Wiseman’s journey takes him from NHL to coaching women’s pro team
In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.
Chad Wiseman will always remember the date of his first NHL call-up. In fact, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t have made it any easier for the then-21-year-old forward to remember.
The news of Wiseman’s promotion came from Cleveland Barons coach Roy Sommer on March 3, 2003, and for a guy who wore No. 3 as a kid growing up, 3/3/03 couldn’t have been a more perfect day to finally have a childhood dream come true.
Over the next decade-plus, however, Wiseman would learn that getting to the NHL and sticking in the league are not necessarily one in the same — an education in the highs and lows of professional hockey that he’s now applying to his new job as the coach of the National Women’s Hockey League’s New York Riveters.
"My dream was to play in the NHL and I did it, whether it was one game or 1,000 games," said the 34-year-old Wiseman, who scored one goal and had one assist in nine career regular-season NHL games and one playoff appearance. "Obviously I would have loved to play more, but I have zero regrets and I wouldn’t have done anything different."
The son of a former professional hockey player, Wiseman’s career began in Burlington, Ontario, where Wiseman, one of five brothers, became the second of four Wiseman boys to join the Burlington Cougars of the OPJHL — a team his father, Wes, Sr., later coached. The following season, Chad Wiseman continued his junior career with the Mississauga IceDogs and after two years there, the Sharks selected Wiseman in the eighth round of the 2000 draft.
Following the draft, Wiseman spent one more season at the junior level, splitting his time between Mississauga and Michigan, where he finished the year with the Plymouth Whalers. In 2001, he began his professional career with the Barons of the AHL. During his first pro season, Wiseman had 21 goals and 29 assists, and in the middle of his second consecutive 50-point year with Cleveland, he earned the promotion to San Jose.
The day after his call-up, March 4, Wiseman met the team in Edmonton. He played eight shifts against the Oilers that night and figured it to be the start of a bright future in the league.
"Sometimes you can get caught up in a moment and just kind of being in awe of who you’re on the ice with and the surroundings that you’re in," Wiseman said. "You just want to get out there and get your feet wet, get a hit in and get involved in the game and worry about nothing but playing and not that you’re facing off beside or with Mark Messier or whoever it might be."
Wiseman went on to play in three more games over the next week, logging four penalty minutes, but on March 11 — the same day his old No. 3 became available with the deadline-day trade of Dan McGillis to Boston — the Sharks informed Wiseman he’d been sent back to Cleveland. Still, he felt like it was only a matter of time before he’d have another chance.
"Being a young guy on two-way contracts, you’re getting called up and sent down," Wiseman said. "When all of a sudden you get sent down, for a young player, sometimes it can hurt their confidence. For some players it can motivate them that, ‘Hey, I got a taste of it and I want to get back up there and play more.’ But I felt like I belonged.
"You get a taste of it and you start playing and you start to feel a bit more comfortable after a few games and have a little more confidence that, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can play here.’ So at that time, when you feel confident and you’ve played some games, you’re really only worried about getting to the next game and proving yourself some more."
However, Wiseman would soon find out that if he had a future in the NHL, it wouldn’t be with San Jose. That summer, the club traded him to the New York Rangers. There, he was reunited with former Barons assistant Nick Fotiu, who had been hired as an assistant coach for the Rangers’ AHL club in Hartford, Conn.
"It was a shock to me, a big shock," Wiseman said of the trade. "I wasn’t upset because I understand the way that the game is. I was young and you hear the name the New York Rangers and you’re kind of in awe, but at the time, I was so invested with San Jose, and I had a good rookie season in the American League and then a real good second year. I had some real strong summer camps where I was always teetering on making the team out of camp, so for me, going into my third season, I expected to make the (Sharks) team out of camp that year. That was my mindset."
A new team meant a number of challenges for Wiseman, who suddenly had to master an unfamiliar system, acclimate to a new city and find a way to stand out among a group of players more familiar to the Rangers brass. Still, he continued to play well for the Wolf Pack, and on Jan. 6, 2004, New York brought Wiseman up from Hartford. But early on, Wiseman played sparingly, appearing in just one of the Rangers’ first three games following his call-up.
"I was basically the 13th forward at that time, and with the salary cap and everything, we had a team full of All-Stars," Wiseman said. "So naturally they were getting the minutes every night, which they should be. They had earned it. So I was just kind of biding my time for the coach to make the decision or for injuries."
Then Chris Simon earned himself a two-game suspension for attacking Ruslan Fedotenko of the Tampa Bay Lightning during a game, opening the door for Wiseman to play more. In the third period of the team’s second game without Simon, Wiseman scored his first and only career goal, beating Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils for his first career point.
"I was playing with Matthew Barnaby and Eric Lindros and it was one of my first games playing with one of the top lines," Wiseman recalled. "It was kind of a broken 3-on-2 coming down, and I remember Barnaby saying that he slid it over to me. But I think he actually lost the puck trying to make a move. Anyway, the puck hopped onto my stick in the slot and I just shot it. As a hockey player, you don’t always have to lift your head to know where the net is, and it was just one of those plays where I got the puck and got a quick release off and beat Marty over the glove."
Even better, Wiseman’s parents had come in from Burlington and were in the Madison Square Garden crowd for the goal, which tied the score at 2-2.
"I can remember everything about it, from how loud it was to Lindros picking me up afterward," Wiseman said. "I still have a photo on my wall of him grabbing me. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
"Some players might be different where they don’t hear the fans, but for me, I always took it in. I was aware what was going on around me, I could hear the crowd — after a goal, not so much during play — and I remember being this 21- or 22-year-old kid and coming back to the bench and Glen Sather and Tom Renney tap you on the head. For me, as a young player, it was a one-of-a-kind moment."
Unfortunately, reality hit Wiseman just as quickly as he beat Brodeur. Five days after his goal, he was sent back down to Hartford, and though he was recalled again for a one-game stint in February 2004, the ’04-05 NHL lockout meant Wiseman never even had a chance to rejoin the Rangers the following season. Then shortly after training camp in 2005, Wiseman had another setback on his journey back to the league.
"I had a really solid camp where I thought I may actually have a chance to stay on the team right after camp, and I was only sent down a few days before the AHL actually started," Wiseman said. "Then in the first period of the first game after getting sent down, I took a slapshot in the face and it crushed my cheekbone, broke my orbital. I think I had 18 fractures in my face at the time. So for a young man at that time I was a bit devastated. I’d gotten sent down and then that’s the way my season started in the American League. It was a bit frustrating, but it’s just part of the game."
In mid-November, once he was healthy enough to play, Wiseman finally found himself back with the NHL club, but he didn’t play in his first two games following the promotion. Then he watched the third from the stands with his parents during a road game in Buffalo, just an hour from his hometown. Later that week in Atlanta, on Thanksgiving night, Wiseman got in a few shifts and assisted on a Blair Betts goal, the only other point of Wiseman’s career.
He was sent back to Hartford the following day. That April, Wiseman made a playoff cameo against New Jersey, but after that, he would never play in the NHL again.
In 2006, Wiseman signed with the Washington Capitals but spent the whole season with the team’s AHL club in Hershey, Pa., and in 2007, he played a season with a pro club in Germany. In 2008, Wiseman returned to the States to play with the Devils — he was told president and GM Lou Lamoriello was impressed by what he saw of him in his two previous games against New Jersey — but injuries kept Wiseman from ever truly being himself again.
"I think I ended up having nine groin surgeries and one hip surgery from 2006 on, so it was just tough to ever get a rhythm," Wiseman said. "With all the stress that was putting on it, it could just never recover, so I was never able to get those call-ups because I’d only play two or three weeks at a time then I’d be out for a week rehabbing. It seemed like it was kind of Groundhog Day for me with that injury over the last five years."
Wiseman finished his career by spending the 2013 in Sweden, followed by one final season in Japan last year. Now he’s hung up his playing skates for good and is using his lifelong passion for coaching in the NWHL’s inaugural season.
"I was kind of plagued by injuries the second half of my career, so unfortunately I spent a lot of time watching games," Wiseman said. "It depends on what kind of person you are, but for me, I can watch a game and critique it or learn from it. I’d always wanted to be a coach, and I knew that years and years ago. So I utilized my time well and I watched the games and studied the games and the systems and what worked and didn’t work. So I used my time, kind of as a student of the game, to watch and learn knowing that at some point in my life I was going to be a coach."
The four-team league kicks off its first season on Sunday, when Wiseman’s Riveters play the Connecticut Whale. Wiseman sees it not only as an opportunity to get himself some experience behind the bench, but also to help grow the sport of women’s hockey as part of league that actually pays its players.
All these women, these girls, they have the same desire as the men to continue to play hockey and to play it at the highest level.
"All these women, these girls, they have the same desire as the men to continue to play hockey and to play it at the highest level," Wiseman said. "They’re competitors and to be able to give them a league to grow from here, and to have that drive where after college they still have something to stride for, I think it’s fantastic. You have the national teams, but the Olympics is only every four years. Now, they have time to show themselves and prove themselves. Maybe there are players who are borderline and they have some good seasons and now they’re candidates to play on the national team. So a lot of good is going to come from this."
Wiseman didn’t have coaching experience before NWHL co-founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan hired him to coach the Riveters, but Wiseman previously worked as an elite-level trainer. He knows his time as a player — and specifically his experience dealing with the struggles of life as a guy on the fringe of the NHL — will make the adjustment easy.
"I’m a coach now, but I’m not going to forget how it was when I was a player, and I think you see that sometimes where some of these coaches forget what it was like," Wiseman said. "I always told myself I wouldn’t do that and that I’d use my experience and my knowledge and look back on my career when I see other players going through the same thing. How can I help them or what can I do as a coach to get them through a specific situation?
"If they’re having a tough time on the ice and they’re not scoring or they’re going through a personal situation or whatever it might be, I can look back on my career and think, ‘How would I have wanted to be handled by a coach in that situation?’"
While Wiseman certainly wishes he could have gotten more out of his career on the ice, he says he’s content with what he accomplished and feels it prepared him perfectly for his next adventure.
"I’m super proud of my career," Wiseman said. "It was a 14-year pro career and I scored on arguably the best goalie to ever play the game, a Hall of Famer, and I think a lot of people would love to be in that situation. I take everything I’ve done a positive and I learned so much through the years."
You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.