My path to the pros

Canadiens C Jeff Halpern recalls the days before he got paid to play

Originally Published: July 3, 2013
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine

Jeff Halpern Richard Wolowicz/Getty ImagesHalpern's proximity to an ice rink as a kid made it easy for him to practice.

The beginning

Hockey was really my first organized sport. There was a rink 10 minutes from my house, and my dad would take my sister, who was 6 at the time, and me, and I was 3, for skating lessons on Sunday. That was my introduction. The Caps had just moved into the area, and I think seeing them and other teams come in and practice after public skating kind of got me interested. My dad was a hockey fan growing up, and he always encouraged us to play sports, and skating was just an activity that I really liked. But I played soccer and baseball all the way through high school too.

The middle school days

I was 12 when I truly committed to hockey, though. I was on a really good soccer team at the time, but it was already conflicting with what I needed to do for hockey. I had a sit-down with my soccer coach, and he said that I had to be able to make a commitment to one sport because the level of play was increasing. I chose hockey.

The high school days

As you get older, you just want to keep playing. If you don't play in college, your career is over. Hockey was something I loved, so I just wanted to keep playing for as long as possible. The USHL wasn't as big then, so going to a New England prep school was the best way to get recruited. That was a huge deal for my parents -- moving away was completely foreign to them -- but I ended up at St. Paul's in New Hampshire. I was 15 ... it was just something I had to do, and then I got into Princeton, which was a major achievement for me. When I was in high school, I was trying to get the attention of the college scouts in the stands. Then in college, it's pro scouts. Even at the NHL level, I've never played a game feeling comfortable, even during times I knew I was playing well. I always felt like it could be taken away from me at any moment. So I've always had that attitude of trying to work hard, to do the right things, to prolong my career as long as possible.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

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Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.