In MiHockey’s new MiStory feature, we let hockey people tell their own stories with their own words. Ryan Kesti spent 2010-15 as a forward at Northern Michigan University. Kesti wrapped up his final hockey season, his first as a professional, with a bang, and now tells the story of his journey through hockey as he begins to embark on a new post-hockey adventure – and how the sport set him up for a successful life away from the rink.
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By Ryan Kesti –
In “Mighty Ducks 3,” Coach Orion says it takes “less than a second” to score a goal. That quote held true in my last game with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). With a tenth of a second left on the clock, Josh Cousineau scored for us to clinch the President’s Cup Trophy and our league championship. I was fortunate to have been a part of that final goal.
It started with a face-off win in the offensive zone with eight seconds remaining. After a shot from the point was deflected in front to the corner, I raced towards the puck knowing time was running out. With some puck luck and the help of my linemate Brandon Zurn, the backhander I shot towards the net was deflected out to Cousineau, who dove towards the net and speared the puck in. From there, it was pure pandemonium as our team and crowd erupted into celebration just like we did as kids playing on the pond.
As a kid, I grew up in Red Wing, Minn., a fairly small town on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I am grateful my parents provided me with an opportunity to play hockey. Hockey has been, and will continue to be, a lifelong passion. I learned to play outdoors just as so many have before. I always imagined being Mike Modano, the Michigan native who played for the Minnesota North Stars, Dallas Stars and finally the Detroit Red Wings. As I got older, my dreams evolved and playing college hockey became priority number one.
To me, there has always been something special about college hockey; the student sections, the fans, the chants, the unique arenas and the chance to play while earning an education just seemed so right.
As high school ended, I chased that dream and decided to play junior hockey after being drafted in the United States Hockey League (USHL). During my second season with the Sioux City Musketeers, I accepted a scholarship to play college hockey at Northern Michigan University (NMU). I took a bit of a leap of faith by accepting without visiting campus, but I felt confident in my decision after talking to fellow recruit Stephan Vigier and assistant coach Rob Facca.
In the fall of 2010, I stepped on campus at NMU in Marquette, Michigan (the 2016 Kraft Hockeyville USA winner). As a 21-year-old freshman, I was able to live off campus. My roommate, Jake Johnson, and I found a place only two blocks from NMU’s rink, the Berry Events Center. I had watched plenty of college games both live and on TV and knew the reality of being a college hockey player was close. August and September classes flew by and our first game finally arrived on October 8.
The rink was packed as we played host to our biggest rival, Michigan Tech, for the right to the Superior Cup. I didn’t know it then, but those games against Tech ended up being some of my favorites. Records never mattered; the rink was full, and the game was the talk of the Upper Peninsula in the days leading up to it. Yoopers are proud of many things, and their passion for hockey and their school pride is something I will always remember.
That first game against Tech ended the same way my season did: disappointingly. Less than a month after our first game, I injured a tendon in my wrist, forcing me to have surgery and miss the rest of the season. At the time, I was devastated.
But today, I look back and think of how much of a blessing in disguise it was. A benefit of being injured so early was Northern was able to petition, and I received the year of eligibility back as medical hardship from the NCAA. Knowing I could be on campus for five years changed my plans again, including my degree, but also provided a wealth of other opportunities.
I knew that hockey may not last forever, but one of the true benefits of college hockey is the education you receive. During my second year, I added Accounting to my Corporate Finance degree. I was able to add the additional classes since I knew I would be on campus for five years.
My second and third years on the ice were full of ups and downs. I was eager to earn a spot in the lineup but knew it wouldn’t be easy. I switched positions to forward and became a part of a special group, “the bricklayers.”
Every team has them, the guys who fight to be in the lineup every night, who will do anything for their teammates. They are the guys that run the scout penalty kill and power play units. The way they play may not always be pretty, but they work to get the job done. The term was coined by my teammate Brian Nugent. He was an upperclassman who had been through the grind. Not everyone could be one or would want to be one, but everyone respects the bricklayers.
During my fourth season, I saw my role on the team expand and my post-hockey plans develop. I was honored to be named a captain and took great pride in leading by example. Off the ice, I also received exciting news.
In November, as we waited to board our last flight for Anchorage in Seattle, I received a call from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). PwC is one of the Big 4 accounting firms, and I was offered a final in-person interview for an internship I had applied for through our business faculty months before. While I was ecstatic, we had important games to play so I decided to keep the news to myself until after the weekend series.
Before our next series at Western Michigan University, I was able to accept the interview and later the internship in Detroit. If it had not been for the only Saturday/Sunday series of my career, and coach Walt Kyle’s understanding of the opportunity, I would not have been able to even accept the interview. I had to miss practice, but I could not afford to miss a game.
During the following summer, I stayed in Detroit to work as an Assurance Intern at PwC. But as I worked hard to earn experience in accounting, I also found a place in the Eastside Elite League at Mt. Clemens with Steve Olesky (Chesterfield native; Pittsburgh Penguins) to train and prepare for my final year of college hockey. I knew that it was an important year in that it may be my last.
While we were unable to win a championship in my final season at NMU, I refuse to say it was not a success. We had a great group of guys who were dedicated to getting better while also having fun. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live out a dream, earn a college degree and play college hockey across the state of Michigan and the country.
After graduating in May 2015, and before pursuing professional hockey, I again interviewed with PwC, but this time for a full-time position starting in 2016. I later accepted that position and am now finishing my license to become a Certified Public Accountant.
While every day at the rink and the palm trees in Pensacola were amazing, less than a second was all it took for 20-plus years of hard work and dedication to end my hockey career as a champion. Now, I look forward to a new career and new challenges. And I know the journey will be just as special as the one I took in hockey.