‘Journeyman’ proud of his vagabond pro hockey career
Former Canuck Sean Pronger works with Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy on book about life in the game
Sean Pronger when he played for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The co-author of Journeyman was recalled and sent to the minors 10 times in one season.
Photograph by: B Bennett, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — The idea was hatched over a few beers at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which Sean Pronger was watching, not playing in like his little brother, Chris.
Pronger and his family were staying at the North Vancouver home of Dan Murphy, the longtime host of Canucks telecasts on Sportsnet. It was after hoisting a beverage or four one night they decided that Pronger’s decade-long professional hockey odyssey — 260 NHL games with seven different teams and nearly 500 starts in the minors — might make a good book.
It turns out they were right. Journeyman — the title was a bit of a no-brainer — is a highly entertaining read about some of the frustrations and fun Pronger had trying to get to the NHL and stay there. The book is helped immeasurably by Pronger’s willingness to poke a little fun at himself.
“When I was playing I had to do that, otherwise I may have jumped off a bridge because it was just constant frustration, constant uncertainty and if I wasn’t able to make light of the situation I would have gone crazy,” Pronger said over the phone from his Southern California home. “I had to learn how to deal with that right at the start of my career, so it was something I became very used to doing as my career went on.”
And what a crazy career it was. After being a third-round draft pick of the Canucks in 1991 and graduating three years later from Bowling Green University, Pronger discovered that teams weren’t exactly lining up for his services.
The Canucks, coming off their run to the Stanley Cup Final and heading into a lockout, had lost interest and there were no bites from other teams. Pronger ended up signing with the Knoxville Cherokees of the ECHL.
He signed his first pro contract for $500 a week and free rent. That sounded great until Pronger moved into the Tennessee farmhouse an hour outside of town the team provided him. It was straight out of Deliverance — the heat didn’t work and neither did the indoor plumbing.
But Pronger overcame those obstacles and was named the first star in his first pro game after scoring two goals and adding a pair of assists. Surely, he was on his way to a long and illustrious NHL career. Well, not exactly.
Pronger did manage a couple of years later to crack the roster of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and after playing a total of 46 regular-season games and nine playoff games over the course of two seasons, he did the only natural thing. On the advice of agent Pat Morris, he was a training camp holdout in the summer of 1997.
“I just want to punch myself in the face when I think about that,” Pronger said. “I am just getting my foot in the door and my agent tells me we’re holding out.”
Accompanying Pronger on his journey is his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife and mother of their two children, who is referred to throughout the book as Mrs. Journeyman. We eventually learn her real name is Marnie.
“I remember my wife reading the first chapter when we were just getting started and she said, ‘You know, I don’t really like this Mrs. Journeyman’ and I said, ‘Well, too bad, you’re outvoted,’” Pronger said with a chuckle.
The book is full of good stories, like the time when Pronger was with the Rangers and found himself skating on a line in practice with Wayne Gretzky. The only problem was that Pronger, who had been watching most games from the press box, had taken a friend visiting New York on a long tour of the Big Apple the night before.
Pronger also offers us an almost first-hand account — he stayed in the bar while the combatants headed out to the parking lot where it was minus 20 degrees — of Kevin Bieksa punching out Fedor Fedorov during his stint with the Manitoba Moose. Bieksa had just signed a tryout contract with the Moose and hadn’t even played a game.
“He’d never played a game with the Moose but he was already my favourite teammate,” Pronger said of Bieksa in the book. “And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.”
Pronger made a lot of trips back and forth between the NHL and the minors. He got to know the airport in Columbus, Ohio particularly well during his time with the Blue Jackets.
“I recalled and sent him to the minors 10 times in one season,” former Columbus GM Doug MacLean writes on the book’s back cover. “We had a deal; no conversation; just a nod of the head. I liked him and I’m sure the feeling wasn’t mutual. I know his wife hated me.”
Pronger played his final three NHL games in 2004 with the Canucks, the team that drafted him 13 years earlier. He’ll never forget his final game, for all the wrong reasons.
It was March 8, the night Todd Bertuzzi ended the career of Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore.
“The book is fairly lighthearted and we wanted it to be kind of a fun book, so we really wrestled with including that chapter,” Murphy said. “But we felt if you are going to tell the whole story, then we’d better put it in there.”
Murphy is a longtime friend of the Prongers, Sean and Chris. He met them in the late 1980s through some former University of Ottawa roommates who were from the Prongers’ hometown of Dryden, Ont.
Writing a book was new territory for both Pronger and Murphy and they did it long distance, with Pronger in Newport Beach, Calif., and Murphy in North Vancouver.
“I think the biggest challenges for us is that we’re not writers,” Murphy said. “I have been trained to write for broadcast which is two-minute stories, condensing things instead of extending things. But we worked well together and it went really quick once we got the idea to try it. From that point, it was about seven months later that we had the book basically done. And we’re still good friends.”
After his three games with the Canucks, Pronger concluded his pro hockey career playing one season for the Frankfurt Lions in the German League. He described that experience as a prison sentence.
But Pronger said one of the benefits of writing the book was helping him realize that despite some tough times, his is a career to be proud of.
“I found the whole process quite therapeutic, to be able to go back and do a deep dive into my career,” he said. “There aren’t that many guys who have played in the National Hockey League. To play one game is special, but to be able to play 260 games and last for a decade, it’s something I am proud of.”
Pronger now works in sales for a financial management company and has started a clothing line called JRNYMAN.
On Twitter: Twitter.com/bradziemer
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