Youth on Ice
While most 18-year-olds are heading to college or working temporary jobs trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives, there are those special few who begin their professional careers right out of the starting gate.
Athletes who play ice hockey know it is common practice to sign a professional contract as soon as they become legal adults. This differs greatly from the world of other professional sports.
In sports like football and basketball, college is a time for athletes to mature and develop their skills. However, in hockey, teenage standouts playing in junior hockey leagues often bypass the college ranks and graduate directly to the professional world.
Phil Myers signed his first professional contract when he was 18 years old. Last year, Myers, from Moncton, New Brunswick, completed an impressive four-year career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Now 20, Myers, a 6-foot-5-inch, 202-pound defenseman, will be playing his first professional season for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Many Hockey Hall of Fame players like Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy played in the Quebec-based league where Myers played before making their way to National Hockey League nobility.
At this point, Myers is not concerned if he will ever play in the NHL one day.
“I am just going to focus all of my energy here with the Phantoms,” Myers said. “I want to keep playing my game with the hope to make an impact. I’ll just keep working hard and the rest will take care of itself.”
Since relocating from Canada, Myers has been living in the Renaissance Allentown Hotel in the PPL Center, where the Phantoms play home games. He is looking for a house to share with some of the other young players on the team.
Two years ago, Danick Martel was in a similar situation as Myers. Martel is entering his third professional season with the Phantoms. Though he is only 22 years old, Martel said he has spent 20 of those years on ice. From Drummondville, Quebec,
Martel learned to ice skate when he was 2 years old. When he was 6, he started playing organized hockey and he was drafted onto a junior league hockey team at just 15.
Martel said he experienced some culture shock when he first arrived in Pennsylvania to play for the Phantoms in 2015.
“Allentown is a pretty small town for the U.S.,” Martel said, “but it is five times bigger than any city where I am from.”
Playing with and against older professional athletes has not been an issue for him.
“I think when everyone is at the rink, everyone is the same age,” he said. “Hockey doesn’t have any age.”
The hardest part about moving to the U.S. has been learning English, Martel said. The Quebec-born hockey player speaks French as his first language.
The older players were helpful with him making the transition when he joined the Phantoms, he said. He has always been treated as an equal on the ice and in the locker room.
Martel did admit there are some notable differences between the younger players and older players when they are off the ice. The younger guys may want to go out and party when they are done with hockey for the day, while some of the older players have wives and children they go home to, he said.