Playing for a Living

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 8, 2000

Earlier this spring, while playing minor league hockey for the Fayetteville (N.

Monday, May 08, 2000

Earlier this spring, while playing minor league hockey for the Fayetteville (N.C.) Force, rookie Matt Erredge broke his arm with eight games remaining in the regular season.

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"It was ugly," Erredge recalled of the action not uncommon in the Central League, the hockey equivalent to Double A baseball, an appropriate comparison when you consider what Erredge had to say next: "The guy chocked up and took a baseball swing. It didn’t break all the way through. It tree’d out."

Still, fewer than 10 days later, Erredge returned to play in the Force’s four-game first-round playoff exit, "basically playing with a broken arm."

If the above anecdote doesn’t tell you what Matt Erredge is willing to do to play professional hockey, nothing will.

For Erredge, pro hockey is a once-in-a-lifetime experiment.

So far, he’s learned that the right talent coupled with patience and perseverance can go a long way. All the way to making your sport your living.

After starring for Denny Laumeyer’s Austin Packers, Erredge played junior hockey as a member of the Rochester Mustangs, before embarking on a four-year career with St. John’s University, where he established a school record in career points (171-91 goals, 80 assists).

Even Erredge wasn’t sure that was enough.

"I was skeptical," he said. "I was a Division III guy."

But Erredge’s college coach, John Harrington, scored a tryout with Fayetteville.

Erredge earned another look at the tryout and reported to training camp following a 22-hour drive. In his first exhibition game, Erredge scored two goals, securing a roster spot and a sweater.

" ‘OK,’ they told me, ‘we’re going to order your skates and sticks,’ " Erredge said.

Erredge produced. He notched 31 goals and 65 points, fourth on the team.

"I’d set a couple of goals," Erredge said. "One of them was to score 25 goals."

By January, Erredge had 18 goals for a team that went on to a Central League-best regular season of 45 wins, 23 losses, 2 ties – "About the length of three of my college seasons," said Erredge.

At 6-feet, 185 pounds, Erredge doesn’t have delusions of playing in the National Hockey League.

"I don’t really ever see myself in the NHL," he said. "There are a ton of guys like me who can score a few goals.

"I’m doing this because I like to play and I can do it for a few years."

He and his wife Jessie originally decided on a two-year hockey plan.

But that plan may have to be altered. Erredge corralled "the hockey player’s dream job," he said, by lining up a job at a South Carolina golf course this offseason.

After that, he’s earned another roster spot in the Central League. He may even try for a higher class league, one in which teams are affiliated with NHL clubs.

By proving himself a steady goal scorer, Erredge has also earned an increase in the numbers on his weekly paychecks.

One day, Erredge, who earned an education degree, will teach and coach.

But before then, he’s going to play hockey – the best job he’s ever had.