By Alex Thomas | AHL On The Beat Archive
If you’re looking for the good spots in an American Hockey League city, you might want to ask Springfield Falcons forward Jon DiSalvatore about them. On Friday, December 11th, the veteran skated in his 800th career AHL game—no small feat.
A career that started in the college ranks and went through AHL cities like Cleveland, Worcester, Peoria, San Antonio, Lowell, Houston, Hershey, and Syracuse has seen DiSalvatore learn a lot about the game and a lot about him. In fact, he tells Falcons broadcaster Andy Zilch in an interview before the big night, he even met his wife and started his family on the road.
“The game has given me so much,” said DiSalvatore. “I got married on the road, I’ve had all my kids while playing and just met a tremendous amount of people, you know friends.”
DiSalvatore hasn’t just been an AHL’er, he’s had NHL time too—playing in five games with the St. Louis Blues in 2005-06 and in a single game with the Minnesota Wild in 2011-12. He established himself as a professional hockey player and tasted the NHL.
In 2013-14, DiSalvatore found himself in the German Elite League, playing for EHC Munich, where he spent part of that season and the entire 2014-15 campaign there. Like many veterans, he began to think that Europe was the end of his career, that he’d play out the string and then return home for his post hockey life.
The veteran wanted more, however. He wanted to be home and he wanted stability for his family. To this date, the longest tenure he’s ever had with a team was with the Houston Aeros, a team he played with for three seasons.
“We felt like maybe it was time to insert some more stability into (our kids’) lives,” said the veteran, when asked about returning to the States.
DiSalvatore and his family made the decision to return home to Hartford, knowing that there were a few AHL teams in the area to which he could commute and allow his family to live in a routine.
At first, things hadn’t worked out as planned. The forward hadn’t heard much and ended up going to the ECHL to get in shape with the Florida Everblades. That’s when the opportunity came from Springfield—a team battling injuries and had numerous players gone via call up to the NHL. Things fell into place and DiSalvatore went to Springfield, an opportunity he says he is grateful for.
As for his career, DiSalvatore looks back at the first 799 games quite fondly. His best memory, he tells Zilch, is playing in the Calder Cup Finals with the Aeros back in 2010-11. He called it “special” anytime you could win a Western Conference Championship and come within a game of the Calder Cup.
He mentioned former coaches too, including former Aeros coach and current Wild coach Mike Yeo, and how they were able to teach him about things like character and how to be a professional in the hockey world.
“A lot of the guys are just unbelievable guys, you don’t run into too many guys you wish you had never met before,” said DiSalvatore.
When you hit the level that DiSalvatore has—800 games and over a decade of playing hockey professionally—you learn a few things.
“I think the biggest takeaway from my career from college into pro hockey is that every place I’ve ever been has given me an opportunity to grow as a person,” said DiSalvatore. “I think the big thing that sometimes guys get wrapped up with in the game is that they feel that the game owes them something, and the game doesn’t owe us anything. I think it has always given us an opportunity to grow as a person, to build character and to use those experiences to better ourselves post hockey career.”
After 800 AHL games and some in the NHL, ECHL, and Europe, DiSalvatore has certainly learned a thing or two about the game. Most importantly, according to him, he’s learned about himself and he’s learned to grow as a person playing the game he loves.
With the right situation for him and his family in Springfield, Massachusetts, DiSalvatore’s professional hockey career continues, waiting to hit it’s next milestone and waiting to give him another opportunity to grow as a person.
As for his recent milestone, it was only a few minutes old before a stoppage in play allows for message to come across the video board inside the Mass Mutual Center. It’s a congratulations message for DiSalvatore, and the crowd rises to its feet in applause. Players on both benches hit their sticks on the boards, saluting the veteran. It’s clear the moment means something to him.
Like any veteran, however, once the puck drops and play resumes, DiSalvatore is back into the zone. It’s just like any other game at that point, as the forward plays his game and helps the Falcons to a victory.