Former Sting top pick quit the game because the thrill was gone
Posted by Dean Holden at February 21st, 2014
by John Matisz, 19 February 2014
Gregg Sutch had tried to keep himself busy, distracting himself from reality for four months.
But while he was watching the Canada-Finland men’s hockey game Sunday, reality stepped back into the room when his girlfriend, Shannon, turned to him and asked if he was ever going to play hockey again.
That’s the moment Sutch, a fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2010 NHL draft and a former Sarnia Sting forward, decided it was time to tell his story.
In a 2,000-word blog post published to his personal website Monday night, he cracked the vault wide open.
“Almost every day I am asked the same few questions from people I interact with,” the blog post starts. “‘Are you going to play hockey again?’ ‘Why did you stop?’ and, ‘Did something happen?’
Sutch, 22, played five seasons in the Ontario Hockey League but failed to land an entry-level contract with his NHL rights-holders, the Sabres. He joined York University’s hockey team last fall before quitting a few weeks later because “the thrill of playing was gone.”
His blog post touches on his childhood obsession with hockey and how the sport worked as a “getaway.” He remembers being constantly consumed by hockey, ignoring his teacher as a kid so he could concentrate on drawing backyard rinks on a piece of paper.
Sutch was an elite minor midget player for the York Simcoe Express in 2007-08. Years of hard work led to him being taken with the 11th pick of the OHL draft. The Sarnia Sting took him before future NHLers like Cam Fowler (17th), Jeff Skinner (20th), and John Carlson (33rd).
“As soon as I joined the OHL, things changed,” Sutch wrote. “Big time.”
Although he would get drafted by an NHL team, Sutch, a 6-foot-2 winger who played a workmanlike game, was in no way guaranteed a pro contract. He was traded three times during his OHL career, suiting up for Sarnia, then the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Barrie and, finally, the Saginaw Spirit.
“It’s all about business and that’s where my love for the game started to fade away,” he added later in the post.
Injuries came and went. Hockey politics didn’t help the situation. Sutch’s force-fed role – “hit everything that moves and fight,” he wrote – contributed as well.
A myriad of factors made hockey feel like work when it wasn’t supposed to.
“There have been a few things that triggered me to finally reveal the truth behind it all,” Sutch told QMI Agency via email on Tuesday. “One of the things that really stuck out to me was when I see the state of minor hockey nowadays; crazy parents, politics, the money.
“Where did the fun in the game go?”
The life of a junior hockey player is, generally speaking, painted with a positive brush.
You’re a level or two away from competing in the best league in the world, playing in front of thousands a few times a week. The lifestyle has many perks.
But, overall, the pressure that goes along with it can weigh heavily on teenagers. Sutch’s revelations, although not the norm, are not necessarily unique.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people make out a junior hockey player’s life to be, ‘living the dream’ when it’s really not,” Sutch said in the follow-up interview.
The Newmarket, Ont., native was quick to note he is thankful for the experiences he gained through the pursuit of pro hockey, adding he had his fair share of fun along the way. However, as relayed in the blog post, “bulls—” can often “overshadow the good experiences.”
“He had a rough ride,” said Murray Kuntz of CAA Sports, Sutch’s former agent. “You hear about all the glory rides, but Gregg’s one kid – with injuries and being traded a couple times – (where the junior hockey experience) really took a toll on him.”
Kuntz sent Sutch a text after reading his blog post. He told him how proud he was, that it took courage to admit things weren’t perfect.
“Too often I hear about people doing a job or playing a sport because someone else said they should do it,” Sutch said in the follow-up interview. “Whatever happened to doing what’s right for yourself? Ultimately, if you’re doing it for yourself, whether that’s playing hockey or being a teacher, you’re going to have more success that route and enjoy your life a lot more.”
Sutch has plans to attend Georgian College this fall to study fitness and health promotion. He’s a CrossFit coach at a gym in Newmarket right now, and has dreams of opening his own facility one day.
Although it’s not his original path, not pro hockey, it’s something that has ignited Sutch’s passionate side once again.
“Find what you love and stick with it,” he said towards the end of his post. “Hold on to it.”