Take a pen and write this down Draw something that can’t be found And learn to walk again somehow You know you might surprise yourself
Gals, If you only knew The times that train has fooled me too And tears me from a place I know It helps me to surprise myself You know you can surprise yourself So let go and surprise yourself
These are lyrics from the song “Surprise Yourself” by Jack Garratt. When I listen to them, I wish I could sing them to a younger me. Here’s a quick run-through of my story. I used to let my story define me, but now it just presents lessons I’ve learned, which I’d like to share with you today. I was born in Smithtown, New York. I was born to play hockey. My grandpa Bob was a player coach with the Trail Smoke Eaters when they won the world championship in 1961. He went on to coach and eventually scout in the NHL. My dad played for the Portland Winter Hawks when they were Memorial Cup Champions in 1983. He too went on to play and scout in the NHL. When my dad played in New York he met my mom, and well, here I am.
Like I said, I was born to play hockey. And as soon as I could, I did. We moved a lot because of my dad’s hockey—8 times before I was 14. Moving is never easy, but I didn’t seem to mind it. When you’re a kid, life is great and hockey is everything. At the age of 14, I was lucky to know exactly what I wanted to do. I was playing for the Bowness Bruins Midget AAA Hockey team as the youngest player. Back in those days, the Bruins were the team to be on. I was on fire. I loved my team and my coaches. I was ready for those big Team Alberta tryouts. But then hockey, of all things, threw a wrench in my plans. When I turned 15, my dad accepted a job coaching at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, BC. He took the job so that my brothers could play in the academy. But what about me? I knew what girls’ hockey was like in small towns – not so great. This is kind of where my whole life turned around for the worse, or so it seemed at the time. This is kind of where I had to learn how to work hard and push through things that didn’t feel good, mentally and physically.
Things were about to get hard.
I begged my parents to at least let me practice with OHA’s midget boys’ team. (They didn’t have a girls’ team at the time.) My parents were reluctant because of the whole body contact thing, but eventually they let me practice. I played games with the local Penticton girls’ team. We lost just about every game. It wasn’t easy, but at least I had the boys’ team. At first, I was last in all of the sprints we did. I couldn’t lift as much as they could. I wasn’t as good as they were. Every day, between early morning skates and evening lifts, I was reminded of it. But it fired me up. I believed and knew I could be just as good as those boys. Eventually, I was keeping up and surpassing the bottom half of them. I was with the pack. I earned some respect. It was some real Rocky Balboa stuff. But none of this was keeping me happy. I was still bitter and still mad. I still missed my Calgary friends.
At that age, as you may know, social life means everything. Your identity is tied with your friends and what they think. I was so focused on what I was missing out on that I didn’t let in anything good that was happening around me. I closed off from my family and from kids at school who genuinely wanted to be my friend. I was letting everything I had no control over define me. I even told my dad I wanted to quit hockey, the thing I was born to do. The only thing I’d ever known or that had ever gotten me through anything. I wanted to quit because I forgot that I was great and that I had control over my attitude and my life. I was the victim. In response, my dad said, “If you quit, you’re not the person I thought you were.” Man, did that make me mad and fire me up! Needless to say, I didn’t quit. Parents are right sometimes. I went on to play for team BC and got invited to the U-19 Team Canada Camp. Oh, did I mention, representing my country was my dream. This was my big chance. This is why I skated and lifted every day with the boys. I needed one scrimmage before the big camp to get me ready. The OHA team I had been practicing full contact with for three years had an exhibition game. I needed to play in this game.
I begged my parents to let me, and reluctantly, they did. Long story short, I got rocked into the boards and completely separated my left shoulder, one month before the biggest week of my life. I did everything I could to heal my shoulder, but it wasn’t enough. I played through it at the camp, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t move on to the U-22 camp that summer. Winning was starting to feel like a foreign concept to me. There was light at the end of the tunnel, though. I ended up getting a full-ride scholarship to Quinnipiac and also acceptance into Brown University. I chose Brown because I fell in love with the school. It had me spelled all over it. This was going to be a chance to start over. I was so grateful and ready for change. And now everything starts getting better, right? Wrong.
In my four years at Brown, we did not make it to playoffs once. I was embarrassed to tell people how hockey was going. So, my junior year, I focused on something else: school. Man, I thought, I might actually be pretty good at this. I’m not the most intelligent person, but I found that I did well when I worked hard at it. I met with teaching assistants every week for help. I studied with the smart kids. I invested myself. I opened myself up to the thought of being great again, and I was. At learning, anyway. I graduated from Brown with a double major in Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship and Medieval European History. Then I was thrown out into the world of adults. I felt like I needed a break from hockey and I knew I needed to get a job to help pay off all of those student loans.
So, I took the year off from playing, coached at NAHA in Vermont, quickly realized I had more left in me for playing, moved to Calgary, got a job, and made what was then Team Alberta, now the Calgary Inferno. For those of you who have followed the Inferno from the start, you know we lost a lot. I played 4 seasons with the Inferno before we won a Clarkson Cup. Within those 4 seasons, I didn’t get a lot of playing time. Losing was really my thing. I was the victim, then I’d remind myself that I wasn’t, I’d get back on the horse, we’d lose, and the whole thing would start over again. Eventually, I stopped believing in myself, not because the world outside me wasn’t going well, but because I chose (key word CHOSE) to stop believing in myself. Since the age of 14, I now had 9 consecutive losing seasons to my name. I must be the common denominator, I thought. This wasn’t at all like my dad and my grandpa’s life. They were winners, I was not. But I heard my dad’s voice in the back of my head telling me he knew who I was: I wasn’t a quitter.
Good thing I kept going, because I got the amazing opportunity to play with players full of greatness, and we won a championship together. Good thing I kept going, because I got to play for an inspiring coach this past season. He changed my life. He told me he believed in me and when I told him I really appreciated that, he said, “You don’t need me to believe in you, Krommer. You just need to believe in yourself.” Statistics show that the more you shoot, the more you’ll score. Keep shooting, even if the goalie stops a bunch of those shots; eventually one will go in. A whole lifetime of missing was worth one championship and running into someone who inspired me. I never really understood the power of belief until this past season.
I scored more goals this past season than I had since my last year of high school hockey. I led our team in the absence of a fantastic hockey player and captain, Brianne Jenner. And I did a good job of it. I found greatness again. I healed a lot of years of not feeling good enough within one season, all because I chose to change my mind. Now, I am going to leave you with the cold, hard facts: No one else is going to do it for you. You are the only one who has control over your happiness. Not your teachers, not your coaches, friends, parents, or any circumstance in your life. Just you.
You could win the Stanley Cup tomorrow and only temporarily be happy. You could be a homeless guy on the street and always be happy. It comes from within. When you take responsibility for your life, you become great. There is no difference between you and me, or Sidney Crosby and some guy in the ECHL, except for how we view ourselves. Crosby just believes he is great, so greatness flows off of him.
Sometimes we forget, but I am here to remind you, just like my coach reminded me this past season: Greatness is in you with everything you do, every goal you pursue, and every person whose life you are part of. All you have to do is believe it. You know, you might surprise yourself.