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Happiness After Hockey: Kevin Westgarth

The former forward is thriving in his second career with the NHL as the Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Collaboration

by Robyn Dutton @LAKings / LAKings.com

National Hockey League forward. Stanley Cup Champion. Princeton Graduate. These are just a few lines on Kevin Westgarth's impressive resume.

And in the past four years, he's added NHL Vice President of Hockey Development and Strategic Collaboration to the list. 

If you've ever heard George Strait's song, "Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time," then you can pretty much summarize Westgarth's NHL career. It was short, but sweet. He won the Stanley Cup in 2012 with the LA Kings, where he was loved by teammates and fans for his grittiness and character.

Winning the Cup was without a doubt the highlight of his hockey career, but what came next for the 6'4" forward was almost just as valuable. After being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, Westgarth represented the team in the league-wide negotiations involving the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

He felt it was important to stand up for his teammates and fellow players off the ice, just like he did on the ice. However, in volunteering his time, Westgarth found that the experience also provided him with an invaluable education.

"I think one of the best things I did was become a player representative for the NHLPA," Westgarth said. "It offered a little more insight into the business side of the game and the inner workings of the NHL and the NHLPA."

With his career coming to a close, Westgarth was hopeful that the next chapter of his life would allow him to continue to be impactful doing something he loved.

"I think I always had an eye outside of playing the game of hockey, mostly from my own unending curiosity," Westgarth said.

His curiosity led him to work an internship at a friend's startup, though in a short period of time, he quickly realized the stark differences between the rink and the office.

"You're sitting at your desk a lot," Westgarth said. "I think that's a shock to the system. I felt like I'd come home tense and just grinding my teeth because my body just wasn't used to it. So, even from a physiological standpoint, it was crazy to see the difference."

Luckily, he had one of the "best landings" that an NHL player can hope for, as he put it. After fully retiring, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had faith he could grow the game and brought him on board with the league.

With nothing but a bit of imposter syndrome standing in his way, Westgarth set forward to grow and support developmental leagues like the AHL, ECHL, college hockey, and Junior hockey.

"There were certainly days where it was difficult, and all the clichés are true," he said. "You wish you appreciated it more. You miss the guys. You miss the locker room setting. Your lifestyle becomes different."

Rather than spending several hours caring for his body and focusing on practice, here Westgarth was - in New York City - commuting to the office from nine to five.

"The feedback loop is a little different," he noted about the corporate environment. "You don't just have a game tonight and then you win or you lose. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or months, and sometimes years to get things done. But it's satisfying when you see things you work on come together."

"Getting cliché here - but I'm very lucky to stay involved in the game of hockey, something I've loved for a long, long time."

Though it was a psychological and physiological adjustment, Westgarth quickly learned that the skills he picked up being an athlete were surprisingly transferable to other aspects of life.

"Obviously, education is wonderful. And I value mine immensely, but it's certainly not the only thing that's going to define how you're able to operate in the real world. The on-ice skills that are required to make the NHL are a small part of a player's package that includes work ethic, resiliency, communication and adept interpersonal skills."

A model for success after retirement, Westgarth can offer a little bit of advice to NHL players and anyone looking to find their path in life. 

"When you're playing in the NHL, there aren't many doors that are closed to you. Leverage your network, explore what might be available. If there is anything you're intrigued by or passionate about, don't hesitate to pursue it," he said.

"Get business cards, shake hands, and meet new people that can either help you learn or build a connection. You never know when you're going to meet that one person that can change your life."

Tweet from @NHLPA: Mathieu Schneider & Rob Zepp of the NHLPA joined Kim Davis, Kevin Westgarth, Pat LaFontaine & Rob Knesaurek of the @NHL, along with the bipartisan Congressional Hockey Caucus for #HockeyDayOnTheHill where the @FutureGoalsSTEM program was front & center! https://t.co/AY2uEmPjbk pic.twitter.com/oXYX92W0RN

While Westgarth is setting an example for the next generation of players, he certainly isn't doing it alone. He's been able to follow in the footsteps of fellow enforcer and Princeton graduate George Parros, with whom he has a special relationship.

"Just riding his coattails, the entire time," Westgarth joked. "Although I did beat him to the league office. I got hired here about two months before George did, so I finally leapfrogged him and then he leapfrogged me again by becoming Head of Player Safety."

"He's just a great guy, obviously a sharp guy," Westgarth said. "We can laugh about our times at Princeton, our times as enforcers, the times we did fight and our entire pathway. We speak a common language."

Those kinds of friendships are what make the game so unique for Westgarth. It's a brotherhood, as he calls it, and he cherishes being able to remain connected to old teammates and acquaintances.

Just recently, he was able to take his two sons - three-and-a-half-year-old Finn and two-year-old Mac - to see former teammate Brian Boyle face off with his Florida Panthers against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

With the NHL hosting the China Games and annual Global Series, plus rapidly growing youth hockey programs worldwide, the game has a bright future filled with expansion, inclusion and equality. 

"On all those fronts, the potential for our game is enormous," Westgarth said. "The life skills that hockey provides to kids and their families - the respect, the communication, leadership, humility, and the ability to work as a team. These are traits that are valuable anywhere in the world and I'm excited to see where our game will grow."

Westgarth's story is still being written, he'll be the first to tell you, but the game of hockey is a good place for as long as he's working in it.

Perhaps he'll one day try to win another Stanley Cup as a member of a club, or maybe he'll continue to move up the ranks within the league. But one thing is for certain: he's not taking a single day for granted.

"It's been a long and a varied road. But it's been a great, great ride. I look forward to what I'm able to continue to build. Beyond that, I'm just excited for what tomorrow brings."

"Hockey gave so much to me, I want to give back."

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