Parkite goes pro for one hockey game with the Utah Grizzlies
It took Thomas Anderson three years after he quit the junior hockey league Fargo-Moorhead Jets in 2007 before he wanted to play again, but his love for the game came back with a vengeance.
The 30-year-old real estate property specialist now coaches Wasatch High School hockey, the Ice Miners U12 team in Park City and teaches local Learn to Skate programs. He’s also a standout in a Salt Lake adult rec league, or “beer league” as it’s known colloquially.
“Anybody that knows Tom knows his No. 1 thing in life is hockey,” said Charley Kramer, 29, a paralegal who has dated Anderson for five years. “Everything is hockey. He loves hockey. I mean, if he doesn’t play hockey, he is going to be crabby.”
But when Anderson hung up his skates when he was 20, and quit the Jets, his team in the North American Hockey League, he thought that was the end. He was tired of being away from his girlfriend at the time in Michigan and wanted to go to college.
“I was just done,” Anderson said.
He certainly never thought he would have another shot at the professional game.
But 10 years later, players were still complimenting his ability.
When Carolina Hurricanes player Josh Wesley, who spends the off season in Park City, asked Anderson to train with him two years ago, the NHL defenseman encouraged Anderson’s dreams of playing the game again, and Anderson thought maybe he should give it a second shot.
Kramer saw his talent, too, and wanted to support him.
“Dating him I’ve watched a lot of hockey,” she said, estimating the number of games, both local and on television, she’s watched with him as “thousands.”
“I could see he has a talent that I don’t see in every other person that plays men’s league hockey,” she said.
So last March, she paid the $300 entry fee for a free agent camp with the Utah Grizzlies, Salt Lake’s minor league squad, which became a farm team for the Colorado Avalanche this season. Players in attendance would have a slim but real chance of joining the team.
Kramer told Anderson over a weekend dinner at their Bear Hollow house that he was going to try out.
“You need to follow your dreams, you need to do it,” Kramer recalled telling Anderson.
The reality of the situation hit Anderson like a check into the boards: He had six months to get ready after not playing contact hockey for a decade.
He had to lose 15 pounds and drastically improve his physical fitness.
“It was grind mode after that,” Kramer said.
Anderson started working with a physical trainer in Salt Lake four days a week, waking up at 5 a.m. to exercise before work. He also trained with a group of high-level players he knew through coaching, and occasionally joined the Ice Miners U18 team for drills.
When it came time for the Grizzlies tryout, he was in the best shape of his life, and his skill stood out enough that Grizzlies head coach Tim Branham invited him to the team’s main camp.
Another month of intense training went by, then Anderson attended the main camp, where he was competing against bona fide professional players, many of whom were nearly a decade younger than him, and made it through two rounds of cuts.
“My biggest goal was, I wanted to make it through the training camp at the Maverick Center and play in my first professional hockey game,” Anderson said.
Anderson checked the roster on Oct. 5, the day of the team’s first preseason game against the Idaho Steelheads. And there was his name, slated to play center.
News traveled quickly. He started getting congratulatory texts from people in Michigan who he hadn’t heard from in a decade.
The Ice Miners club sent out an email to all of its parents encouraging people to come to the game, where Anderson would make his debut as a professional player.
“There must have been 100 little Ice Miners out there,” Anderson said.
He played six shifts over the first two periods, but the Grizzlies fell behind. When Anderson didn’t come out in the third period, the Ice Miners started to get anxious to see their coach play.
“They were pounding on the back of this professional coach’s head on the glass and cheering the whole third period, shouting ‘We want Tommy!’” Anderson said. “It was an unbelievable experience. I was embarrassed at first, but then I’m like, ‘I’m just going to take this in. I’m pretty sure this is my last professional game. I’m pretty sure I’m going home tomorrow,’ so I just soaked it all in.”
A player approached him after the game.
“He knew my story and he tossed me the game puck and said, ‘Hey man, you’re a professional hockey player and no one can ever take that away from you,” Anderson recalled.
After being away from high-level hockey for more than a decade, he said playing for the Grizzlies showed how much of the game he had forgotten.
He was released from the team the next day. But he knew where he stood, and had accomplished his goal.
That night, he took the ice for the rec league Domo Dusters. They won 5-3, with Anderson scoring three goals and assisting on the other two.
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