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From Pros to Joes: Former NHLers Discover the Joys of Rec Hockey

11/18/2013, 8:00am CST
By Michael Rand
Ryan Sittler, former No. 7 overall pick in the 1992 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.

As an original member of the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre played 269 games in the NHL. And you? Well, you probably did not.

But when it comes to the story of how Grand-Pierre came to a different game—the world of adult recreational hockey—his tale probably does sound a lot like yours.

“I first started because a bunch of friends were on the team. One of them I work on the board with on New Albany Hockey, and another was a dentist friend of mine,” Grand-Pierre says. “I ended up playing, and I’m playing again this winter.”

Indeed, where you once saw his name within the box scores of the NHL, you can now find him among the scoring leaders of Columbus’s Chiller Adult Hockey League.

Like many other high-level players—whether they topped out in the pros, college, or junior hockey—Grand-Pierre enjoys taking his turn with the muckers and grinders in the name of having fun, staying in shape, and camaraderie.

“The competitive level is not like anything like what I was used to, but it’s definitely a lot of fun. It’s such a good time and it’s nice to try to stay in shape,” says Grand-Pierre, 36, who played professionally overseas last season and is settling down for now in Columbus and working in real estate while his daughter finishes high school.

Did he have any second thoughts about joining a league full of amateurs?

“Absolutely no hesitation,” Grand-Pierre says. “Recreational hockey is so big in Columbus right now. Even around my neighborhood there are guys playing in the C League, D League—some of the bankers I work with. I think it’s because there are so many relocations from around the country, and a lot of Canadians in our league and people from Minnesota. It’s nice to see people find a common bond.”

Ryan Sittler echoes some of those same sentiments. Sittler was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1992 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. These days, he plays in the USA Hockey Coral Springs Adult Classic league in Florida, where he is also the director of youth hockey at Palm Beach Ice Works.

“My buddies and I started about four years ago skating with a bunch of guys who played in college or juniors, guys like that,” Sittler says. “We’d all get together on Monday nights from 7:30 to 8:30 and just play, and a couple buddies had a team and wanted me to play.”

Unlike Grand-Pierre, however, Sittler had some reservations about joining a more organized team. In the end, though, he relented—and reaped the benefits.

“I was kind of against it,” Sittler says. “I just wanted to have fun with my buddies, but I obliged. We had a solid team, we played well and won a few championships.”

This time of year, the Monday night game goes by the wayside so the youth players can have more ice time. Sittler plays in an over-40 Sunday night league, an age milestone he will hit in January.

“It’s a lot of fun, just being on the ice, moving the puck around and having a little of that competitiveness,” he says. “And we’ll put teams together that play at a higher level and go to tournaments, which is pretty cool.”

Sittler has even found himself out of breath during games, a testament to the pace—and, well, his conditioning.

“I’ve been skating just once a week, and it’s tough,” he says. “I get winded. I have to skate like two or three times. But I enjoy setting guys up and they get the goals, so that’s what I try to do.”

Grand-Pierre, too, tries to go with the flow of the game. He was a defenseman in the NHL, so that’s where he prefers to play.

“If the game is really tight and we need some goals, I’ll move forward and get a few points,” he says with a laugh.

Not that anyone is complaining—Grand-Pierre, Sittler, or their new amateur teammates.

“I’ve never heard of anyone complaining. It’s not like I’m going all out, and there is no contact,” Grand-Pierre says. “It’s really fun. People will come up and say, ‘Hey, you used to play for the Jackets.’ There are no knuckleheads in the league. It’s just a good time.”

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