The Last Word

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Enzo Augimeri, a 44-year-old father of two who works for the City of Mississauga, has opted to illuminate the hockey universe from a different vantage point: The position of the prospect who didn't make it.

Hockey biographies or autobiographies invariably focus on stars, those lucky few who dodge injuries, poor coaching and their own rash decisions to parlay their formidable talents into substantial NHL careers.

It's natural enough. We all want to read about the winners. Dave Keon's career path is, to me at least, far more compelling than Joe Lundrigan's.

But there's lots to be gleaned from a map of the potential hazards, particularly when it has been penned by someone's whose career died by his own hand.

That's demonstrated admirably, in Augimeri's self-published book, The Last Shot, It takes more than talent; Why I didn't make it as a pro hockey player.

The book is written for kids as a how-not-to as much as a how-to.

"I thought that by writing my experience I could really help others," said Augimeri, an admittedly middling pro prospect who needed to address his lack of speed and strength to become a blue-chip prospect

The fact that Augimeri sometimes didn't explains why his aspirations for an NHL career stalled.

Augimeri played in the Oshawa minor hockey system. He graduated to the Oshawa Generals, spent a year playing at the University of Michigan and finished his hockey career with a year at the University of Toronto.

All along, there were highs and lows with the lows usually of his own doing.

"The advice I have in the book is don't concentrate solely on the NHL," he said. "Learn to be a better person and look at your own actions."

Some of the tips are obvious. As a 13-year-old, Augimeri and a bunch of teammates smoked some pot before a game. Not surprisingly, in retrospect he considers that a bad idea. He treated stretching sessions casually and often played poorly in cold rinks of which, in Canada, there is no shortage.

He was unimpressed by conditioning levels mandated by the Generals and that attitude consistently dampened the enthusiasm of his coaches towards him.

Augimeri initially turned down a chance to go the NCAA route, even though his skill set and maturity level would have been far better suited to that game. Following through to Junior A meant dealing with fighting, an element of the game that profoundly intimidated him. And yet, comfortable and committed to his girlfriend, Augimeri stayed home.

There are no real sensational revelations in Augimeri's book. He had a stable home life and a middle-class background. He was shaped not so much by the extraordinary efforts of his parents to provide for him but by the ease those creature comforts provided. He was, like so many of us, a kid who realized too late what it took.

"As the game became more physical, faster and harder, I didn't elevate my work ethic to match the overall intensity of the game," he writes. "I wasn't prepared to sacrifice my body and do whatever it took to play hockey."

The value of Augimeri's book likes in its rueful honesty. He quit the Generals, and shockingly, the University of Michigan. Both decisions were predicated by conflicts with coaches largely triggered by Augimeri's own shortcomings.

Like the person he describes, the book is imperfect. You have to guess at dates and the book sometimes feels dated.

The minor hockey system Augimeri writes about has become more professional. Weight training and conditioning has made giant steps into the mainstream since his playing days. So have coaching standards and drug and alcohol education.

Augimeri laughs off his hazing at the University of Michigan, which involved forced drinking, stripping, being shaved of all body hair, paraded around the University on the hood of a car, doused with maple syrup and pushed into a girls sorority house. His advice about not letting similar actions happen -- "Have fun but be responsible" -- is outdated.

But there is an overwhelming, winning honesty in the book, which is available at Chapters in Oshawa, Toronto Hockey Repair, the Hershey Centre and Iceland Arena.

He has been driven by his experiences to show that at least in hockey matters, youth shouldn't always be wasted on the young.


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