My Journey: Dante Palomares
What a ride it was. Looking back at it now, my journey through junior hockey seems to have flown by in a flash. The memories looking back at each team, each player, each lesson learned flow back to my mind every time I take a second to remember the great times during my tougher times.
Growing up, I wanted to be a pro baseball player. That was my goal ever since I could remember. But wait, isn’t this article about hockey? Yes, but my family’s ethnicity does not typically go for a sport like hockey. I am a Mexican-American. When Mexican families think of putting their child in a sport, the typical sports that come to mind are baseball, soccer, and even football.
I was 8 years old, chubby and jolly, on a path to being an overweight person my entire life. I wasn’t in any sports. I watched so much baseball and football, but never pulled the trigger to actually playing these sports. My friend invited me to a birthday party at a local roller rink. It was my first time since I was 5 years old putting any type of skates on. I loved the feeling of gliding around and I instantly noticed that I was sweating. We, as in my brother and I, would frequently go back to exercise and make friends at the same time. We both noticed that the rink offered hockey and our friends were playing in a very basic skill league. We decided to join the league and instantly fell in love with the sport.
Years after playing roller hockey, a coach invited us out to try ice hockey. Confident in our roller skating abilities, we said yes and went out to skate with his AAA team. It was an absolute disaster. The two skating styles were completely different and I didn’t know what to do. I was scared more than anything. I knew I was in for some serious work.
Fast forward a few more years, I made my first AA/AAA team with my brother. That season ended up being one of the most fun seasons, locking me in as a hockey fanatic for the rest of my life. To top it all off, we won 3 tournaments and our league championship that year. What a rush it was. Sadly, most of those guys don’t play anymore, but the memories from that season will forever be with us.
In 2016, I signed to my first junior team, not knowing what the jump would be like, but still confident in my own abilities. Again, I was shocked with the speed, size, and maturity of some of the players in the league. I had to act tough, even if I wasn’t seen as that to the opponents. I fought three twenty-year old age-outs that year at the age of 16. Fortunately, I won all of them.
The grind and ganas is something that my family taught me since the day I was born. The grind was everything I lived for. Showing up to the rink at 4:30 AM, four days a week during the off-season, working out right after the skates at the gym down the street from the rink, and then heading straight to my family’s restaurant is everything. Obviously there were days where I felt like I couldn’t get up, but I knew I had to. My body is wired to go.
My journey in junior hockey took me from Colorado to Denmark to play for a U20 and Division 1 team in Esbjerg. The style of hockey was completely different and I was extremely excited to get out there and play. More importantly, I was brought into their culture as if I was one of their own. The people, the city, the atmosphere were all amazing. I wish I could go back and live it again.
I came home right after New Years from Denmark and played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs. It was an overall fun experience with a great group of guys. We worked hard everyday and ended up being ranked the number one team at our level. We fell just short of winning a national championship.
Looking back at it now, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
My age-out year was definitely the toughest year of all. All my friends outside of hockey were going to be juniors in college, I was injury ridden, and put in positions I never experienced before on a team. I was scratched for the first time in my career. I was torn and broken, but I knew it was for a reason, a true lesson of humility. Wisconsin was a place I always heard about because of my mother’s addiction to cheese and obviously the Green Bay Packers, but I never imagined playing hockey in a small town there. Small towns are more than just what you think of them. Being in such a small town in Wisconsin allowed me to grow extremely close to my teammates and the people of the town. I, unfortunately, was not playing and ended up requesting a trade to a team with all of my friends from my hometown of Denver.
I packed my things and said some tearful goodbyes and made the long road trip from Wisconsin Rapids to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, I was allowed free range of my hockey abilities and began to get in the groove of things again, injury free. I had an amazing billet family with two kids who were aspiring hockey players. The moment I stepped in the locker room, it felt like the old times with all my old teammates who were teammates once again. I came in during a tough drought for the team, but I did my best to stay positive and did whatever I could on and off the ice to help the team get back on track. We finished third in the standings and won the first playoff series in the program’s history. We were off to NYC to play the Aviators.
We lost. Both games. Full of tears with my eyes and my face in the palms of my hands, I realized it was all over. Memories flooded my mind about my entire junior experience. I am so glad I chose hockey as my sport of choice and invested so much time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into it. There is no greater sport.
A final note: don’t take anything for granted. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. Cliches, I know, but valid in the position I’m in now. I am excited to start the next chapter in my life, whether it includes hockey or not. Memories last forever. A journey well-worth the trip.