Personal Stories of America at Work

Lessons learned for professional hockey player

Hockey player Mark Lutz grapples with leaving the ice for a financial career

"I worked my ass off because I wasn’t always that top player. I had to earn it."

Mark Lutz, 27

Professional hockey player turned financial analyst

Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Grunt work for a goal

I was a hockey player for nineteen years. When I was eighteen years old and just out of high school, I moved away from Wisconsin to Michigan where I played junior hockey in a scouting league. While I played, I had to make a living, so I had quite a few part-time jobs in succession. My team paid for my room and board, but I needed to pay for all other expenses. I worked at a Subway restaurant where I did some dishwashing and sandwich making. I was pretty exhausted all the time, so I liked to sit in the back and wash dishes and not interact with people. I worked at a snow hill where we would put kids in tubes on a rope that went up the hill and just hope they didn’t fall off and roll down the hill. I did a lot of grunt work for a brewery—cleaned kegs, hand delivered kegs between Stevens Point and Madison, did bottle returns, labeled bottles and kegs, and bottled the beers.

It was at this time that I received advice from my older sister, and it was the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. I was home sick and ambivalent about my decision to pursue hockey as a career. Some of my friends were going off to college and getting on with their lives. I was very close to quitting. She encouraged me to not give up my dream. If it’s something I loved, I should follow it. I decided to take my sister’s advice and stick it out in Michigan.

After playing junior hockey in the scouting league in Michigan, I went to college at the University of Vermont in Burlington on a Division I hockey scholarship. This was my proudest accomplishment because my dream growing up had been to play Division I college hockey. I worked my ass off because I wasn’t always that top player, so I had to earn it.

Sacrifices and regrets

My parents worked hard to make it easy for me to focus on hockey while I was growing up, but there were obviously a lot of sacrifices along the way. Family vacations turned into hockey trips, but my whole family was behind me.

My dad decided to build a rink in our backyard when my older brother was playing high school hockey.  After we’d flood the backyard, we would all spend an hour or two a night chipping away and making the ice smooth. My dad worked on a railroad, so he even put up some rail posts and we had streetlights at either end of the rink for skating at night. It was a good thing we had a lot of woods around us because a lot of pucks went flying. We broke a few neighbors’ windows in our day.

High school was when the biggest sacrifices came. I played for Team Wisconsin. They recruited the best players from the state. I played for them before and after my high school seasons for three years. That entailed traveling to Michigan and Iowa in the summer, fall, and spring on most weekends. It really started to take me away from my friends.  I took one season off from Team Wisconsin, but I missed a good opportunity to get scouted. I regret that to this day.

There are always those difficult coaches and teammates, but sacrificing personal relationships is the hardest. When I moved to Michigan, I dated a girl but it didn’t work out. It was difficult to maintain relationships because I put hockey first.

Worst jobs of my life

After my sophomore year in college, I went home to Wisconsin and worked some of the worst jobs in my life. I worked for a Christmas tree farm cutting and dragging trees and putting them in trucks. I worked for a potato factory that supplies fries to Wendy’s and other fast food restaurants. Unloading, washing, boiling, cutting. I would take a vacuum and suck out all of the potato not used for the fries. This would go to an assembly line to be cut up even smaller for hash browns. Hash browns are the bottom of the line in terms of the potato, something to keep in mind the next time you are eating hash browns. The entire factory was on top of about three inches of rotten potatoes. Horrible smell. The shifts were 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I kind of always had this idea where I would go into management or run my own business.  Early on in college I ran into an opportunity called Collegiate Entrepreneurs Painting and became a branch manager. You essentially run your own painting business and give corporate 30 percent of your profits. I hired six people and taught them how to paint houses. This was funny since I had never painted. I hired two of my close friends from college and eventually had to fire them. By the end of the summer, I ended up doing all of the painting myself. I don’t think I communicated what I wanted to communicate to my employees all the time and that is one lesson I will never forget. I wasn’t thorough enough. I can see this mistake in other people, including my managers.

Fourteen states in one month

After graduating college in 2008, I signed a contract with a Double A minor pro hockey team called the Las Vegas Wranglers. I finally made it to Vegas and came down with tonsillitis right when I got there. It was hell. I had practice each morning, slept for four hours, and then got right back to the evening practice. Apparently the team doctor never told the coach I was sick, so he thought I was just out of shape. They traded me to the Utah Grizzlies in Salt Lake City after two weeks. After my first preseason game, I spoke with my mother who said, “Do you realize you’ve slept in like fourteen different states this month?”

I tore my ACL in a game in British Columbia and did physical therapy for a year followed by knee surgery. I spent that summer in Minnesota teaching at a hockey camp for all ages. After that short stint, I moved back to Vermont to train for the next hockey season in Utah but my knee hurt pretty bad so I decided it was time to hang up the skates. My thought coming out of college was that I would give myself two years. I figured I was good enough and had the talent. But with my knee hurting as it did, I felt that I couldn’t make a name for myself. I decided to move on. By that time, I was twenty-six years old, so it was time to build some other skills and get a career going.

On to finance

I decided to earn a finance degree. I looked for jobs in New York, Vermont, and Boston. I was recently hired to do financial reporting for mutual funds and year-end statements at a Boston finance company.

I also currently work for a designated driver service. A college student in the area designed the business. Basically, two of us drive around the city and one of us gets out and picks up an inebriated bar patron and drives his or her car home with them in the passenger seat. The other driver will follow the car back to the client’s home and pick up the first driver.

The financial track is big question mark for me right now. I’d like to incorporate finance into my career plan. I could see myself coaching hockey, but I also want to be in a higher management role or own my own company in the future.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to play hockey, but I’m unhappy that I wasn’t able to expand on it. I sit at work with my coworkers now and sometimes think, “Shit, this wasn’t the way I planned it.” But in the end, I went above and beyond what I had imagined I could ever do with hockey.

If I have kids, I would want them to play hockey if they have the chance. The friendships, the work ethic I’ve learned—I really don’t see the negatives in the hockey lifestyle. All of my closest friends—at least 90 percent—I’ve met though playing hockey. The hardest thing for me if I have kids who play would be to sacrifice all of those early mornings for practices like my parents did for me. But I’d want my kids to have the opportunities that I had.

thumb_tedahern Ted Ahrens | January 18, 2011 | Finance, Sports | 4

4 Responses to Lessons learned for professional hockey player

  1. Jonathan says:

    I wonder if Mark ever got to take home some of the beer he helped bottle.

  2. Ted says:

    Jonathan,

    That is a great question, and one I will ask Mark. If anyone has any other questions for Mark I will be happy to forward them onto him.

  3. Don Lutz says:

    Mark, I enjoyed reading this article on my new ipad2. As uncle I am fortunate to have you as a nephew. uncle don



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