#AHLOTB: Joyce transfers military lessons to hockey

By Nicole Mannix | AHL On The Beat Archive


There is no doubt that Eric Joyce, general manager of the Portland Pirates, loves the sport of hockey right to his very core. The incredible amount of work he puts into all aspects of keeping the team on track, as well as his dedicated presence at every game, seem both obvious and one of the more exciting parts of his job position. Like most hockey players, Joyce’s own hockey endeavors began at a very young age.


“My mom put me on skates when I was two (…) and I never took a look back,” said Joyce. “I was fortunate enough to play with some really good players, and got noticed. At a young age I went to prep school, and from there … I got recruited to play Division I.”


Hockey may have helped the Division I schools demand Joyce’s attendance, but his personal academic discipline and love of learning certainly helped.


“I just liked going to school,” said Joyce. “Ever since I was a kid, my favorite place on earth is a bookstore, so, you’re just surrounded by all this knowledge. It’s how different people look at the world, and what they see versus what we see, and what’s their take on a certain situation. I liked hard problems. And I liked to kinda put myself to the task to see what the answer was.”


He credits his parents for always helping to encourage that desire to learn.

“My mom was an incredibly smart woman and my dad was a really, really smart guy … so, obviously my mom and dad both valued education,” said Joyce. “They’re great to have to bounce ideas off of, and to always lend a helping hand where they could, so it’s a very supportive environment at home.”


The 37-year-old Massachusetts-native had several Division I school options, but not only did Joyce choose to continue his academic and hockey careers, he also wanted to focus on a military career as well. In order to do all those things, and do them with the dedication, hard work, and determination that was instilled in him and encouraged by his family growing up, the innately hard working, driven student chose the United States Military Academy at West Point.


“My whole family prior to me had served,” said Joyce. “My grandfather served in World War II, my dad served in Vietnam, so that was why the military was maybe more appealing to me than maybe some others. Ultimately I chose West Point because of my family history, because of the opportunity I had both to play hockey daily there and be very successful at doing that. The fact that I could serve my country was appealing.


“I probably would’ve liked to play afterwards,” he said, “but 9/11 happened, and I was a West Point Cadet first and foremost, so, I had to go to war. So, those things tend to hold careers in their tracks.”


Joyce went to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 as a U.S. infantry captain, and his proudest achievement was the Valorous Unit Award earned by him and his unit. The significance of the award was that the unit worked together to get it.


On him helping to lead the men in Iraq: “There was nothing special in [that] aspect other than I was there with all my other classmates who graduated the same year.”


The things Joyce are most proud of in his life include the work that he does with other people. He credits the folks around him as the greatest portion of the force behind the achievements that they all make together.


From serving in the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment on the ground in Iraq, to helping lead the Florida Panthers’ former AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, to their first division title in franchise history last season, to continuing his role as the AHL affiliation GM in Portland, Maine, none of it was done alone or under the direction of one person. Joyce never once gives himself sole credit for such large successes. He does not believe that anyone is a so-called born leader.


“It’s knowing the context of a certain situation and where you can add value and how you can add value,” said Joyce. “So, now I talk to the players on the team a lot about individual leadership … it’s your job to lead by example. … It’s all about balance.”


Joyce continues to work with Pirates head coach Tom Rowe and assistant coach Scott Allen for their second consecutive season. For him the experiences have overwhelmingly been positive and successful ones, and they continue to be. After all, not just one of them could do it on their own, as Joyce would most emphatically agree is the absolute truth.


For Joyce, leadership is giving people the tools they need to succeed and helping people understand that roles change, based on situations.


“You have to know how to be a good leader and a good follower,” said Joyce. “Sometimes, the right thing to do is speak up and take control. Sometimes, it’s better to let others take control and fall in line behind them. What matters in the end is that everyone pulls in the same direction.”