Dreams of NHL glory keep Grizzlies’ players roarin

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    By CHRISTIAN MARTIN

    For some children, playing a professional sport is a dream come true. From playgrounds to basketball courts to ice skating rinks, new dreams are formed everyday, and many dream of playing in front of thousands of fans and getting paid for it.

    While the minor leagues give most players a chance to play professionally in front of large crowds, they still leave many dreams unfulfilled.

    The Utah Grizzlies of West Valley City, the minor league affiliate of the International Hockey League, is no different from other minor league teams. It is comprised of various athletes striving to make it to the next level. In this case, that means the National Hockey League.

    “It’s a childhood dream,” said goalie Mark McArthur. “You’re not playing this game to be second best, you always want to get to that next level. This may be the end of the line but you have to have that dream of getting to the NHL.”

    McArthur is now in his third season with Utah and has yet to skate for an NHL team.

    In the media press release for each game, the Grizzlies’ roster is constantly changing. Half the roster is usually filled by players who have been to the NHL and are trying to get back or finishing out their careers in the minor leagues. This introduces the uncertainty of where a player’s home and job will be from day to day.

    The Grizzlies have had seven different goalies this year. Just because a goalie starts a game one day, it’s no guarantee he will be on the team for the next.

    Goalie Lee Schill played in the West Coast Hockey League this season, a lower level minor league than the IHL’s. He was called up to Utah and earned two consecutive victories, one of which was a shutout. The next week however, Schill found himself back in the WCHL with his former team.

    One of the great stories of this Grizzlies season has been goalie Wade Flaherty, who already won the Goaltender of the Month award for October and was called up to play for the NHL’s New Your Islanders in November and again just last week.

    Usually, this would be great news, but Flaherty and his wife were expecting a new baby within days of the time he was called up in November. Instead of enjoying the moment of playing in the big show, Flaherty had to worry about when his wife would go into labor.

    “It puts a lot of stress in your home life,” Flaherty said. “You get sent down and get to visit with your family for a couple weeks and then you get called up again. Unless you are up there the whole time, you never know what’s going on.”

    Fans who watch the game are not always aware of the struggles that occur behind the scenes. The uncertainty of where a player is going to play, the strain of constant travelling and the pressures of performing each night and earning an income remain a mystery to many.

    “When you play in the NHL, you worry every shift of the game about making a mistake,” said Grizzlies leading scorer Kip Miller. “There is just no comfort level, it’s more of an attitude of what are you going to do for me now. You’ve got to be prepared every game.”

    While the salaries of IHL players are nothing to feel bad about, it’s how they change that concern’s players.

    Some receive a 400 percent increase when they play in the NHL, only to have it taken away after a month. Whis is what minor leaguers experience when they are called up the majors and sent back again.

    “Most of the players’ contracts turn into a lot more money when they are called up,” Flaherty said. “I would estimate the league average income in the IHL to be $55,000, while in the NHL it’s over $1 million.”

    Regardless of how uncomfortable it is to return to the minors, many players don’t have much of a choice in the matter. While there are those players that achieve professional greatness and never have to go through the struggles of a minor leaguer, most players in the minor leagues will continue to struggle on the road to achieving a dream.

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