Nine times last season with the East Coast Hockey League's Wichita Thunder, former North Star Blake Tatchell had to play three games in three nights.
Four times, he had to play four games in five nights.
That's just the way it is when you're a professional hockey player in the minors.
But after one full season with the Thunder, and a handful of games with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League the season before, Tatchell has decided to move on from the grind of semi-pro hockey, and come home to Saskatchewan for good.
"Obviously, the decision isn't easy, but to play a game at this competitive level, it demands a lot of self commitment and a lot of sacrifice," the 26-year-old said, who now resides in Saskatoon. "By no means do I regret any of the moves that I've made because it's worked out in more than one way for myself but in the end it was just a decision that I had to come down to and mentally I don't think it was fair to keep playing. I wasn't fully committed to being able to go through the grind and if I wasn't fully into it or 100 per cent into it, then it was maybe time to move on."
"I enjoyed my year and a half pro. It's a great lifestyle. It's an awesome gig and I had more fun than I could imagine but like I said, it is a grind and it takes a lot of dedication, work, and mental toughness."
Tatchell's hockey career has taken him from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in his hometown of North Battleford, where he excelled and tallied 190 career points in three seasons, to Alaska, where he played four years at the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA) from 2012 to 2016. Following his senior year at UAA, he signed an amateur tryout contract in the American Hockey League, playing five games for the Lake Erie Monsters, based in Cleveland. This past season, he suited up for 56 games with the Wichita Thunder in Kansas, posting 29 points, including 17 in his final 21 games.
The decision to stop playing at such a high level is not related to injuries.
"I was lucky enough to come out of pro and all my years there being pretty healthy body wise and phyiscally healthy," Tatchell said. "That is always a blessing and something that I can't be more thankful for."
That also means he can keep playing hockey.
On Aug. 5, Tatchell joined the Rosetown Red Wings of Allan Cup Hockey West (formerly the Chinook Hockey League) to play AAA senior hockey, essentially the highest possible level of senior hockey in the country.
It's competitive, and filled with plenty of former pro players, former college players, and former junior players, but it won't demand anywhere near what the ECHL did, in terms of a time commitment or sacrifice.
"It's a good opportunity [with them] hosting the Allan Cup," Tatchell said, as he'll have a chance to compete for Canada's national senior men's amateur championship. "The passion for the game wasn't gone for me. I still love playing the game. So to be able to keep the competitiveness in it for me and have fun at the same time is honestly something I've been looking forward to for a while. When you're able to have fun and not worry about your personal results, it'll be good."
With Rosetown roughly 100 km away from Tatchell's residence of Saskatoon, the location also worked well.
Tatchell will only have to play roughly 20 to 25 games with the Red Wings during the regular season, which begins in October.
In the meantime, the former SJHL MVP has been able to stay involved with hockey in another way as well.
While his former North Stars teammate Boyd Wakelin has taken up coaching after accepting an assistant coaching role with the North Stars, Tatchell has taken up on-ice instruction.
"I got a job opportunity doing some power skating and skills coaching," Tatchell said. "It's with Trach power skating and Seymour skills, the company out of Saskatoon here. Right now we're just running summer camps and August is our busy month and then starting up during the fall, we're going to be working more into the minor hockey side of things, running programs and camps to give kids the skills to help develop their game."
"It's nice to be able to open up doors in other ways to stay in the game and try to make a career out of that."
Although Tatchell won't be able to golf all year long like he could last year in Kansas, he's still able to stay connected full-time with the game he loves.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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