparing for my final year of juniors, my LAST chance to earn a Division 1 scholarship.
After talking things over with Eric, hearing his experience about navigating the choppy waters of junior hockey, he made me realize that all you need in ONE solid year to get that D1 offer. Regardless of what you’ve been though, no matter how many times you’ve fell short, if you can just put things together your last year, you have a shot. Most teams in fact prefer to take a goalie that has been through some stuff, had ups and downs, learned and gotten better because they know it builds character. They don’t care who you were before, they want to know who you will be when you’re at school. It’s not uncommon for a 20 year old to receive his scholarship after not really talking to any school in years past. Teams want a goalie with experience not flash. I was even more inspired to get to work and continue to fix my flaws.
The first thing I had to do was forget about everything that happened. Clear my head of all the distractions that could derail me to start the summer with nothing but positive thoughts and a new attitude. I first sat down with one of my trainers and we agreed my focus for the summer would be 40% mental, 30% physical, and 30% technical. I felt that my mental game was what would help me separate myself from others. Us goalies have been playing the game long enough and it’s almost as if we can play purely off instinct when our mental game is right. Another main focus over the summer was playing to my size, something Eric really helped me understand how to do. Being a bigger goalie, it was time to start playing BIG not big. We worked hard on positioning and staying more patient on my feet to show the shooter my full 6’4” frame longer. This also helped me simplify my save selection because I was reacting from a stance position instead of always from my knees, helping me to avoid reaching and opening up my body unnecessarily. I was now able to catch pucks in front of me more regularly and keep rebounds controlled to a spot where I was ready to get my feet set again. Combining all things made me BIG.
Eric explained to me that if this was going to be my new philosophy in net, my skating had to be the absolute best part of my game. We worked hard on perfecting the “long lateral shuffle” to implement the theory of keeping my feet north as much as possible. We did a lot of footwork drills and edge work, which made an immediate impact in my game. Playing as a big goalie can be thought of as “boring.” Eric knew this and encouraged me to watch NHL goalies that have a similar style and pick up on their tendencies and find similarities. Watching Mike Smith of the Coyotes, I noticed his transitions and movement in the crease and they way he made it look so effortless. Another thing that helped me gain some new perspective was working at a few of the MGS camps and teaching younger goalies. By summer’s end, I knew I put in all the work necessary to capitalize on my last chance to make my dream a reality.
Go figure, the Michigan Warriors ended up folding mid summer and again I was left scrambling. I eventually accepted a training camp invite with the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL. After tearing up that camp, I signed to play for the 2015-2016 season. Their track record for goalies having post-junior success was very good (an important thing to consider for all you aspiring goalies, ask where do their goalies go when they leave), and being the defending National Champions didn’t hurt either. Arriving in Minnesota and getting the season started, I had a good feeling this was going to be the year of Chase Munroe. The team only carried 2 goalies which made it easier to focus on just battling for that starting job. The annual opening season showcase was going to be huge for me, but I knew from past experiences that I couldn’t let who was in the stands affect how I played. I ended up playing in all four games of the showcase and low-and-behold, when you get rid of outside distractions the game just comes to you differently, good different.
After our fourth game that weekend I had to the opportunity to talk to a school that had been a dream of mine for years. This alarm in my head went off as if the Ghost of Goalie Past came to remind me of what happened the last time I spoke to a D1 school. I couldn’t let my head get big again, just stay consistent and play your game. Weeks went by and this was my only mindset. Staying focused on our team goal of winning another championship makes it more fun to play, something every goalie needs more of. On October 26th of this season I took an official visit out to Miami of Ohio and a few days later, accepted an offer to play for them next season! Finally, everything I have worked for came together. I set a goal to become a NCAA Division 1 Student-Athlete and now thanks to all that I have been through, I will have that opportunity.
It has been a long and gruesome few years of junior hockey. Would I trade it for anything? Absolutely not. The amount of things I’ve learned along the way have truly shaped me as a person and as a goaltender. Having so much more experience and my level of maturity in the real world have made this season much different from the rest. Everything I’ve worked on over the years have finally become prevalent in my game not just once and awhile, but game in and game out. It’s no surprise that my success this year and college commitment came at a time when my game became the most consistent and I played free of distractions, playing to win. If there is ever a word that describes my junior experience and how I achieved my dream it’s battle. Life is a battle, the game of hockey is a battle, being a backup goalie is a battle, being a starting goalie is a battle. It is the hardest position in all of sports and you are faced with the most pressure every time you step on the ice. The toughest battle you face isn’t on the ice though, it’s in between the ears, it’s the mental side of the game. Appreciate what you have instead of what you don’t, hockey isn’t always fair so instead complaining and finding an excuse, just put your head down and go to work.