Old Orchard Beach, Maine — Luke Adam’s latest stop in a whirlwind couple of years is Old Orchard Beach, Me.
It’s a summertime playground, but rather empty this time of year. A perfect place for the young St. John’s hockey star to live while he enjoys his rookie season in pro hockey, 30 minutes away with the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates.
In the past two hockey seasons, Adam has gone from Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Canadian national junior team and the Pirates.
And, oh yes, the Buffalo Sabres, where he registered his first NHL goal this season.
And he won’t turn 21 until June.
“When I think about what’s happened in the last little while, with everything that’s gone on, I kind of have to pinch myself,” Adam said.
Even at 20, however, Adam is learning about the business side of pro hockey. If not for the NHL’s salary cap, there’s a good possibility Adam might still be with the Sabres, where he impressed coach Lindy Ruff and team management.
Telegram Sports Editor Robin Short was recently in the Boston area, on assignment covering Adam, Fermeuse native Ryane Clowe of the San Jose Sharks and the Boston Bruins’ Michael Ryder, who hails from Bonavista.
Catch up with Newfoundland’s top hockey talent, in The Telegram.
With 49 goals in only 56 games last season — his final year of junior hockey — and 12 tallies through 29 games as a rookie pro in the minors, Luke Adam could fit the bill as a goal scorer.
Only he doesn’t have soft hands.
Literally, that is.
Rather, Adam’s big mitts are rough from years of blisters and calluses formed from shooting puck after puck in the backyard of his St. John’s childhood home.
It’s not quite like the washer young Sidney destroyed in the Crosby basement back home in Cole Harbour, N.S., when the lad fired hundreds of pucks at the appliance growing up. Still, the contraption behind the Adam family home on Old Petty Harbour Road helped the Buffalo Sabres prospect get to where he is today.
“My Pop (former Guards senior hockey player Eddie Vatcher) is pretty handy, and he got four pieces of scaffolding, probably about 12 feet high, and rigged them up, kind of like a batting cage,” Adam recalls. “We got some netting and draped over it. I got a net, put it in the middle and I was able to shoot and shoot and not worry about pucks going into the neighbour’s yard anymore.”
Shoot he did. Often, 500 pucks a day.
And thus the blisters.
“Yeah, they’d get blistered up, but I loved doing it,” he said.
“I don’t shoot every day now, but when I do, I’ll shoot anywhere from 300 to 500 pucks. I might be out there 20 minutes, or some days I’m there 45 minutes.
“And I’ll move the board around (on which he shoots). Sometimes I’ll be 25 out from the net, and sometimes I’ll move in close, flicking them upstairs. It’s a hard game to score goals, so you try to get any edge you can.”
It’s worked so far, as Adam has rocketed up the Sabres’ depth chart.
Still only 20, but standing 6’3” and weighing nearly 220 pounds, Adam has appeared in 18 NHL games this season, scoring three NHL goals.
He’s back in Portland with the American Hockey League now, but the truth is he might still be with Buffalo had it not been for a numbers crunch.
He can’t grow a beard yet, but Adam is getting a crash course in the business side of hockey.
“There are a lot of ins and outs the regular fan doesn’t see,” he says. “It’s a huge, huge, multi-million-(dollar) business, and you don’t see it until you’re in it.
“The salary cap makes things so tight right now, every team is trying to figure out a way to manoeuvre their way about it.”
Adam was reassigned to Portland last month when Patrick Kaleta returned to the lineup (he’s since been placed on the disabled list again, and Paul Byron was recalled from the Pirates).
Keeping Adam, or bringing him up now, would mean 23 players on the roster, and the recently sold Sabres want only 22, a decision based strictly on finances.
“There are lots of guys in the American league and you wonder, geez, why isn’t he in the NHL? But it’s a numbers game. Mark Mancari, here in Portland, is leading the league in goals. This is probably his sixth year as a pro and he’s had close to 70 points every year.
“Sometimes it has nothing to do with how good a player is. It has everything to do with contracts — how many they want on the NHL team, whether a guy is on a one-way or a two-way contract, whether he has to clear waivers.”
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Adam.
First, there was a ruptured spleen he suffered two years to the day this interview was conducted — Feb. 8, 2009 — when he was playing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Montreal Juniors (the erstwhile St. John’s Fog Devils). The injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Then there was the trade to Cape Breton, a spot on Team Canada and the world junior hockey championship, the start of a pro career that saw him named the AHL’s rookie of the month for November, a call-up to Buffalo — the Sabres made him the 44th overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft — and a spot in the AHL’s All-Star Classic.
Seems fitting, doesn’t it, that a kid from Newfoundland would find himself living next to the ocean? From his third-floor condo, he looks out at the Atlantic, a still and silent roller coaster and the empty cotton candy stalls along the Old Orchard Beach boardwalk.
In winter, only 5,000 or so people live in the Maine hamlet about 30 minutes from Portland. In June, July and August, more than 100,000 folks converge on the summer playground.
Yes, he understands the business aspect of the game, but as a 20-year-old rookie, he’s content to pay his dues.
And if that means toiling in the AHL, so be it.
Extra work after practice? Bring it on.
A bit of hard work never scared off this kid. Just check out the hands.
“It’s a job, but I love doing it,” he said. “You have to work at your trade. I want to be a professional hockey player, and it’s something I don’t take lightly.
“There’s an old saying: it’s easier to get there than it is staying.
“If you think you’re doing a lot, there’s always someone out there doing more. If I’m out there shooting 500 pucks, I’m sure there’s someone else shooting 501.
“So you can never think you’re doing more than the guy next to you.”
Even if you’ve got blisters.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com