There are lots of things Dan LaCosta misses about pro hockey, like workdays that end at noon and, of course, the money.
There’s also the adventure.
“You’re going to different cities all the time and the excitement of playing in front of thousands of people regularly is a hard feeling to replace,” say the goalie from Labrador City who helped lead the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds to a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship last weekend in Saskatoon.
Unlike most players, LaCosta’s collegiate career followed his one in the pros. Selected 93rd overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft following four years in the OHL, LaCosta went on to play 132 games at the North American pro level — 24 in the ECHL, 105 with the Syracuse Crunch, the Blue Jacket’s American Hockey League affiliate and three games with Columbus, including a shutout win over the Colorado Avalanche in February of 2009.
But as much as he misses the pro lifestyle, LaCosta’s three years studying business administration at UNB while playing for the Reds have taught him to appreciate that happiness can be found away from the show.
“It has kind of opened my eyes to a whole new world I never knew about before I went away (to play in the OHL) at 15. I was so consumed by hockey culture, it’s all I ever thought about,” says LaCosta who will complete his undergraduate degree this summer and has already applied to enter UNB’s law school in the fall.
“It made me realize you can be happy and successful and not be an NHL player. There’s a lot of things you can do to make a positive contribution to the world.”
LaCosta certainly made a positive contribution to the Reds’ successful bid for a fifth CIS title, one that concluded with him backstopping the team to a 2-0 win over the Saint Mary’s Huskies in Sunday’s title game. LaCosta also had two shutouts in the best-of-three AUS final over the same Huskies team.
All this followed an incredible season statistically for LaCosta, one of his best since his junior days. In 16 starts, he was 15-1 and posted a conference-best goals against average of 1.92.
“I felt like it was probably the most consistency I’ve ever had in my game,” he says. “From start to finish, I was pretty good and never had any peaks and valleys.
“It made it a lot less frustrating because it was pretty positive most of the time.”
CIS rules meant, that as a player leaving the pro ranks, LaCosta had to red-shirt (sit out) his first year of eligibility with UNB in 2010-11.
When he joined the roster as a regular in the fall of 2011, he struggled to adjust.
“I had taken a full year off,” he says. “ I had to not only get used to playing competitive hockey again, but get used to going to school at the same time.”
Then, just as he had established a comfortable routine, he suffered an injury and didn’t see much action the rest of the way in the 2011-12 campaign as the team went with third-year goalie Travis Fullerton who was coming off 15-and 18-win seasons for the Reds.
“This year, I stuck with my routine, I felt like I matured a lot as a person since I came to school here, and that helped me deal with a lot of the adversity that comes with being a goaltender,” LaCosta says.
He ended up taking over the No. 1 job from Fullerton this season.
“(Fullerton) didn’t play poorly at the start of the year,” says LaCosta. “It was the way it was going for us. The games he lost, our team played really poorly in front of him.
“The team was managing to win most of the game I was starting and I got on a bit of a roll and (coach) Gardiner MacDougall kept going back to me.
“I don’t think it was that I outplayed him, I was a benefactor of the team playing in front of me.”
The change didn’t create a stir in the dressing room, and the goalies’ relationship, LaCosta insists, was professional and congenial.
“He was really supportive and a great teammate.”
Again, because of CIS rules regarding former professional players, LaCosta’s university eligibility has been used up. He’s not ruling out a return to the pro ranks, but isn’t brimming with optimism regarding his chances.
“If I were to go play pro again, the offer would have to blow me away,” he says, adding he would only consider offers from a strong European league or the AHL.
“I’m not delusional, I know teams aren’t going to be lining up to sign a 27-year-old CIS goalie. I feel it will be ECHL or CHL, if it is in North America, and a lower league in Europe.”
Even if the right offer comes along, LaCosta says it would be hard to leave Fredericton and the life he has built there with his fiancée Katie, whom he met in Owen Sound, Ont., during his first year in junior.
“I’ve got a nice little business with my goalie camps (danlacostagoaltending.com), I’m going to school, I like this city, and we have a lot of friends here. I’d really have to factor in what I’d be giving up if I left.”
There’s also a good chance LaCosta could be in store for a permanent family reunion if he stays in Fredericton. With one of his two sisters attending UNB in the fall, and his parents nearing retirement, the family has toyed with the idea of relocating to New Brunswick.
“I’ve been away from them my whole life and it would be nice to be together again as a family.”