Oh off-season, where do I begin? I love it and hate it at the same time. By the time the season is coming to a close I'm craving my house, my bed, my backyard, and my friends. By the time the summer is over I'm craving hockey and creating or expanding on new friendships. Usually for me, it's creating new friendships, because we are always on the move. And that's the main reason why I have a problem with the off-season. There has only been one summer in 7 years that we've known where we were going to be the following season when it started. That makes for a very stressful, not at all relaxing summer.
Unfortunately Mike's career has been rife with one year contracts. It's not a fun way to live. During the season we know that if things don't go well, even for just a few games, then it could be over. Hockey is a business and if you don't perform the way the team wants you to, even if it's not of your doing, you're out for the next guy. It's not a fun way to spend a year, but that's what happens when you've outlived being a prospect. Then there's the sitting around by the phone after the season waiting to find out if they want you back or if you are headed to free agency.
Usually there is a few week period before the initial worry starts to set in. You're packing, moving, unpacking, seeing family and friends, etc. Then things start to settle in and you begin to think about what the future holds. It's definitely not easy on the guys who have their career on the lines, but it's not easy on the families either because we have to see what the guys go through.
I've spent many summers watching Mike's face after he tells people he has no idea where we're going to be the following year. It's heartbreaking. There's nothing he can do but hope that there's interest and wait. There's nothing I can do but watch. Not to mention how stressed he gets the longer the wait goes. I know I'm not surprising anyone by saying that when our significant other hurts, we hurt. We're both planners, so not having a plan is really one of the worst things that can happen to us.
Sometimes I get so stressed out myself about whether we'll have a job in North America or not that I will sit down and make a list of every goaltender under contract with every team and try to see where there are open jobs for the following season. Then I'll make a list of all the free agent goaltenders and come up with a ranking system. NHL free agents obviously get pegged into open NHL jobs, then there's the guys with NHL experience who played in the AHL, then there's the guys who have no NHL games but had good years in the A, and so on. It's difficult to see that there are 20 NHL and AHL jobs open with 40 guys that could suitably fill those positions.
It shouldn't come as a shock that guys with contracts the following season have a much more relaxing and fun summer than guys who don't. Last summer that was us, and we were able to just focus on having fun, traveling, training, and spending time with friends. Every other summer we don't know what's coming so it's a summer full of budgeting as if no offer will come, trying to explain to people why we don't know where we're going yet, hearing about friends signing and congratulating them while wondering if he's been phased out of North America and if we should be considering Europe. So far for us things have always worked out, and when it does neither of us are able to stop smiling for a week.
I would never dream about getting involved in Mike's hockey career. I don't tell him where to go, who to sign with, etc. I don't even have the phone number of his agent. That's just what has always worked for us. I'm not going to be picky about where he plays, and honestly many people never have that luxury. Sometimes only one team will be interested and the guy doesn't have much of a choice on where to play that year. That's just the reality of hockey.
I'm more than happy to follow my fiance to whatever team he chooses to sign with. There are different experiences and opportunities to be had in every city and with every organization. Not all are good, but you learn from that too. I obviously have my favorite and least favorite cities that we've been in, but I wouldn't go back and change a thing. There was one season where it seemed like nothing would go the way we had hoped, yet that experience really brought us together as a couple. You learn a lot about yourself and how you handle things in difficult situations.
This summer has been one of the best for us by far. We were worried about what next season would hold. We'd just gotten engaged and staying in North America needed to happen. I wasn't looking forward to either planning my wedding from Europe or staying home to do it and missing out on everything Mike got to experience. Thankfully not only did the offer come, but it was the earliest we've ever signed in a summer! Not to mention the team is only a few short hours from where the wedding will be so it'll be very easy for me to get home on away game weekends to get some wedding stuff done. I couldn't be happier with how this summer has gone or with the organization we're going to. Here's hoping the upcoming season and wedding planning goes the same way!