Imagine if your boss came to you today and informed you that your performance over the next week would determine if you could keep your job. Now you understand the stress of life on the bubble for a professional athlete.
"The first year I was here was the same situation and I was younger. I guess now I'm a little wiser. I've learned not to try and control what I can't," said potential Jets winger Patrice Cormier. "What I've learned is to work hard, be a good teammate, have a smile on my face and let the rest fall into place. I can't try to think what the coach or GM or anybody else is thinking. It's not up to me."
Cormier is on a one-year contract that will pay him $575,000 in the NHL and $70,000 in the AHL. Where he ends up has financial implications as well as emotional.
"You learn from the past. The first year I went through this, I was like, 'Oh, what did I do wrong today.' You have to leave what's at the rink at the rink," said Cormier. "You can't call your parents or your girlfriend and fret. It's just spreading misery. And you can't worry about the money. I don't bust my head thinking about what I will make in the AHL or the NHL. If someone told me I could play in the NHL for 100-grand I would say sure. It's about the pride of playing in the NHL, the best league in the world."
The Jets have a number of players fighting for work on the big club and they come in a variety of packages. From rookies such as Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba to veteran family men such as Ian White and Chris Thorburn.
Scheifele and Trouba have dreams they want to protect, while White has financial obligations.
"When I was breaking into the league and I was 20 or so it was a similar situation except I had time on my side. This time there's a little more desperation because I don't know how many more years I have left to play," said White. "But the mindset has to be the same. Go out and play and show them what you can do."
White is now a 29-year-old family man with 503 NHL games under his belt.
I have four mouths to feed and lots of bills to pay. This is my job. In the end you just want to play hockey and be around the guys and try to help a team win," said White. "It's not so much stressful. I take it with a grain of salt. It's kind of like this all the time. If you have a few bad games you could be out of the lineup. It's high stress all the time but you have to deal with that as a professional athlete."
Jerome Samson, 26, has played 46 games in the NHL over his career. If he makes the Jets he'll earn $600,000 and if he's sent to the AHL he'll take home $200,000.
"Not knowing where you're going to end up is stressful. But you have to take a day-by-day mentality and give all you have when given a chance," said Samson. "The good thing is they work us so hard in training camp that you get home and fall into bed and go to sleep. If you weren't so tired you might be able to think about it and that wouldn't be good."
Cormier says the call to the NHL is what makes all the work and anxiety worth it.
"I was so close a few years ago and then two days before the season they picked up a player and I was sent down. To have that taste in your mouth and to be so close, it's difficult," said Cormier.
"But then you get those call-ups during the season and it reminds you of how great it us up here. It's why we are all year, to play in the NHL. There's nothing like it."
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