Grateful for Hockey

By Dave Jensen


In the back of most hockey players’ minds is the possibility of playing hockey overseas. Some do it out of necessity and as a way to extend their playing careers after college. Others use overseas hockey as a way to ease out of the game after playing professionally in North America.

For me, after playing for four years at the University of Minnesota and suiting up for 18 games with the North Stars, European hockey was a way to slowly say goodbye to the game. I spent three years riding buses in the minors with a few call-ups to the Show, then decided it was time to move on, thinking one year in Europe would be a nice way of capping off a ride in hockey that was far better and longer than I ever expected.

One year was the thought anyway—but I stuck around for four because I had so much fun.

This past month I had the good fortune of revisiting my Northern Italian team, Ritten Hockey Club, where I finished my career 28 years ago. Again my trip was full of surprises. I imagined it would be a nice, quiet visit seeing a few teammates and friends, but it turned into a celebration full of reconnecting. From my defensive partner to the local farmers who never missed a game, I had the opportunity to catch up with them all.

The entire town could not have been more gracious to my wife and I. A gathering was hosted each night, and the team even recognized me at center ice during one of their games, complete with a gift of wine and other goodies. To be honest, the whole experience was very humbling. Here I was, a player well past my prime, who had come into a foreign country to play a game and ended up developing lifelong relationships. That’s what the sport of hockey does.

It served as a great reminder to be grateful for all that hockey has truly given me—skills and memories that extend well beyond the ice.

As we give thanks for all of our blessings this Thanksgiving, I could not be more thankful to my parents and family who introduced me to sports. Trust me when I say, there was no thought of college or pro for this chubby kid of theirs.

With a limited family budget, I’m sure my mom and dad’s only intention was to get me out of the house to make a few friends and have me come home tired. Little did they know, signing me up for hockey helped to shape the person I am today, both personally and professionally.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful not only for them, but to all parents, families and friends who’ve introduced sports to children, and the coaches that guide them along the way. No matter how far athletics takes us, the lessons, memories and friendships will last a lifetime.