By Anthony Pupplo
When you arrived at my high school in the mornings, before classes began, all the kids would convene in the school cafeteria. During my freshman year, being new and not having many friends, I would usually stand by the wall and read or study. So one morning while studying, I slowly gravitated towards the wall to lean against it. Before I knew it, I knocked the plastic cover off of the fire alarm, and everyone, I mean everyone, stopped what they were doing and stared. It wasn’t the first time everyone looked at me while sirens and red lights went off, and unfortunately, wouldn’t be the last time.
You may know me, you may only know of me, you may have played with or against me. I’ve learned that there are two sides of every hockey player: there’s the hockey side – the physical ability, the talent, the work ethic – and there’s the personal side – often which many people do not know or understand.
Anthony with the Merritt Centennials in the British Colombia Hockey League (BCHL)
I’m not exactly the most eager to tell my story, but I figure if it can help even just one person in a similar sitation then it’d be worth it. Please do not view it as a list of excuses or reasons for either my successes or failures. I have never made excuses, I would not be where I am today if I had. Nevertheless, my circumstances have shaped me in a peculiar way different from most players, and most people, for better or for worse.
At home, my situation was far from conventional. Long story short, I was not raised by my mother or father, but by my grandparents and my aunt and uncle, who have loved me as a son. I witnessed my fair share of arguments and bumps along the road. I will choose to not go into detail, but there were many instances where harmony was “lacking,” and things were not always easy to deal with. Do not misinterpret my attitude; I believe I have been given as many, if not more opportunities than most players. They have given me every opportunity to succeed, driving me to practices and games, paying for equipment, and supporting me every step of the way. Nevertheless, it’s hard to not believe that you are “different” from other people when you grow up in a different environment. Having been a junior player for the past two years, I’ve experienced living with several families while playing on different teams, and have been able to see how others live and interact. I think every family has its issues, it’s just that some are able to resolve them better than others.
Anthony with the Merritt Centennials in the British Colombia Hockey League (BCHL)
I was never one for talking. I was quiet then, and at twenty, I’m still pretty quiet. I grew up as an only child living with my grandparents, so aside from playing hockey, I spent a majority of my time by myself. I’m not sure if it’s a result of my upbringing, or it’s just who I am regardless. I was never the best at socializing. Sure, I have my close friends, but I guess I always enjoyed having my personal space. Unfortunately for me, hockey is indeed a team sport, and sometimes words are necessary. I’ve had problems with being able to fit in and be part of team, to count on others and to be counted on. Silence can be perceived in a number of ways – arrogance, indifference, fear. When I played well, these things were not an issue; but as soon as things don’t go your way, they can really go downhill.
To talk about the hockey side…I started playing when I was twelve years old, already pretty late compared to most players, but I immediately loved it (probably because it allowed me to express myself through actions, not words). I was never the fastest, never the strongest, never the most talented; I never even played a sport up until that time. I was cut from multiple teams. I was never drafted into the NHL or any junior league, and I played AA and Junior C hockey up unti after I graduated high school.
After my junior season, I ended up with stress fractures in my lower back, and spent six months in a full body brace, unsure if I would ever play again. Thankfully I recovered, but the injury influenced and continues to influence my off-ice regimen. I’m unable to lift heavy weight, so for the past four years I’ve adhered to plyomeyrics and resistance training. If you looked at me, you probably wouldn’t even think I was an athlete. But I always worked passionately and intelligently. After one season of Triple-A hockey, I was recruited to play in the British Columbia Hockey League. The same summer, I was invited to the New York Islanders development camp. This season ended up not being my best. I spent time in the BCHL, NAHL, and ultimately finished in the SIJHL. Looking back, a lot of things happened in a short amount of time. I felt some pressure that I had never experienced before. As bewildering as it may sound, being thrust into that spotlight and being successful wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with coming from my background. But I know it’s important to be patient with myself and learn from past experiences. In my final stint of junior hockey, spent in the SIJHL for three months, I told myself that I wanted to be more of a vocal leader. Before I knew it, I was expected to give a speech after every game. The point is that you never know what you’re capable of until you take a risk and try, something that wasn’t always easy for myself. Throughout my career, especially this season, I’ve ended up making more mistakes from not trying then by actually trying, if that makes sense. I’d like to express my appreciation to my coaches, teammates, and billets of the Minnesota Iron Rangers for making me feel like family at a low point in my career. I’d also like to thank the Merritt Centennials organization and billets for the opportunities they afforded me. Putting my successes and failures behind me, I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
At certain points, I have been able to coach and work with younger goalies. Additionally, my uncle is a youth coach, and I often skate with his teams. There’s always those players who are quiet or unassuming, for whatever reason. But I often notice that those are the players who will do anything that you ask of them, who will work as hard as they can. Those are the players, particularly goalies, that I enjoy working with the most, because when I see them, I see myself -a quiet kid nobody really expected anything of.
I’ll reiterate that I am extremely grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by my family. My intent is not to express my dissatisfaction in any way, but rather to convey that no family is perfect, that there are fallouts, and not everything happens the way you expect it. In life, as with the sport of hockey, things happen that are out of your control. It is easy to feel bad for yourself and to make to make excuses for failure. There are times that you begin to have doubts about others and doubts about yourself. You can start to view yourself as different and not part of the group. These are things that I, at times, have struggled with myself. If you’re having familial problems at home, know you’re not the only one. Don’t be afraid to be outspoken and be a leader, whether through words or actions. Many kids have it easier than myself, and I’m also sure many kids have it a lot harder than I do. Be thankful for what you have, because you never know how someone else has it, or when it can be taken away. Be kind to others, because you never know the other side of their story.
I’ll leave you some advice: simply work hard and have fun. One thing I’ve recognized after this season is that, contrary to normal methods, I never actually set goals. Goals define your limits. Success will come naturally as long as you work hard and enjoy doing it, as cliche as it sounds. I never made it my goal to make this or that team, to be recruited by this or that college. I never thought I would play in the BCHL, one of the top junior leagues in North America. I never thought I’d attend an NHL development camp for two consecutive years. I never thought when I was twelve putting on skates for the first time that in a mere six years I’d be playing with professionals. I never thought my YouTube channel would grow so popular (thanks guys). And as I stood there like an idiot after setting off that fire alarm in the school cafeteria, nobody else probably thought so either.
In loving memory of my grandmother, who passed away this season from cancer. Thank you for loving me as a son, and supporting my dream of playing hockey, even though you didn’t quite agree with it. I know you wouldn’t have let me forego school if you didn’t truly believe in me.
Shirley, New York, former BCHL and SIJHL goaltender and New York Islanders prospect.