Name: Andre Menard
Hometown: Basking Ridge, NJ
Professional Sports: Courbevoie (France2), Caen (France2)
Let’s cut to the chase. My hockey career isn’t anything compared to the previous writers on The Numbers Game. However, I’ve learned a lot of things along the way that may give a different perspective into the world of “pro hockey”.
I was 23 Years old. I had just won an ACHA National Championship with the University of Delaware and I was weeks away from graduating school and entering the real world. However, I only had one thing on my mind. How could I keep playing?
Most people told me, “You have your finance degree. You had four great years of playing. Maybe it’s time to move on and start climbing the corporate ladder.” I just wasn’t ready to make that jump. I didn’t care that I would earn more money in the business world. I still loved the game and wanted to do everything in my power to fulfill my childhood dream of playing pro hockey.
My path to Europe wasn’t like the majority of my teammates playing abroad. Most imports in France had some type of ‘shot’ to have a legitimate career in the best leagues in the world; but, for whatever reason, never made that jump. Instead of hiring an agent to help me find a contract, my father and I started reaching out to teams in France directly. Finally, after an extensive search, a club in the second league located in the suburbs of Paris offered me a contract. Now, saying ‘contract’ is a nice way of putting it. It was basically a place to live and a ham sandwich, but it meant that I could play hockey. The money didn’t bother me that much; I was given a chance to prove myself.
So at the end of the summer after graduation, I packed my bags and hopped on a one-way flight to Paris. I had no clue what to expect. I told my parents this Europe thing was going to be one or two years and then I’d be back applying for jobs, probably working for some big bank on Wall Street like a lot of my classmates. I realized quickly in that first year playing that while I was having a great time, my friends back home were starting their careers and getting their life together. The hockey world is much different. I was playing with guys who had quit school at 18 to turn pro. They had no backup plans for those ‘what if” situations. Some were one injury or one roster cut away from a total identity crisis.
While I was content with where I was, some part of me envied my college friends who were working “real jobs”. Another part of me worried for my teammates who had nothing to fall back on. I made up my mind after my first season. While negotiating my contract for the next season, I knew if I wanted to keep playing, I couldn’t just play hockey. In the back of my mind, I knew I had to stay relevant in the business world. I applied to grad school in France to work towards my Masters. Moving forward, I made a pact with myself that if I was going to continue to play I had to do something that would benefit my career after hockey.
I completed my masters that following year, along with an internship with a mergers and acquisitions consulting company the year after. I was playing the game I loved, preparing myself for life after hockey, and doing it all in an amazing city. I thought I had it all figured out. I was entering my fourth season. I had negotiated my way up from that ham sandwich and was all set to start a finance job in Paris. Then it hit me. I was cut. Three days into training camp.
This was the first time I contemplated quitting for good. Just like that, I was back to square one. All of that progress. All of that proving people wrong and working my way up. Gone. I went back to the drawing board.
I still hadn’t hired an agent. I started calling different coaches I had met over the course of my hockey career, asking for a job. I eventually landed a spot in Caen (Normandy region of France), but once again, for much less money. I was saying no to the real money, and the much more stable life that came with the finance job that was knocking at my door, in order to continue doing what I loved. It’s not easy consistently hearing that devil on your shoulder, “Take the job. You could use the money! All of your friends are starting to buy a house. Starting a family. They are figuring it out. Aren’t you ready to start doing those things too?”
I just wasn’t ready.
So here I am. Another three years later, having climbed and clawed my way back up the totem pole. I have a few more finance certifications under my belt and I’m gearing up for my seventh season in France. I have come to realize that after all these years (and baguettes) it was hard to turn my back on what had been my identity since I was five years old. As I look as myself, a year away from being on the wrong side of 30, that fear of joining the corporate world is still ever so present. But I wouldn’t have traded these past six years for anything.
As I struggle to realize the ride has come to an end, I can’t even imagine how hard it is for the guys that have had prominent careers. That transition out of playing a sport for a living into the real world is daunting for all athletes; even the little guys. It’s not easy turning away from that bond you get in the room with the boys. That adrenaline rush before games. Sharing a couple cold ones after a big win. And most of all, being a hockey player after so many years. I know my days are numbered, but I’ve done everything in my power to make that jump as easy as possible.
I realize the dream for most hockey players is the NHL; it was for me when I was a kid. But embracing where you are and the opportunities you have in front of you is all part of the ride. Having the chance to play pro hockey, although maybe not at the top level in the world, has been a dream come true. I have played longer than I could’ve imagined and I have enjoyed every minute of it. However, I caution people who are still chasing the dream; start thinking about that after hockey moment before it actually hits you. Think of that backup plan. Think of how you are going to fill that time when the rink or the locker room isn’t there anymore.
Bottom Line: enjoy the ride. Embrace the grind. Follow your passion. Just be aware that it comes to an end for all of us and life goes on. Quoting an old high school coach, “Know where you are, know where you’re going, and know where you’ve been.”