Andrew Sweetland won’t say he’s at a crossroads in his hockey career, or in his life for that matter, but he did acknowledge he isn’t looking too far into the future.
As far as this season is concerned, Sweetland has opted to play for the Clarenville Caribous of the provincial senior hockey league, while taking a course at Memorial University.
The 25-year-old Bonavista native’s hockey course changed suddenly after he suffered a concussion playing for the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators with three weeks left in the 2010-11 season.
He made his decision to return to Newfoundland during the period of time he was dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
“I thought at that time that the best thing for me to do was stay home and go to school,” he said. “If I was feeling better maybe I’d play some hockey this winter. I can’t go any further into the future right now.”
Health-wise, he said, he’s feeling much better now, especially the last three or four months.
Still, the decision to walk away from the pro game and return home to Newfoundland is a puzzling one. The 6-2, 204-pound forward netted 21 goals in only 38 games with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL last season, before averaging a point every other game (four goals, seven points) in 14 games with Binghamton.
“Basically,” he says, “after the concussion, I felt it was the best decision for me at this time to stay home and not to play away.
“I’m taking a small chance playing this season, but the level of hockey is obviously different. I feel a little safer playing here.”
So, has he given up returning to the pro ranks?
“I haven’t ruled that out by any means,” he answered. “But, to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about that. I made my decision which I’m sticking with for now.”
Sweetland’s pro career so far has taken him all over North America in a variety of hockey-playing situations on a variety of levels.
A product of the Tri-Pen Frost AAA midget team, Sweetland began his junior career with Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Couchiching Terriers, where he toiled two seasons before moving on to the Amherst Ramblers of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League (MJAHL) in 2006-07, when he registered 56 goals and 117 points in 54 games.
“I thought at that time that the best thing for me to do was stay home and go to school. If I was feeling better maybe I’d play some hockey this winter. I can’t go any further into the future right now.” - Andrew Sweetland
From there, it was off to the University of Maine in 2008 where he put in one season of 17 points in 28 games before he agreed to terms on a free agent contract with the Florida Panthers. As a result, he forfeited his three remaining years of eligibility with the Black Bears.
Sweetland joined the AHL’s Rochester Americans in 2008-09, and finished the season with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. He was back with the Americans in 2009-10, registering five goals and 13 points in 51 games.
This season, there were rumours he might get a tryout with the newly-minted St. John’s IceCaps. However, Sweetland said he wasn’t expecting to get a walk-on tryout with the IceCaps.
“When you are in this (hockey) profession, you don’t expect things to be given to you.”
Sweetland is taking a physical education course at Memorial right now, but he’s not sure after that.
“I’m just taking it one step at a time now. I don’t have any set plan. I might do something further in school or I may not need to,” he said.
“It’s not like I’m at the end of my career. I’m probably in my prime. I was playing some of my better hockey in Binghamton where I was getting a good opportunity and things were going well. It’s just unfortunate I picked up the injury.”
As far as what his contribution to the Caribous might be this season, Sweetland hopes to be a consistent point-producer on the reigning Allan Cup Canadian senior hockey champions.
“I’m staying in shape and after this season, I’ll make a decision on my hockey future,” he said.