Coming from the Sunshine State, one south Florida native shares his journey of playing hockey at the collegiate level and how the game changed his life.
Heavy piles of snow toppled on top of each other, salt-filled roads and frozen lakes are just a few things one may see living in the northeast region of the United States during the winter season. For hockey athletes, frozen lakes means two things: lace up your skates and prepare for the most intense games ever. For Syracuse University athlete Ben Silver, however, his lifestyle for the game he loved was a little different from others.
Silver, 22, grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, a place and a region where many might argue hockey does not exist in the natural order of sports.
To put this in perspective, Florida is the Sunshine State. The climate year round, hot and sunny with mild winters. Sports, such as football, baseball and basketball, dominate the region.
But for Silver, hockey has been his go-to sport since the age of six. His father, Mitchell, garnered his interest for playing the sport while some of his friends were the first people on board to go to the beach.
“My dad grew up in Boston and played hockey throughout his high school school years. He introduced me and my brother to hockey by bringing us to the Florida Panthers games,” Silver said. “After I saw my first game, I was hooked and was able to start playing youth hockey that year.”
Silver said he will never forget the moment he got his first set of hockey gear before playing on his first youth hockey team.
The thing is, however, he did not play.
But it wasn’t his fought. Silver simply wanted to be like his favorite National Hockey League (NHL) player, Pavel Bure, the “Russian Rocket” who played 12 seasons in the NHL for the Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers.
“Bure was a pure hockey player who could put the puck in the net whenever he wanted to,” Silver said. “It was a pleasure to grow up and watch him skate. I just wanted to be him so badly.”
Silver felt that if he could look like Bure on the ice, he would play like him and score a lot of goals.
Silver’s father took him to Play-It-Again Sports to get his first set of hockey gear.
According to Silver, his father was not entirely experienced about hockey gear.
“When he played, they they didn’t even wear helmets,” Silver laughed.
His dad bought him knee pads, elbow pads, pants, gloves, and a chest protector that were all Koho Jagr 68s, named after Jaromir Jagr, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the time.
Luckily enough, Silver already owned a pair of skates.
When the two began to look at helmets, however, this was where things became interesting.
Mitchell bought Silver a white Bauer 4500 helmet with the same half shield that Bure wore. With all of his gear, Silver was ready to take the ice for his first game.
“My dad tied my skates, I strapped my helmet and I was ready to play. I stepped out to play and immediately I was not allowed to play. Six year olds could not wear half shields. I had to get a full cage,” Silver said. “I was thrown out of my first ever game because I wanted to be like Pavel Bure. Today, I still don’t wear a shield.”
Growing up in Florida, Silver did not have the luxury of skating at the local pond or building a skating rink in his backyard when playing hockey.
“It is a lot different from kids who grew up in the North where winter is an actual thing,” Silver said. “After school on most days, I would lace up my skates and set up a few goals in the street and play hockey by myself, or with my neighbor Chris.”
As a child, like most kids, Silver did other things besides playing hockey. He rode bikes, went fishing, skateboarded with his friends. In fact, skateboarding was very popular among him and his friends.
Silver recalled an exciting moment about skateboarding while he was going to a local skate park as a child.
“When I was in the second grade, I walked into the park with one of my idols, Tony Hawk,” Silver said. “I felt like the coolest kid in the world.”
Silver began to take hockey serious in the eighth grade, right before he went to high school at Pine Crest. Sadly, for Silver, Pine Crest did not have a hockey program.
Determined to play the game he loved, Silver began playing for the Palm Beach Jr. Hawks, a junior hockey program in Lake Worth, Florida, roughly 20 minutes from his house.
During his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Silver played on the U16 ‘AA’ and U18 ‘AA’ teams. In his junior and senior years, he moved up to Junior ‘A’ and ‘B’ Hockey.
Silver said his parents played a huge role in allowing him to play in the junior hockey league program.
“They showed me the way and motivated me to succeed. The 6 AM practices, the long drives to tournaments, sacrificing their daily routines to turn me into a hockey player, its all motivation for me,” Silver said. “I never really say my hockey career or that I won a championship, I always say that it is ours.”
Leaving the sunny beaches and the warm climate of the Sunshine State, Silver went off to Syracuse University to pursue a degree in economics and sports management. While living in upstate New York for for the bitter winters, he also continued to play the game he so dearly loved.
For Silver, Syracuse was the perfect option for him.
“I’ve always had ties with Syracuse. My aunt, uncle and two cousins have lived in Syracuse for 30 years. Every summer, my family would drive up there [Syracuse] to spend time with them,” Silver said.
“My friend, Russell Suskind, was on the Syracuse hockey team at the time and had nothing but great things to say about the program. Thus, Syracuse gave me the opportunity to experience the four seasons that I didn’t get to experience much growing up in Florida.”
Four years in college goes by fast. Silver, who graduates in less than two weeks, has begun to reminiscence on some of his favorite moments of playing hockey at Syracuse.
He recalled memories of what it felt like to clinch a spot in the American College Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I National Tournament, win the Memorial Cup during league playoffs and upset the University of Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen of the ACHA National Playoffs during his senior year.
The one moment Silver will remember the most is when Syracuse played its biggest rival school, the University of Buffalo, during his junior year. For Silver, it was probably one of the most packed and physical games he had ever played in.
“We were up 2–1 with a minute left to play in the game. Buffalo pulled their goalie for the extra attacker,” Silver said. “As Buffalo was possessing the puck in our zone, I stole the puck off one of the players’ sticks in our zone and fired a perfectly-angled shot into the empty net on the other side of the ice. Everybody went nuts. The best part about this moment was that my mom had flown up for the game and my goal celebration was pointing to her in the stands.”
For Silver, the intense moments on the ice will soon become distant memories.
More importantly, it was the life lessons that he learned and the relationships he built while playing hockey that he will cherish forever.
“Hockey taught me self-discipline, teamwork, trust, leadership, taking my responsibility for my mistakes, goal setting, learning to deal with constructive criticism and overcoming challenges and frustrations,” Silver said. “It helped me become the person I am today and it provided me with 30 of my best friends who will remain my best friends for the rest of my life.”
After graduation on May 15th at the Carrier Dome, the south Florida native will return to the palm trees and sunshine in Florida to work in the corporate partnerships department for the Florida Panthers, his favorite NHL team.
Although he will not play professionally, Silver will remain close to the game that he has loved and dreamed of playing since the age of 6.
“I will miss walking into the rink with my best friends and stepping on the ice for practice, but I feel that ended my career on a high note and as a champion,” Silver said. “It’ll be nice to just have fun and be able to skate with my hometown friends and old teammates again.