Newburyport's Erik Kent after a pregame skate with the Danbury Mad Hatters.
Erik Kent may be playing professional hockey four hours away in Danbury (Connecticut) but he is well aware of all the hockey excitement in hometown Newburyport over the recent Division 2 state championship.
I interviewed Erik recently at the Danbury Ice Arena after a morning skate prior to an evening game.
Erik was part of the NHS coaching staff last season and claimed that, “he wasn’t surprised that they were the state champs this year.”
“The team was very good last season but just didn’t play well in the tournament loss to Tewksbury,” he told me. “The leadership returned this season and if they were ever going to win a championship it would be this year.”
Erik has had contact with NHS head coach Paul Yameen. “He told me how exciting winning the championship has been. He said that everywhere he goes he’s been treated like a king.”
While the Clippers and their fans were having their excitement this season, Erik was having some of his own as he finishes his first full season of professional hockey with the Danbury Mad Hatters of the EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League).
Erik thought that two years ago his dream of a professional hockey career was over. “I went to a training camp in Huntsville (Alabama) in the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League) in the best shape of my life but ended up getting cut and released. I was devastated.”
He ended up back in Newburyport working for his uncle at New England Foundations.
A phone call from New York in February 2008 reactivated his hockey dream. “I was invited to play in Jamestown (New York),” he said. “I went up there and scored points. The general manager of one of the teams I played against liked what he saw. A few months later he was looking to stock the Danbury team in the newly formed EPHL (Eastern Professional Hockey League) and he contacted me. I signed with the team this past August as their first player.”
The level of play in the EPHL is Single A but it doesn’t matter to Erik. “It is a great opportunity for players like me,” he said. “During a season of games, I get to show everyone what I can do and get my name out there.”
At 26, Erik is not sure of how long he can wait to move up the professional ladder. “It’s frustrating that it hasn’t happened yet since I’m among the league leaders in points. I know that I need to be patient but there are student loans to deal with and you don’t make much money at this level. I want to be at the next level next year.”
Erik was into hockey early. “No one in my family played hockey but my dad was a big Bruins fan. When I was three, I took part in Learn-To-Skate with Dick Tierney at Graf. By five, I was in an organized league. The youth leagues in Newburyport were unbelievable.”
By ten, he was playing in leagues away from Newburyport and then made the choice to go to Lawrence Academy (Groton MA). “I thought that I was good enough to play at the prep school level and Lawrence had one of the best hockey programs in the country. I made the team as a freshman.”
He went on to Southern Maine and played four years of hockey there. He stayed an extra year to get his degree in communications because, “my mother always told me I needed a college degree.”
In college, Erik decided to change his style of play. “Growing up I was a goal scorer,” he told me. “That’s all I wanted to do. As a junior in college I figured out that, you have to play both ways. If you do that it turns into goals.” And in Erik’s case, professional opportunities.
( This story appeared in The Town Common on March 25th. )