jour·ney·man [jur-nee-muhn] noun, plural jour·ney·men.
- a person who has served an apprenticeship at a trade or handicraft and is certified to work at it assisting or under another person.
- any experienced, competent but routine worker or performer.
- a person hired to do work for another, usually for a day at a time.
In hockey, a “journeyman” is a player who moves from team to team, city to city, where the jobs are located, playing for a variety of teams over their careers. They play well enough for their league, however, they will never be an elite star player, and they are well aware of that fact. They are playing the game they love and to have a long career doing something you love is one of life’s sweet windfalls. But never discount a journeyman — they are crucial to their teams and the game of hockey. Winning teams always rely on these guys to fill their rosters.
Due to caps on salaries in the NHL and spending sense in the minor leagues, no team can ever afford to hire an entire team of elite stars — and frankly, there are not enough superstars to fill an entire league. Reality dictates that teams hire good players, players who can fill in the missing gaps for a season, and then some of those players move on, playing elsewhere each season. Journeymen have always been around in sports and they exist at all levels. They can be critical for teams, even fulfilling necessary leadership roles, lending invaluable experience into the mix of a team of young prospects.
At the NHL level, most recently you think of guys such as Owen Nolan, Paul Coffey, Brian Boucher and Dominic Moore. At the AHL level Bryan Helmer (just retired), Darren Haydar (with EHC München this coming season), Graham Mink (with Dornbirner EC), Alexandre Giroux (with Ambrì-Piotta), and Dean Arsene.
Former OKC Barons Captain Bryan Helmer, who just recently retired, played 20 years of professional hockey — 1,117 AHL regular season games, 50 IHL games and 146 NHL games – with 8 AHL teams, 2 IHL teams and 4 NHL teams. He retired as the AHL’s all-time leading scorer amongst defencemen with 564 points, and in the 2010-11 season, Helmer was deservedly recognized for his sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey as the winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award. In addition to that honor, he also won three Calder Cup Championships — in 1995 with the Albany River Rats, and in 2009 and 2010 as captain of the Hershey Bears — as well as many other awards during his 20 years of hockey.
The epitome of a minor league Journeyman is, without a doubt, forward Paul Vincent, born in 1975 in Utica, New York. Have you ever heard of him? He played for 26 minor league teams in North America and for 6 European teams in the Netherlands and Norway over the span of his career from 1994 through 2012 amounting to 694 games – and not one single NHL game. He played on teams such as the Arkansas RiverBlades, Winston-Salem Icehawks, Saginaw Lumber Kings, and the Odessa Jackalopes.
Think about this — he rode buses across most of North America in the minor leagues. Packing, unpacking, moving continually — the pure definition of a journeyman. You have to wonder if he was he ever called “Suitcase” by the fans and his teammates as he moved from team to team.
His professional career started when he was drafted out of Juniors by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993, Round 6, 149th overall. And the fact that Vincent even landed into the profession of hockey is a rather surprising story. Vincent explained to Rob Mueller in 2001 — “My life didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, but it’s turned out all right. Sometimes, you’re dealt a rough set of cards. You just have to make the most of them.” Vincent — then named Tyrone — at the age of six months was abandoned on the streets by his mother, but his older brother Curtis, only four years old himself, also left home to take care of his little brother.
“What happened, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me. […] I’d probably be in a gang right now, dealing drugs or something. Or I’d be dead,” Vincent said. The brothers were rescued after six months and spent the next three years in a Boston orphanage where they were then adopted by Paul Vincent and his wife Sylvia. Vincent was renamed Paul Vincent Jr., after his new father, and he soon picked up his father’s love of hockey. By the way, Paul Vincent Sr. is the well-known NHL powerskating and skills coach (following his career as a Boston police officer). (Read more about Vincent’s story by Rob Mueller at The Augusta Chronicle, Feb. 20, 2001.)
At the end of the 2011-12 season, Vincent hung up his skates as a player and moved into coaching in Europe. He has also founded the Paul Vincent Hockey School, following in his father’s footsteps, focusing on skills and powerskating.
AHL (American Hockey League):
- St. John’s Maple Leafs
- Hershey Bears
ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League):
- Raleigh Icecaps
- Peoria Rivermen
- Arkansas RiverBlades
- Augusta Lynx (twice)
- Florida Everblades
UHL (United Hockey League):
- Winston-Salem Icehawks
- Flint Generals
- Saginaw Lumber Kings
- Missouri River Otters
- Rockford IceHogs
IHL (International Hockey League):
- Michigan K-Wings
- Kansas City Blades
WPHL (Western Professional Hockey League):
- Lake Charles Ice Pirates
- Odessa Jackalopes (twice)
WHA2 (World Hockey Association 2):
- Lakeland Loggerheads
- Alabama Slammers
QSMHL (Quebec Senior Major Hockey League):
- Sorel Royaux
LNAH (Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey – North American Hockey League) :
- Verdun Dragons
- Quebec RadioX
SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League):
- Fayetteville FireAntz
CHL (Central Hockey League):
- San Angelo Outlaws
- Youngstown Steelhounds
- Austin Ice Bats
ACHL (Atlantic Coast Hockey League):
- Jacksonville Barracudas
- Amstel Tigers
- HYS The Hague
- Friesland Flyers
- Eindhoven Kemphanen
- Rosenborg IHK Elite
Journeymen are not confined to the minor leagues by any means — they exist at all levels. On the Journeyman Most Teams Club at HockeyDB.com, the list is topped by “Suitcase” Mike Sillinger who played on 12 NHL teams from 1990 to 2009: Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, and the New York Islanders, for a total of 1049 NHL games. In addition to the NHL teams, he also played with 2 AHL teams – the Adirondack Red Wings and at the end of his career, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Eight of his 17 professional hockey seasons included mid-season movement to a new organization.
Dallas Eakins & Josh Green
Also on the Most Teams Club list are two names who are very familiar for Oilers and OKC Barons fans: Dallas Eakins and Josh Green who have both played with 8 NHL clubs. Eakins played with the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames. In total, Eakins played for 18 professional teams, minor and NHL level. Green’s NHL teams include: Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and the Anaheim Ducks. In total, Green also has played with 18 professional teams — 8 AHL teams, 2 European teams and 8 NHL teams so far in his career.
Dennis O’Brien & Dave McLlwain
HockeyDB.com’s NHL Pack Your Bag Club is topped by defenseman Dennis O’Brien who played with four teams in the 1977-78 season: Boston Bruins (16 games); Minnesota North Stars (13 games); Colorado Rockies (16 games) and finally the Cleveland Barons (23 games). Also in that Four Teams one Season club: center Dave McLlwain who played on four teams during his 1991-92 season: Winnipeg Jets (3 games); New York Islanders (54); Buffalo Sabres (5 games) and finally the Toronto Maple Leafs (11 games).
Adam Hall & Zach Boychuk
Most recently in the 2012-13 season we saw forward Adam Hall playing with 3 NHL teams and one European team: he started the season with the Ravensburg Tower Stars (2nd German Bundesliga) during the NHL lockout, and he returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning (20 games); on March 16, 2013 he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes (6 games); on April 2, 2013 he was traded back to the Lightning along with Marc-André Bergeron, and was immediately placed on waivers and claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers (11 games).
Also in the 3 NHL teams in one season club plus an additional Minor League team is Zach Boychuk: he started the season with the Charlotte Checkers, playing 49 games. Post lockout he played 1 game with the Carolina Hurricanes and on January 31, 2013 he was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 games); on March 5, 2013 he was placed on waivers and picked up by the Nashville Predators (5 games).
Sean Pronger — The Journeyman
Sean Pronger lived and worked the life of a professional journeyman and he decided to write about it his book Journeyman, published in 2012, which explores his 11 year professional career with 16 teams in 5 leagues on 3 continents. At one point in his career he was traded three times, playing with four teams, in just under 12 months. He started the 1997-1998 season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 24, 1998. When the season resumed in October 1998, he played 2 games with the Penguins and on November 25, 1998 he was traded to the New York Rangers. In less than 3 months, on February 12, 1999, he was traded by the Rangers to the Los Angeles Kings.
You can read the review of his book at NHL.com.
“While with the Columbus Blue Jackets during their early years, he once was recalled seven times in one season. One of those times, he got the call at 1 a.m. in Syracuse and was expected to be in Edmonton for a game that evening. There were no direct flights out of Syracuse and the team was leaving the hotel for the game shortly after he arrived from his two-connection flight.
His final pro season, in Frankfurt, Germany, was so frustrating and unfulfilling that, at one point, he challenged the whole Lions team to a fight in the dressing room.”
The next time you encounter a journeyman, appreciate their careers and hardships. It’s a tough life, constantly moving from team to team, but let’s face it — hockey couldn’t exist without them.
| Links to the installments of The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player series:
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player (August 17, 2012)
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: Dollars & Sense (August 23, 2012)
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: Rookies to Vets (August 27, 2012)
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: NHL Lockout Blues (December 8, 2012)
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: The Journeyman