Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

COLD, CRUEL WORLD ECHL Veterans Rarely Have NHL Future

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

COLD, CRUEL WORLD ECHL Veterans Rarely Have NHL Future

Article excerpt

The end of a losing hockey season is a major grind for its

players. The stick feels that much heavier, every shot seems

to hit the post or go wide, and it gets harder to skate up the

ice with every shift.

As the Jacksonville Lizard Kings finish their season this

weekend with a home-and-home series against Tallahassee --

beginning tonight at the Coliseum -- it won't be any tougher

than on the veteran players.

Although the average age of an East Coast Hockey League player

(23.8) appears young, in hockey terms, it can be a make-or-break

age for a prospect. Baseball players don't hit their peak until

their late 20s, and football and basketball players will hit

their peak a few years earlier.

However, 25-year-old hockey prospects rarely have a future in

the NHL.

Although the NHL has its share of older, established stars like

Wayne Gretzky (36), Mark Messier (36), Ray Bourque (36) and

Mario Lemieux (31), the league's new stars tend to stress youth.

Philadelphia's Eric Lindros is 24, but he is already in his

fifth season. Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr is 25 and in his seventh

season. Anaheim's Paul Kariya, 22, is in his third season.

When Lizard Kings coach Butch Cassidy was 18, he was selected

in the first round of the 1983 entry draft -- 18th overall -- by

Chicago. A year later he played his first game with the Black

Hawks and between 1983 and '90, Cassidy played in 36 NHL games.

But two knee injuries, the first coming during his first

professional season, and the constant bouncing between the NHL

and the minors made Cassidy start to think.

"I was disillusioned at 25," said Cassidy. "I saw other guys

get there [the NHL] and you think `Why can't I make it.' It's

funny because you figure you're this close but at the same time

you're not there."

At age 30, Cassidy had to find a new career. So he signed a

contract with Indianapolis of the International Hockey League

which stipulated he also would work in the team's front office,

learning about the business while finishing out his playing

career. Less than a year later, the Lizard Kings hired him as

their coach. …

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