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Help Wanted: Finding a Career in Hockey

12/01/2015, 4:30pm CST
By Jessi Pierce

“If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”

It’s the ultimate career quote for those who are chasing after their passion, hoping to turn it into a full-fledged job. For many hockey players, it’s about the dream to make a living playing in the National Hockey League. 

But what if that doesn’t happen? 

“Kids who play hockey or have a passion for hockey think of just being a [professional] hockey player,” said Carly Peters, who works with NHL players daily as the media relations coordinator for the Minnesota Wild. “But as they get to high school, they find that the statistics of actually becoming one really aren’t there, so it’s wonderful to have other career options that can still keep that passion for the sport alive.”

Peters is just one of the many Minnesotans living her hockey dream. We spoke with her and four other Minnesotans who are working their “dream jobs” and keeping the spirit of hockey alive in the workplace. 

COMMUNICATIONS

JOBS INCLUDE: Public relations, broadcaster, reporter (print or online), social media coordinator

REQUIREMENTS: Minimum 4-year college degree

BRIAN DEUTSCH

Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at the University of Minnesota 

Hometown: Luverne

Years in the Position: 3

Favorite Part: “Working in hockey, we are such a tight-knight group and it’s something you really don’t see in a lot of other businesses. I’m also big on the team aspect, so it’s great to bring that to work every day, too.”

Word of Warning: “You have to be all in. You work a lot of weekends and a lot of nights. If something happens in the middle of the night, you get a 3 a.m. phone call and you have to be ready to work.”

Growing up, Brian Deutsch was given the choice between joining boy scouts or hitting the ice. It was a no-brainer. 

The Luverne native continued playing hockey through high school before hanging up his skates. But he wouldn’t be away from the rink for long.

“My first day of college I was a sports reporter for the Minnesota Daily, and eventually I started covering [Gopher] men’s hockey,” said Deutsch. “That’s where I really fell back in love with hockey. It was the pageantry and the history of Gopher Hockey that reminded me how much I love the game.”

Prior to entering college Deutsch admits that he wasn’t even aware a job like his existed.

“I actually wanted to be a physical therapist because I had broken my arm my senior year of high school and became really interested in that—until I had my first anatomy class my freshman year,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t really have the stomach for it.”

Deutsch has essentially been a fixture in the press box at Mariucci ever since. His day-to-day jobs include coordinating media requests for the men’s hockey team and staff (as well as the primary media contact for men’s track and field and men’s cross country), preparing team media guides, game notes and stats, and write-ups and releases. On home game nights, Deutsch also goes into game mode with his job amping up hours before and after puck drop. Ironically, Deutsch admits his most hectic times are also his favorite perks of the job.

“I actually really love game night, which is definitely the most stressful time of work for me,” he said. “But when you’re playing at home and you have 10,000 people at Mariucci Arena and the students and fans are into it, it really makes all the work that everyone in the program puts in worth it.”

WORDS OF WISDOM

"Get experience right away. It's never too early. If you're in high school, write for your student newspaper. When you get to college don't wait until your junior or senior year to get involved."

WORDS OF WISDOM

"When you're in college, look for experience, you can never have too much of it. My education at Syracuse was wonderful, but so much of what I learned was on-the-job work experience, and you just can't replicate that."

CARLY PETERS

Media Relations Coordinator for the Minnesota Wild

Hometown: Bloomington

Years in the Position: 4

Favorite Part: “There’s so much to love. Since I’ve been with the Wild, I’ve learned so much about hockey in the state, and not just the professional franchise, but from every level. It’s cool to see the level of support for hockey statewide.”

Word of Warning: “Getting to watch hockey is a not a bad thing, but people have to remember the negatives of the lifestyle, because it is a lifestyle you have to be willing to accept. I wanted to do this because I could still handle the lifestyle, but I know that might not be possible down the road.”

Carly Peters was just 7 years old when she became hooked on hockey. Celebrating her birthday at the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament, she watched in awe as her hometown Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars competed for the team’s third consecutive state title.

The excitement from the crowd was contagious.

“That one moment was so engrained into me,” she recalls. “It’s when I really understood and appreciated the Minnesota hockey culture and found my love for hockey.”

Though Peters never laced up the skates, her passion for the sport never waned. She majored in public relations at Syracuse University with the goal of working for a hockey team. 

Peters began networking, finding internships and experience anywhere she could. One of the connections she made was with Bill Robertson, then vice president of communications for the Minnesota Wild. Robertson told Peters of an internship with USA Hockey. 

“The Brian Fishman internship was the start of my career in so many ways,” Peters said of the yearlong communications internship at the USA Hockey headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. “All of us that were lucky enough [to have the internship] have formed such a bond. Many of us are now working in professional hockey and it’s so cool to see that it’s becoming a starting point for people’s careers.”

Following her internship with USA Hockey, Peters embarked on two more yearlong internships with the Minnesota Wild and a stint with the NHL’s Florida Panthers before becoming fully employed by the State of Hockey’s squad. 

“I lucked out with the timing of things, but you can’t forget, I lived with my parents and basically had no healthcare for three years,” she said with a laugh. “But I did that because that was what I had to do to stick in the industry.”

Now in her fourth season “completely in the industry” Peters is in charge of writing game notes and press releases, maintaining stats and assisting with the team media guide and interview requests.

“I have my best day if a guy does a really good interview or if he feels comfortable speaking to the media, especially if he wasn’t comfortable before,” said Peters. “That’s where I have a moment of pride and find that I can have a positive impact in that manner.”

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

JOBS INCLUDE: Arena manager, hockey operations, general manager, administrator

REQUIREMENTS: Minimum 4-year college degree, master's often preferred

MATT MAJKA

Chief Operating Officer for Minnesota Sports and Entertainment/Minnesota Wild

Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (has lived in the Twin Cities 40-plus years)

Years in the Position: 7 (has been with the Minnesota Wild for 12 years)

Favorite Part: “The roar of the crowd is something that you can’t get working at a lot of other places. When you hear that roar and you know you had a small part in creating it, it’s really rewarding.”

Word of Warning: “I wouldn’t trade a
day here, but there are many days and weekends, so that’s a sacrifice you make and a sacrifice your family makes, too. It’s not a nine-to-five job.” 

Like many in Michigan, Matt Majka grew up playing hockey. He fostered that love through his youth association, dreaming of where it could take him.

Then a dose of reality hit.

“I realized I was never good enough to play at a high level, and certainly never good enough to play past high school,” Majka says with a laugh. “But I really always loved the sport—it’s just a passion that kept growing.”

He fueled that passion during his college years at the University of Minnesota. An aspiring sports broadcaster, Majka pursued a communications major before another realization hit:

“I wasn’t very good at that either,” he joked. “So I changed courses a bit and looked for other opportunities in the sports world.”

Those other opportunities came in the form of Rollerblade Inc., a Minnesota-based company where Majka started as a sales representative before making his way up to the position of vice president of product marketing. It was in that position that Majka was introduced to Bob Naegele Jr., the owner of Rollerblade Inc. Naegele Jr. was working on bringing a professional hockey team back to Minnesota—and he wanted Majka to be a part of it.

“It was a dream come true,” Majka said of helping bring back an NHL franchise to Minnesota. “It sounds like such a cliché, but it’s true. I didn’t set out to necessarily work with an NHL hockey team, but it was a real blessing to have hockey come back to Minnesota and have a front-row seat and be a part of its re-emergence.” 

Once the Wild came home, Majka again worked his way up the corporate ladder to become the COO of Minnesota Sports Entertainment, the enterprise where the Wild exist. In addition to operating Xcel Energy Center and all of its events—hockey and non-hockey—Majka and his crew also operate RiverCentre Convention Center. Managing so many events and different venues keeps his day-to-day job interesting, and he wouldn’t change a thing.

“My job really is something great,” he said. “I can’t forget to mention how important the State of Hockey brand has been to our success. I give the fans the credit for what we’ve become and for helping with our marketing efforts that make my job so fun.”

WORDS OF WISDOM

"If you want to work with a professional sports team, start by working with a minor league team to prepare yourself for a potential job with a major league team. [In the minors] you really get to understand the ebb and flow of the industry and the elements that go into it."

WORDS OF WISDOM

"Always be willing to learn. Whether you played or not, you can work in sports. It's a huge industry, there are so many levels and so many ways to be involved, so don't be afraid to try something new that might get you in the door and lead to your dream job."

KATIE HOLMGREN

Adult Hockey Manager at USA Hockey

Hometown: Plymouth

Years in the Position: 5

Favorite Part: “Working with different people around the country who love the game as much as I do.”

Word of Warning: “I don’t think people realize all of the work that’s done at USA Hockey on every level. Those grassroots efforts are as important as the elite teams. Entering this you’ll have to realize and respect that.”

Katie Holmgren has always been a rink rat. Growing up surrounded by family that played hockey, it was in her blood. The only difference is, Holmgren started on the ice in figure skates. It wasn’t until high school that she traded her toe pick for a new set of blades.

“My best friend had played for a couple of years and convinced me to give it a shot,” she recalled. “By the end of my sophomore year I was playing both JV and varsity and was even named assistant captain my senior year.”

Holmgren took her hockey passion down I-35 to Iowa State University, where she was captain and team president for the Cyclones’ club squad. While at ISU she majored in sport management, a natural role thanks to her experience with the club hockey team. To complement that role, she took an internship with a minor league baseball team, helping with everything from game-day operations, to group ticket sales.

After graduation, Holmgren first took a job outside of sports, but only until someone forwarded her a job opening at USA Hockey. It was for a newly created coordinator of the adult women’s hockey position. She jumped at the chance and soon found herself the first to hold the title. 

“Having been the first-ever coordinator of adult women’s hockey was a lot of fun,” Holmgren said. “I got to shape what the job looked like.”

Holmgren has since been promoted to adult hockey manager, overseeing adult coordinators and adult hockey events across the nation. She serves as the primary liaison for USA Hockey adult leagues and has even served as the general manager for the U.S. Women’s National University teams at the World University Games.

And although she may not get to play the game she loves “nearly as much as [she’d] like to” Holmgren’s passion still thrives in her work environment.

“[Now I get to work] with different people around the country who love the game as much as I do,” said Holmgren.

CHRISTIAN KOELLING

Director of Hockey Operations for University of Minnesota Duluth Men’s Hockey

Hometown: Bloomington

Years in Position: 7

Favorite Part: “I don’t know if I have a favorite part, but I do know that I wake up in the morning and I’m excited to get to the rink. I love my job. I feel blessed and fortunate that I have a career that I absolutely love.”

Word of Warning: “It’s gotta be something that you love to do, because it’s seven days a week when the season starts until we’re done. You miss out on a ton when it comes to family and friends and vacation in the winter, and there’s a lot of sacrifices in the household with my wife and our baby daughter, too.”

Christian Koelling developed his love for hockey through the friendships found in the Bloomington Jefferson youth program in which he played. 

Koelling felt as impassioned about the sport on the bench as he had on the ice. He started by coaching a youth summer team in Bloomington until his high school graduation. Finding a love for teaching the game, he stuck with it while attending the University of Minnesota Duluth where he majored in business administration with a coaching minor. 

Koelling put the minor to good use, staying north of the cities and coaching in the Duluth East Amateur Hockey Association at the Peewee and Bantam levels. After five years he moved on to serve as the head coach of the Duluth Central High School Squad for three years.

"I absolutely loved it," Koelling said. "I loved spending time at the rink and teaching kids the game. From there I just got more and more involved and said yes to every opportunity that came my way."

The next opportunity took Koelling back to his college alma mater. He jumped in to the administrative side of things as the director of operations. In that role he helps manage the budget while also working with the team on community outreach projects and being in charge of all video-related aspects. Koelling is still able to whet his coaching appetite, serving as Minnesota Hockey's Coach-in-Chief, connecting with the youth programs that helped shape him.

"It's a small hockey world and it's such a tight-knit hockey world," said Koelling. "It's full of great people and people that have helped grow my career. It's just one of the many great parts of working in hockey."

WORDS OF WISDOM

"Take the opportunity that presents itself and do a good job. You'll see that opportunity grow and you'll be surprised at how fast those next opportunities come if you're doing a good job, which comes with having a true passion for the job itself."

Tag(s): Home  December 2015