A day in the life of an ice hockey player

To support our StoryParks initiative with Nottingham City Council for a second year and commitment to doing the right thing for our local communities, we have created a series of interviews from our Society and partners to showcase a range of interesting jobs that are out there to inspire children to investigate different careers!

This year, for Story Parks at Home in 2020's new normal we're bringing the libraries and the parks to everyone's homes via a revamped website and social media, including Facebook and Instagram. The website is packed full of great activities from bug-hunting and drumming to mindfulness and storytelling in a brand-new library, packed full of activities to engage and inspire your little ones at home.

As well as Park Rangers, storytellers and rugby players we've caught up with Jon Rheault, Nottingham Panthers right winger. Here is a day in the life of a professional ice hockey player. 

Hi Jon, let's start right at the beginning. What was your first ever job?
I worked as an assistant starter at a golf course in my hometown and I worked for a goalie coach as a “shooter”.

Describe your job to us - what does an ice hockey player actually do?
This job encompasses quite a few different facets. There’s off-season and in-season training, games, eating well, getting enough sleep and being a public figure/role model. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes! 

The off-season is anything but off. I spend 5 days a week in the gym for 2+ hours until about a month before the season where I then add ice sessions 2-3 times a week and end up with 2 training sessions a day - one on ice and one off ice. 

During the season, we train normally on ice Tuesday-Friday and also have 2 off ice. This is all in preparation for our weekend games usually on Saturdays and Sundays. Travel to games also adds another challenge as we could be on the bus for 6 hours to Scotland and play that night and then have to bus to our next destination.

Being a public figure and role model to kids means a lot of responsibility. I make sure that I do the best I can to set a good example as a person in community and try to make sure kids know that they can achieve their dreams. It is an honor to do what I do for a living and I know with that comes responsibility and I try to be aware of that in all that I do.

Who or what was your inspiration for getting into the work that you do?
Both of my parents were my inspiration to start playing hockey. My dad grew up playing American football until he was 12. When his family moved to New Hampshire, they didn’t allow 12-year olds to play football so his mom signed him up for hockey. He was able to earn a division one scholarship to Colgate to play hockey and even got a chance at a try-out with the Philadelphia Flyers. His story has motivated me through every step of the way and he was the perfect example of how hard work and determination pay off.

My mother was one of seven kids and her father owned an ice hockey rink where the 5 boys in the family played hockey and my mom and her sister worked at the snack bar. My grandfather played NCAA division one hockey. Also, one of my uncles played division one hockey at Brown University. My mom and dad met when they were 15 and he honed his skills at the family ice rink. Clearly, hockey was in my blood and my family introduced me to the game that I fell in love with. I would not be where I am without them and the support of my three amazing sisters and they are in my heart every time I take to the ice.

What steps did you take to get to where you are today?
I moved away from home and was offered scholarships to multiple prep-schools. I chose where I ended up because of their prestigious education program and was able to use hockey to get this opportunity. After that year, I pivoted because I was getting a lot of NCAA attention and chose to play junior hockey (more visibility from scouts from universities and the NHL) and attend a private high school. During this year, I went on many recruitment visits to universities and at the age of 16 chose to attend Providence College. Also, during this season, I was being offered money to go a different route and play Major Junior hockey in Canada, but I would have had to forfeit the opportunity to attend university. With the amazing guidance of my mother, I made one of the biggest and best decisions of my life and chose to go to university. 

After an extremely strong season and because I had done very well academically, Providence College allowed me to skip my last year of high school and go to university early. I was drafted to the NHL after my second university season by the Philadelphia Flyers. I played all four years at Providence College and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Business Management and a minor in Finance. Once my college career was over, I thought I would be signed by the Philadelphia Flyers, but they chose not to sign me forcing me to work my way up from “the bottom”. I worked my way from AA professional hockey, to AAA professional hockey and ultimately to play games in the NHL.

This path took me from New Hampshire (home state and place of my first pro team), to California, Rhode Island, Western Canada, Texas and then to Florida where I played my first NHL games. Since that season, I have played 3 seasons in Germany, 1 in Switzerland, 1 in Austria and now to the Nottingham Panthers. I have learned so much from this game that will be transferable to anything I do in life. It has taken an incredible amount of hard work, sacrifice and determination but was worth every bit of it to be able to do what I love.

Describe a typical game day to us...
Game days essentially start the night before with a good meal and good night’s sleep. In the morning, the team meets at the arena usually for “pre-game skate” and a light practice to get physically and mentally prepared for the game. We also watch videos to highlight tendencies of our opponent and how we can exploit them.

After this I go home and make my pre-game meal which consists of chicken, pasta, a side of vegetables and salad. I eat this at around 12:30pm for a 7pm game. Up until this point in the day, I try to keep it light and loose mentally as this I have found works best for me. Once I’ve cleaned up, I go take a nap (one of my favourite parts of game day prep!) for a couple of hours. I use music to get pumped up while getting showered and dressed to head over to the arena. I arrive at the arena 2.5 hours before the game. I grab a coffee and spend a short amount of time engaging with the rest of the team. Next, I have an extensive body preparation routine that has been added to as I’ve got older to get my body feeling its best by the time I get on the ice. During this time, I listen to music that I have carefully selected to either calm me if I’m feeling over-excited to give me energy if I am feeling I need a boost. This leads right up to the time I need to get my gear on and then it’s GAME TIME!

What’s the best thing about your job?
I get to live my childhood dream.

Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to be an ice hockey player?
A tip for anyone chasing a dream: do not listen to people that say you can’t do it. You can achieve anything with enough hard work, commitment and sacrifice so chase your dreams! It is worth every bit of it.

Do you have a life motto or a saying that you live by?
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Georde Addair/Will Smith

What would be your Plan B?
I have always wanted to be a professional hockey player. My parents have a video from when I was only 5 years old and my aunt asked me, “What do you want to be when you grew up?” and I said, “I want to be a pro hockey player”. She then responds, “Well what else would you want to do if you can’t play hockey?”. To that I responded, “No. I will be a pro hockey player!”. There was never a plan B, but I obviously made smart choices with regards to education that naturally gave me a plan B if I needed it and will hopefully provide opportunities when my career is over, an inevitable end that every sportsperson faces.

How do you like to switch off outside of work?
This is an area that is hard for me. I struggle to turn off from hockey and am often carrying a lot in my mind when I am away from the arena. How I feel off the ice is directly and sometimes unhealthily related to how my team and I are doing. I would recommend to others looking to pursue a career in sports to find a way to turn off because it can be hard at times if you can’t. 


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