Between the Lines.
Name: Dave Kolomatis
Hometown: Basking Ridge, NJ
Professional Sports: Drafted to LA Kings in 2009. 10 years professional between the AHL, Europe, and ECHL
Let’s get this out of the way early. I never made it. I don’t write that because I want you to feel sorry for me, or because I want a pat on the back. I say it because for a long time, I couldn’t. As a matter of fact, I can tell you the exact moment this clicked in my head. What followed wasn’t the idea to give the bag that eternal zip up and move on, although I’d be lying if I said that thought didn’t creep up on me from time to time, but this understanding that if I was going to keep playing, I had to get ready for what was going to come next. I was sitting in the sauna at my apartment in Tampere, Finland when I came to the realization that my dream wasn’t coming true. A wooden box heated up to 200* has a way of drawing shit out of you. I got out and applied to school.
This story came about not only due to this realization, but also because of my return to school. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, but there’s two lines in particular that I feel are important and can sum up what life in the minors have been like for me.
I was in grade 12 when I was first introduced to this poem. I was going to school in Pennsylvania to get my diploma. My OHL season had ended and I needed to finish school so onto high-school number 5 I went. There’s a line in the poem that goes, “Walk with Kings nor lose the common touch.” The poem has 32 lines and I was drawn to this one. Two years later I heard my name called at the draft. Call it immaturity, call it arrogance, I thought, “I’m going to the NHL, I’m literally going to walk with Kings, but I won’t forget you all when I get there.”
Ironically, the next time this poem found me was because of Kevin’s father, Mark Morris, who coached me in my first three years of pro. It hung on the bulletin board of the change room. I was still hooked on this one line. I was well on my way. I signed my first NHL contract. It was only a matter of time before that phone call came, telling me to get to the airport because I was going up. Only it never came.
And so, I’m here: twenty-eight years old, still playing, and 31 credits shy of a college degree, and this poem has come across my desk yet again; only now I find myself focusing on a different line. This one goes, “Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools.” This is the one I wish I understood as a 20-year-old rookie. This is the one that would have taught me about humility. I never made it, and it’s not because a coach had it out for me, or because I didn’t get a fair shot anymore. I gave my life to this game and it didn’t play out the way I once hoped it would, so what? The 20-year-old me couldn’t process this and didn’t have to. I was riding the escalator up. I was one bad bowl of soup away from playing on TV.
I now understand there’s two sides to this poem, the same way there’s two sides to the game of hockey. Only a special group gets to step right out into the lights. For the vast majority of us, our names go up on a list to see the coach a couple days shy of the home opener. This defined a big part of my career. It doesn’t anymore. Embrace the bus. Embrace the shower heads held together with clear tape. Embrace the grind, because I still believe its going to make hitting that top floor that much sweeter. I hope you get there.
"If" by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too: If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise; If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same:. If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools; If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss: If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!" If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much: If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!