By the time most teammates already have peeled off their gear, showered and bolted out the dressing room, his post-game routine is just beginning.
Lars Pettersen is feeling especially drained following another typical night at the office for the Augusta Lynx.
On this night, another loss, the Lynx's top-line center again logs the most ice time among the forwards, again leads his team in sweat and in grit and, as usual this season, leads them on the scoresheet.
Instead of allowing tired legs and aching muscles to stop him, however, Pettersen seems driven by exhaustion, as he mounts the LifeCycle and begins another long journey to nowhere.
Sooner or later, Pettersen is hopeful all those lunch-pail minutes on the ice, all those push-ups and bench presses he musters after two-hour practices, all those miles on the stationary bike, will pay off.
Still, even the optimistic 23-year-old wonders what it will take to get noticed. Wonders if he ever will make it to the next level. Wonders if he ever will get off pro hockey's road to nowhere.
"I've never been flashy, and I'm definitely not the fastest player out there, and I know that gets you overlooked sometimes," the third-year pro says. "I try to make up for what I lack in talent by working hard and playing smart. And I think as long as I keep putting up the numbers, someone will notice eventually."
Pettersen, unfortunately, is learning the hard way that numbers don't always get you noticed.
The native of Okotoks, Alberta, is seventh in the East Coast Hockey League in scoring with a team-high 20 goals and 37 assists for 57 points. But, despite his breakout season, he was left off the Southern Conference All-Star squad.
THE OVERSIGHT DENIED
Pettersen a chance at some much-needed exposure before a host of scouts and NHL front-office types who made the trip to the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., not to mention those across North America who watched the game on ESPN2.
Instead, former teammate Wes Mason was named the lone All-Star representative for a lowly Lynx club that has the fourth-worst record in the league entering tonight's game at home against New Orleans.
At the time of the balloting, Mason was in the top 10 in the league in scoring and fourth in goals. Pettersen wasn't far behind in the scoring race, ranking 16th in the league in points when Southern Conference rosters were announced in early January.
"He's one of the best centers in the league," says Lynx captain Dan Kopec, Pettersen's teammate since his rookie season with the Raleigh IceCaps in 1997-98. "He deserved to go to the All-Star game."
Not even one of the great individual performances in pro hockey history has been a springboard for Pettersen.
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Pettersen's five-goal third period in a 7-6 home loss to the Birmingham Bulls. Only two other players in the history of North American pro hockey had accomplished that feat.
THE FIVE GOALS
in a span of 16:01 of the final period made Play of the Day on CNN Headline News and was mentioned on the Paul Harvey nationally syndicated radio show. His story also was picked up by the American and Canadian wires, was featured in The Hockey News, and even made it to the pages of beef and cattle magazines back home in Alberta.
But aside from the 15 minutes of fame, Pettersen has little more to show for the performance than a commemorative plaque, an entry in the ECHL record books, and some fond memories of a magical night.
"I hoped that maybe that would have turned a few more heads," Pettersen says.
Though it did increase his visibility league-wide, Pettersen was still overlooked by all-star voters, despite the fact he is proving this season that the outburst, although rare, was no fluke.
"Every year, he improves," Kopec says. "He shows up to play every night and keeps himself in better shape now than he used to. He just needs a break."
Pettersen understands why his blue-collar style is overlooked by scouts, coaches and GMs.
Mason, who was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in October, continues to post strong numbers in the International Hockey League with Orlando, inching closer and closer each day to reaching every player's dream -- a career in the NHL.
"He's flashier than I am, and they notice guys like Wes more than guys like me," says Pettersen, the son of Norwegian immigrants who works on the family ranch during the off-season.
"That's why I have to keep working even harder," Pettersen says. "I'm still young enough where I can get a shot, as long as I keep improving and putting up numbers."
Though he has been invited to higher-level training camps in each of his three pro seasons, Pettersen still has only an ECHL contract to show for his toils.
The 6-foot, 195-pounder went to camp with the NHL's Dallas Stars and Long Beach of the IHL in 1997, attended camp with Utah of the IHL in 1998, and nearly earned a job with Manitoba of the IHL in September before being cut in the final weeks of camp.
"He really has nothing left to prove here," Kopec says.
While Pettersen realizes the window of opportunity closes a bit more with each passing season, he refuses to abandon hope.
"I'm having a pretty good year, and if I can finish in the top 10 in scoring in this league, you'd think that would look pretty good on the resume going into a training camp next year," Pettersen says. "I like playing in Augusta and enjoy the city and the fans, but the goal is to move up. If I keep on working hard and get a break, maybe I'll get a shot eventually."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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