Hanging up the skates

Queen’s hockey player Jake Clements pens letter about his decision to walk away from the sport he loves

Jake Clements played 18 career games for Queen’s.
Credit: 
Supplied by Jake Clements

I can still vividly picture my first day of class. While pulling out my note pad, a fellow classmate approaches me, a 22-year old bearded sophomore and asked “are you the professor?” 

Laughing it off, this was the first of countless times I have explained my story of how I took three years off after high school to pursue my dream of playing university hockey. Today, I pen this letter to say goodbye to the game that has shaped me into the person I am today.

Now before I become even more washed up, let me tell this story one more time: before my third gap year between high school and university, I was invited to try out in Des Moines, Iowa, for a team in the United States Hockey League. After making the team, everything was going according to plan. Even though the season hadn’t begun, I started to receive some interest to play in the NCAA. 

Although a little later than I planned before, I was one step closer to my dream.

This was until one Tuesday morning, when the team trainer told me that the coach wanted to see me in his office, which is never a good sign. Thirty minutes later, I was driving back to Toronto, distraught, after being blind sided, cut and sent home.

Here I was, 20 years old, without an education, scholarship, or team. If you have ever seen me play hockey, the first thing you would notice is that I am the furthest from being the most skilled player on the ice — if anything, I am surprised a parody video of me stick handling hasn’t gone viral yet. 

After countless hours of hard work — including rehabbing a season ending shoulder surgery — I was fortunate to receive a commitment to play for the Queen’s Gaels Varsity Hockey team. Looking back on what I would consider the two best years of my hockey career, I’m indebted to head coach Brett Gibson.

He gave me the opportunity to turn my Iowa heartbreak into the best thing that has ever happened to me, as my time at Queen’s has opened up alleyways that I may never have been exposed to otherwise.

Everyone stops playing at some point, and my time has come. In a counter-intuitive sense, I have decided to step away from hockey due to the other avenues in life that the sport has directly, or indirectly, carved for me. 

As a by-product of a system where you have 7 AM practices before your 8:30 AM test or just a few hours to complete an assignment on the bus on the way home from a game, I’ve developed a strong work ethic, teamwork experience and time management skills that I’m grateful for. 

Another thing I am grateful for is opportunities I’ve gained through hockey. Going into my third year at Queen’s, I can truly say that I’m studying at my dream school where I’ve developed newly-found lifelong friendships. 

I had the privilege of wearing the tricolour alongside the 28 greatest people I have ever met — to go to war with you guys every week was an honour. 

Although I’m moving on to pursue my new dreams, I will always miss the locker-room laughs and the adrenaline after your team scores a big goal (if you check my stat line, I never had one of those).

As I’m writing this note from the airport before I depart for an academic exchange in Vienna, I’m reminded of one thing.

This isn’t a story of a triumphant rise to stardom. Hollywood screenplay writers won’t line up to recreate it, although I think (wish) Ryan Reynolds would be a great fit to star as Jake Clements.

So why am I telling you my story? 

The most important lesson I’ve learned at university is that you learn just as much outside  of the classroom as you do while in it. Playing on the hockey team provided me with the experiences and opportunities that defined my positive experience at Queen’s which propelled me to pursue my new career goals. 

With frosh week looming, a new crop of students arrive on campus with endless opportunities, so I’m challenging the Class of ’21 to do two things: 

1: Take advantage of the endless extracurricular opportunities to get involved with a new team.

2: View your shortcomings not as failures, but as challenges to create opportunity from distress.

So, if you ever see a 23 year-old bearded junior walking through Stauffer or up University Avenue, no, I’m not your ECON 110 professor. Rather, I’m someone who wants to hear your story and how you plan to utilize your surroundings to learn as much as you possibly can while you are at university. 

Finally, to my former teammates, now brothers, I cannot wait to watch you succeed in giving this school what it deserves – I may have already booked a ticket to come watch you do something special later this year.

Jake is in the Commerce Class of 2019. He’s currently a member of the Queen’s University Investment Counsel and the Cure Cancer Classic fundraising initiative.

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