SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/Other News

Life After Hockey gives NHLers a second shift in job market

On the weekend before the NHL’s Nashville Predators got back on the ice for the first time in more than a year, Stu Grimson was also in Nashville, hunkered down with his homework.

It wasn’t a pretty picture: lots of reading for his labor law class, almost as much for a course on copyright and at least a few hours to spend on the case of an elderly client whom Grimson is representing in a consumer protection matter for a legal clinic.

It sounds like the usual combination of intellectual drudgery, interspersed with moments of exhilaration, that define a law student’s life. Except that Grimson is anything but the typical law student.

In 2002, Grimson, aka the Grim Reaper, retired from the NHL after 13 seasons as a hard-nosed, reliable defenseman with Calgary, Chicago, Anaheim, Detroit, Hartford, Carolina, Los Angeles and Nashville. The following year, he enrolled at the University of Memphis School of Law, where this December he expects to graduate, a semester ahead of his class.

For that laudable achievement, he can thank his wife, who has kept the home fires burning for nearly three years as he has commuted weekly from classes in Memphis back to his home in Nashville, three hours away, where the rest of the Grimsons (including four children) live. Grimson is also quick to point out that he owes a debt to Life After Hockey.

If the Life After Hockey program had a valedictorian, it would be Grimson. Three years ago, the NHL, the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Alumni Association launched the program to help current and former hockey players pursue their education or move to new careers.

The program, based at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., offers a range of services, from “life coaches” who work one-on-one with players seeking career counseling to a sports broadcasting workshop held at the Quinnipiac campus during the summer.

Grimson, 40, is a big fan of Life After Hockey.

“I can’t stress how important a resource [it] is to ex-players,” Grimson said. “A lot of folks, having done one thing professionally for a very long time, have a hard time shifting in another direction. It is as true of professional athletes as anyone. No matter how hard you prepare, it isn’t easy.”

Grimson, noted for his aggressive, fearless style as a player, was one of the first clients of Life After Hockey. In 2002, soon after ending his playing career, he got in touch with the program to help him sort out plans to complete his college requirements.

Before his pro career, Grimson had played college hockey at the University of Manitoba, where he had picked up credits toward a degree in economics. Over the years he’d added more credits from correspondence courses but was short of graduation and feeling stymied.

Counselors at Life After Hockey helped Grimson overcome that.

“He was under the impression he would have to uproot his entire family and go back to Manitoba to finish his degree, which he wasn’t willing to do,” said Duncan Fletcher, who is director of the Professional Athlete Transition Institute, which oversees the hockey career program at Quinnipiac. “We were able to act as educational brokers.”

Grimson enrolled at Belmont University in Nashville, where he completed the undergraduate credits he needed. The following fall he was in law school.

Now, a little more than two years later, Grimson could be any other middle-age, second-career law school student. Well, any 6-foot-5 student.

“Sometimes, people are a little taken aback. It piques their interest to know that you were a professional athlete and now you’ve chosen to do this,” Grimson said, laughing.

“What I’ve appreciated most about law school is developing my ability to think abstractly, to analyze a problem from different viewpoints,” he said.

A job search looms for Grimson in December. He said he would welcome a chance to stay near hockey as an agent or with the NHLPA. Grimson was a player delegate and a vice president on the players’ executive committee.

For now, though, you’re more likely to find the Grim Reaper in the law library in Memphis. Only now, Grimson’s classmates refer to him by a new nickname, one that reflects his new obsession before and after class. Meet the Grim Reader.

Mark Hyman (mhyman@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is a lawyer and writer.

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