Local hockey player set to take pro dreams overseas
August 7, 2015
Steamboat Springs — Before Mason Bates knew better, he believed the ice rink surface was nothing but a fragile layer of deception, ready to collapse under his weight. This fear was soon replaced with a passion that continues to shape his adult life.
"My grandma was actually telling me the other day that, when I was three years old, we were playing knee hockey, and she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I said I wanted to play in the NHL," Bates said. "I hadn't even started playing hockey yet at three. It's been a long time. So it's kind of nice that it's finally happening and getting into the full swing of things."
Now 20, Bates is far removed from the young kid who was afraid of the ice, but he remains committed to his pursuit of playing for the National Hockey League. Steamboat Springs born and raised, Bates will take his next step toward his dream by moving to the tiny town of Furudal, Sweden, later this month to play semi-professional hockey for the local IFK Ore hockey club.
The IFK Ore plays in a second-tier league in relation to the superior Swedish Hockey League, but teams such as the IFK Ore are often a pipeline to the SHL and possibly, the NHL.
"It's a nice experience to go and see how they play," Bates said. "I turn 21 in November, so I’ve still got some years to kind of figure it out and chase a dream a little bit."
Bates played two seasons of hockey for Steamboat Springs High School before a broken ankle shut him down as a junior. Despite the injury, he was invited to spend his senior year playing for a junior hockey league team based out of Tampa Bay and graduated from Manatee High School, in Bradenton, Florida, in 2013.
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A year later, Bates was playing hockey for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff but had his collegiate career cut short when he developed an abscess in his lungs and ended up having his tonsils removed.
A defender on the ice who loves contact, Bates lost nearly 40 pounds due to his illness and has spent the past year trying to regain his form. Last summer, he was invited to try out for the Wichita Thunder, a Kansas-based team that plays in the East Coast Hockey League, but was cut on the last day of camp.
"That was rough being cut from a team for the first time and kind of hearing why. So after that, I took time and regrouped here all winter," Bates said of returning to Steamboat. "I was down to 120 pounds, 130 pounds. I was a stick. So it was rough right out of the bat right there, trying to gain some weight."
But his persistence in chasing his dream is finally paying off. Bates connected with the IFK Ore through his Toronto-based agent, Randy Edmonds, who first met Bates when he was playing juniors hockey out of Florida. Bates didn't have the physique or experience to play overseas at the time, but a few years and a few setbacks later, it seemed the time is right to try hockey on the other side of the pond.
Bates will not be paid a salary during his first year with the IFK Ore, however, the organization is providing him with airfare, housing, transportation and a daily stipend while under contract. He is set to arrive in Sweden on Aug. 28 and reports to camp Sept. 1. The league's regular season gets underway in October and runs until mid-March.
"It's going to be a fun experience. I'm one of three, I think, North American players on the team," Bates said. "It's a pretty big league over there. A lot of the smaller towns do house this kind of level of team. It's insane how many hockey teams are there."
Bates has no vision of what life will be like after March. He hopes to remain active on the ice, with numerous professional teams in both North America and Europe on his radar. He isn't putting all his eggs in one basket, however, as he will work on gaining certification as a personal trainer while in Sweden and wants to work with a pro team in that capacity after his days as an athlete come to an end.
"Another stepping stone on the road," Bates said. "It should be a fun."
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