CO-FOUNDER – PROVE PEOPLE WRONG
started skating at the age of three and playing organized hockey when I was six. In the beginning, like everybody else, I had a tough time just pushing the crate. But I always loved it and looked forward to coming back for more. I kind of knew pretty early on it was a sport I wanted to play for as long as I could.
By the age of eight, I was playing on one of the top AAA hockey programs in my region. From the age of eight to this day, I have been constantly told that I am too small. It’s pretty hard not to notice on the ice, when you’ve got me listed at 5’7” and 150 lbs, going against some guys who have six inches and 60 pounds on me. I always got chirped, even when I was 10, 11, 12, 13. Guys on the other team were chirping me like, “you little short shit, you little midget.” When I was 12, I was fortunate to play up a year with the 13-year-old team for the South Shore Kings. It was never more apparent that I was a hell of a lot smaller than the other guys.
But you know what? That never stopped me.
I faced challenges early on, but I figured out how to be productive at my size and not let it hold me back. Even now, whenever I talk to a coach, the first thing I tell them is that size is my advantage. You might think I’m crazy by saying that, but that’s truly what I believe, and I have to believe that.
From my first day of organized hockey to right now, playing both in the ECHL and have been called up to play 13 games in the American Hockey League (one step down from the NHL), I have always had to prove people wrong. If I had listened to the chirps, listened to the coaches who doubted me, I would have never made it to where I am. Sure, I hear them, but instead of letting it negatively affect me, I use it as fuel to score a goal or have a beautiful assist.
My entire life, I have always had to prove people wrong, and I never really put it into words until 2009. I was shooting pucks with a few of my teammates at the time: Kyle Nickerson, Jack Brewer, and Charlie Ackerman. We got to talking about our dreams of playing college hockey, and how many people have told us we either weren’t big enough or would never have the talent to make it.
I’m not sure who said it, but someone blurted out, “Hey, let’s prove people wrong.”
And it stuck.
We decided to make up some wristbands for the four of us to wear, as a reminder when we were too tired for that extra sprint or wanted to dog it at morning lifts. That summer, we all attended the same hockey program in Dedham, MA. We would skate from 8am-10am, then lift from 10am-12pm, then go back to Kyle’s house to eat and nap, then come back and skate some more from 6pm-8pm. It was pretty ludicrous, but we knew what we wanted. Some of the guys at the gym noticed our wristbands and were like, “Hey! I’ll wear one, give me one”.
I think we were talking around naptime (yea, it was the best) one day and decided we should make a boatload of wristbands and see what happened. We sold some, gave even more out, and next thing you know we were bringing ziplock bags full of wristbands and selling them in the halls at school: one for $3 or two for $5. Eventually, we got t-shirts and it kind of got big in our hometowns.
Soon, it was nearly impossible to walk down the hall or head to the rink without seeing some Prove People Wrong (PPW) gear along the way. We were persistent, going out of our way to present the product to people we admired. It wasn’t easy, and took a lot of trial and error. But it turns out our message resonated with a larger audience than we ever could have imagined. Over time, we had some pretty powerful and inspiring people wearing our gear, superstars like Ronda Rousey, Robinson Canó, and Dwayne Johnson. Two that stick out in my mind though are Eric Lagrand and Dana Lang. Eric was a football player for Rutgers, until one game when he ran down the field to make a tackle on the kickoff, and became instantly paralyzed. He has never moped or asked “why me” and has become a true inspiration to millions. Dana had a similar horrible injury in hockey, and she has maintained the same attitude as Eric, proving her doctors wrong one day at a time.
I knew I was lucky to be healthy and able to play hockey, so I made the most of every opportunity. When University of Maine called, I knew this was one of those opportunities. I went on my visit that summer, saw the rink, did my homework watching all the YouTube videos, and spoke to a lot of past coaches and alumni. It just seemed like the perfect fit for me. I fell in love with the campus and the college hockey tradition.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a game up in Orono, but that shit’s freaking crazy. It’s like the Fenway Park of Maine in a hockey rink. There’s nothing like it. The student section kind of sits on top of the rink. It was a special place to play.
After I committed, I thought I would be going in 2011 or 2012; they essentially pushed me back and wanted me to wait. When you first hear that, you’re a little disappointed, right? It was actually probably the best thing for me because I got to take some time to get bigger and stronger; although I didn’t get much bigger, I did play more hockey in juniors. I came in my freshman year and had an impact on the team and actually played. Playing in the premier Junior league, the USHL, helped prepare me for the level of play I’d see at Maine.
I thought that I had produced at a high level, but it still wasn’t enough to convince scouts to overlook my size. Just like when I was a kid, I was being told that I’m great player, but they just weren’t sure I could hold up at the next level. I went undrafted.
I obviously would have loved to have been drafted, but it just ended up being another thing that fuelled my fire.
I didn’t expect to get drafted, I didn’t get any hype to get drafted, but I was obviously envious of that—I knew what was going on and still wanted to make it as far as I could in hockey. I was trying to get into the American Hockey League somewhere. I thought I had a good college career, and thought I would get a sniff in the AHL, but that didn’t happen.
I ended up getting picked up by the Adirondack Thunder in the ECHL and had a great experience. After a productive year, I went into the summer thinking that this would be my time to get a sniff in the AHL. I was right; I would get that sniff. The Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes Barre invited me to their camp. I thought this was my opportunity to finally prove myself to the scouts. I left camp not as an AHL player, but yet again playing in the ECHL, this time for the Wheeling Nailers. I was really happy to get another great opportunity, obviously not in the AHL, but an opportunity to play the sport I love for a living is still nothing to hang my head on.
Just recently, I finally got my chance. After a great start to the season in Wheeling, I got my call-up to the AHL for the Springfield Thunderbirds on February 14th, 2018. Hard to put into words how good that felt hearing my name and AHL in the same sentence. While my lifelong goal has obviously always been the NHL, I am one step closer.
The minor leagues are definitely a grind. The pay is a whole lot different, the living and playing conditions are nothing compared to the top levels. But at the end of the day, I’ve got an amazing opportunity, and I’m gonna make the most of it. Every day, you don’t know who is watching your game. You’ve just got to perform.
I still love hockey. I love the game. I will always love the game. I’m playing hockey and that’s my job…That’s pretty special.
Personally, whether it is my professional hockey career or Prove People Wrong, it all comes down to this—I want it to get as big as possible and spread the message to as many people as possible, because I think everyone has had adversity or been doubted in their life at some point. I think everyone can relate to it somehow, and even overcome it.