Sweetland’s hockey journey dotted with tough choices
© Chris G. Ballard photo
Sweetland gains control of the puck as he takes off full stride toward the opposing netminder.
Bonavista’s Andrew Sweetland has had a lot of tough decisions to make in his hockey career. Between leaving home for hockey, deciding where to play and determining his future after injuries, his path to Newfoundland Senior Hockey stardom hasn’t been an easy one.
Luckily for him, those decisions have led him to playing a key role in the Clarenville Caribous offense as they look to once again repeat as Herder champs.
Sweetland’s journey began the same way as any kid who has dreamed of playing professional hockey, lacing up his skates and suiting up in his local minor hockey league.
“I played minor hockey and high school hockey in Bonavista,” Sweetland told The Packet.
“I ended up playing for Tri-Pen in grade 11 and 12 year. Then I played well enough and I ended up getting drafted into the OHL by the Barrie Colts.”
But you won’t find Sweetland’s name on any scoresheet in the Ontario Hockey League archives. He was cut from the Colts and was forced to make the first of many difficult decisions.
“I ended up playing Junior A up there,” Sweetland said. He played two seasons for the Couchiching Terriers in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, amassing 91 points in 72 games over two seasons.
“During that year, I decided that my plan was to take the college route and look for a scholarship.”
Sweetland knew that in order to impress college recruiters, he needed a big year. He moved his talents to Amherst, Nova Scotia, to play for the Ramblers in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League.
To say he had a big year in Amherst is an understatement.
In 54 games, Sweetland scored an unprecedented 56 goals and chipped in with 61 assists for 117 points.
The humble Sweetland set a club record with his 56-goal season and admits not much went wrong for him that year.
“It was just one of those years where things were going right and the puck was going in,” Sweetland said.
It was definitely a really good year for me. After that start and having the year that I did, I was approached by a few schools.”
Enter another challenging decision for Sweetland. He garnered the interest of several top-tier NCAA Division I schools and chose to attend the University of Maine.
Sweetland posted a solid 2007-08 season in the uber-competitive Hockey East conference, finding the back of the net eight times and adding nine assists in 28 games played.
In March 2008, it all paid off for Sweetland as he signed a pro contract with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
“That doesn’t come around every day,” Sweetland said.
“I think that would have been the main highlight of my career.”
Sweetland earned a spot on the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Rochester Americans, for the 2008-09 season and spent the next three years playing professional hockey throughout the United States in the AHL and the East Coast Hockey League.
At the peak of his professional career, Sweetland hit a speed bump as he suffered a concussion, the fourth of his career. Not willing to risk his health, he made arguably the most difficult decision of his life.
“Two years ago, I ended up with a concussion near the end of the season and I was dealing with it until October,” Sweetland said.
“I was debating all summer on whether or not I would go back (to play pro) and what my plans were going to be. I just didn’t feel right until probably October so I made the decision to stay home, make the smart move and go back to school.”
Sweetland is currently enrolled at Memorial University’s St. John’s campus with one year remaining on his Bachelor of Business Administration, with plans to complete his masters.
Even though he was forced out of his professional career due to injury, the drive to play competitive hockey still burned inside him.
That desire led to something new for Sweetland.
An easy decision
“I still wanted to play some hockey and the obvious choice was to play senior hockey in Clarenville.
“It’s so close to home and it’s a good organization. I had some friends that were playing there, and I just wanted to play with them.”
That decision worked out for Sweetland. He was quick to regain his scoring touch, scoring 25 points in 23 games, and helped the Caribous to their third Herder championship in four years.
This season, Sweetland has emerged as one of the league’s top talents. He currently leads the league with 10 goals in 12 games and trails only teammate Dale Sullivan in the league’s points race.
If you ask Sweetland, he brings the same attributes to the Caribous that he brought to his professional teams.
“I try to contribute offensively,” Sweetland said.
“That’s probably the biggest thing for me. Take lots of shots, taking the puck wide and getting it to the net.”
Getting to play near his hometown and in front of friends and family made it that much easier to make the decision to play in Clarenville.
“My parents haven’t really been able to see me play where I’ve been away,” Sweetland said.
“They’ve seen a couple of games but now that I’m playing in Clarenville, it’s only an hour drive from home, so they normally come and see all the games.”
The years of difficult decisions have paid off for Sweetland and Caribous’ brass has noticed. Assistant coach Todd Brett says it’s a challenge to summarize everything Sweetland is bringing to the club.
“It’s hard to describe what Andrew Sweetland brings to the team,” Brett admits.
“You often hear of players who ‘bring it every single game’ but Andrew really brings it every game. He doesn’t take a period off. He doesn’t take a shift off. He plays his best all the time.”
While he may not be playing in front of as many fans and may not be signing as many autographs, Sweetland still enjoys playing the game and is as focused as ever in leading his team into the second half of the season.
“We kind of got off track in the first couple of stretches and if we get back to the basics, we’ll be successful.” Sweetland said.