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'Journeyman' a rollicking tale of nomadic hockey life

Saturday, 12.01.2012 / 9:00 AM
Shawn P. Roarke  - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

Sean Pronger always thought he would have a career for the books in hockey.

While Pronger had the NHL record book in mind as a young boy learning the game in Dryden, Ontario, his hockey career instead became fodder for a literary book.

In early November, the compilation of Pronger's trials and tribulations in hockey, "Journeyman," was published by Viking Canada. The 336-page tome, written by Pronger and Sportsnet's Dan Murphy, is a self-deprecating look at a professional career that amazingly spanned 16 teams, five leagues and three continents in 11 years.

"Our goal all along was to write a legitimate hockey book," Pronger told NHL.com this week.

And Pronger knew the only way to write a legitimate hockey book was to not take himself too seriously, and tell his stories through the eyes of a player who didn't miss a trick or a detail as he watched his dream career develop in a series of starts and stops.

"It was very therapeutic for me," Pronger said. "The whole idea of writing from a safe place and knowing nothing bad was going to happen to me was a relief."

Because despite living his hockey dream -- Pronger did play 260 NHL games for seven different teams -- quite a few "bad" things happened to him, as well. All are detailed in the book, often with Pronger laughing at the follies that befell him.

*In his first pro season, he was traded from San Diego of the now-defunct International Hockey League to Greensboro of the East Coast Hockey League. In his second game in Greensboro, Pronger broke his jaw, although it wasn't diagnosed as broken until after a two-hour bus ride home and practice the next morning. Having just arrived in town, he was stranded in a hotel room with his mouth wired shut. To make matters worse, he was without a car -- which he later found out had been stolen while left in San Diego awaiting transport to his new location -- or friends as he recovered from the injury for the next six weeks.

*During one calendar year, he was traded four times. He started with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Then there was a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a few games (and many healthy scratches) with the Pens, he was traded to the New York Rangers. Less than three months later, he was flipped to the Los Angeles Kings.

*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.

Even when things went well, there was always a reminder that trouble probably lurked just around the corner.

In the book, Pronger tells a hilarious story of getting the opportunity to play the wing on the same line as Wayne Gretzky during a Rangers practice. It was a dream come true for Pronger, but there was a problem too. Pronger admits he had enjoyed New York's famous nightlife the previous evening and was not at his best when he arrived for practice.

Sheepishly, he explained his dilemma to Gretzky and walked away believing the "Great One" understood and would only pass the puck to the other wing on the line that day. Instead, every pass, as Pronger wrote, "was to yours truly." And they were not the feathery passes for which the all-time NHL points leader is rightly famous for, either. They were, instead, “wobbly hand grenades that would blow up as soon as they hit my stick.”

Oh, and while all of this was happening, Pronger's younger brother, Chris, was tearing up the League as one of the game's stars, dominating from the blue line as one of the preeminent players of his generation.

Still, Pronger eventually found the humor in almost all of it when he sat down to write his book.

Not bad for a guy who admits he once had a less-than-average grasp of the English language.

Pronger laughed heartily on the phone as he related an incident from his English 101 class at Bowling Green State University.

"We were asked to write an essay, and I figured I'm just going to write like I speak and because I'm Canadian, I'm going to put the word 'eh' after every sentence," he said.

There are no ehs in "Journeyman," just a bunch of great stories about a player who reached his dream, found out it wasn't what he expected, but still had fun along the way.

"The book has been very well received, and that is exciting for me," Pronger said. "I can say I'm a published author. When I wrote it, I said I'd be happy if just one person buys the book. Now, I want people to be happy that they bought the book."

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