Sean Pronger, NHL Journeyman: Life after hockey
Sean Pronger saw his professional hockey career start under the auspices of an NHL lockout for the 1994-1995 season. And that’s the way it came to a close in the 2004-2005 season. His final season playing hockey was for the Frankfurt Lions of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. And it was anything but an adventure.
"I went over there thinking I was going to play five or six more years. I thought it was going to be fun. You know, live over there, see the world and play some hockey. I went there thinking it was going to be one thing and it ended up being the complete opposite."
"Having played in North America for ten years, you take for granted the services that the teams provide. Like when you move to a new city you have people telling you ‘these schools, these are the areas that you want to live at, etc.’ But over there (Europe), I had absolutely no help from the front office. You know, foreign country with two young kids, very isolated and it was just a frustrating year right from the second we landed until the second we took off."
"It really broke me to the point where I couldn’t put up with this (expletive) anymore. When we got back (to North America) I said ‘I can’t go back over there.’ So, I decided in July (2005) that it was enough. Then, I got like three offers to go over there and I was like ‘I’m done."
A now-retired Pronger, with two young children, had some time on his hands. He had his degree from Bowling Green State University and was a former NHL player. What was the "game plan" moving forward for a 33-year-old former hockey player?
"I did have a degree however there wasn’t much of a game plan. I was working with a career coach at that time to try and identify what I wanted to do. I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been or as I would like to have been when I decided to hang them up."
"It was a difficult time. I feel bad for all the guys when they transition out (of the NHL), especially the guys that didn’t make a bunch of money. They have to hit the ground running and I was one of those guys. I had to figure something out in a hurry. It didn’t help that I moved to Newport Beach, California (a very expensive place to live). I had to figure it out on the fly."
"I tell everybody that I know that’s still playing to make sure they have a plan. The end will happen as no one plays forever. When you’re playing, you never think that it’s going end as quick as it does."
In November 2012, he released his book, Journeyman, "the many triumphs (and even more numerous defeats) of a guy who’s seen just about everything in the game of hockey" (Penguin Books). He had the help of a few people along the way, including his brother Chris, on his new journey as a writer.
"I had actually thought of (writing a book) my first year as a pro in Greensboro, North Carolina. I had a broken jaw and just had my truck stolen. I was sitting on a park bench, having just been sent there from San Diego. My jaw was wired shut and I had just lost everything I owned. (He chuckled as he said this next bit) So, I’m sitting there contemplating life and all of the wrong choices I’ve made."
"I just started to write stuff down as to how my year was going. I had ten pages written down, filed it for the summer and lost it. So, that was the extent of a book (at that time)."
"In 2008, my brother (Chris Pronger) started a website and he asked me to contribute to it. I said no, as I had nothing to say (or so he thought). I’m not a writer, I don’t know what to write about. Anyway, I kind of dodged him for six months."
"(Chris) wrote a blog about training camp and what it’s like to be a superstar in training camp. I was reading his blog and thinking ‘this is so not what I did.’ So, I told him that I’ll write something about what it was like for guys like me. I wrote about what it’s like to be that ‘bubble guy, grinder’ trying to make an NHL team."
"I think I wrote seven or eight blogs (for his brothers’ website). The Hockey News picked up some of my blog posts and published them. There seemed to be an appetite for this, so I started writing more stuff down. I wrote about my rookie year as a pro, but didn’t post it."
"I brought it with me to the 2010 Olympics (Vancouver). I went and stayed with a buddy of mine, Dan Murphy, (co-author of the book). One night, after a few drinks, I said to Dan ‘hey man, you want to check this out?’ and showed him what I had written. It was 10,000 words, all over the place, in my style which is kind of sarcastic."
"Later that year, Dan had given my name to a book agent looking for ideas. He called me asking about my book. After reading what I had, he said that Dan and I should work together. Dan is a journalist/broadcaster for the Canucks. So, Dan and I worked on it and the agent sent it to seven publishers and we got two offers for it."
His book gives the reader a unique look into the life of the non-superstar life of a hockey player. He also has a clothing line, inspired by the "journeyman" theme of his playing career, at www.jrnymnwear.com. This actually came about before the book was published while he was writing the blog posts on his brother’s website.
So, where does Sean Pronger go from here?
"It’s scary when guys are thinking about retiring because in their mind, they think their best years are behind them. That’s a depressing thought. I’m kind of lucky in that I’m doing stuff now that I didn’t think I could do before. I go skiing and hang out with my kids. I can plan vacations around my kids’ school activities. It’s fun to be able to make plans."
"When I was playing, I couldn’t make any plans. There were countless times where I had friends coming to visit me and I got traded. For example, my parents came to visit me in Columbus and BOOM! I get sent to Syracuse. It’s fun to be able to plan stuff now. I still miss playing but I don’t miss all that uncertainty that goes with the role that I played. Now, I like the excitement of what’s around the corner (in regards to life)."
Almost everyone can identify with the "journeyman" type of player that Sean Pronger was. They are your third and fourth line grinders that are doing everything they can to secure a place on an NHL roster. Their job is never as secure as they would like it to be. And yet, they stick with it and work their butts off, playing the game that they love. Sean Pronger typified that type of player.