But everything changed when he got off the ice. His dad, Kurt Sundberg, waited for him on the side of the rink. Kurt, who introduced Stephen to hockey, who always pushed him to succeed in the sport, who had gotten him into every tryout, including this one, would then deliver the words that saved Stephen’s career.
“Stephen, this guy wants to talk to you,” he said.
A glimmer of hope. Those words could mean only one thing: Stephen had gained the attention of a scout.
His dad introduced Stephen to the scout, who immediately asked for his coach’s contact information — a good sign.
“You know, I liked watching you out there. You had four solid games,” the scout said.
An even better sign.
Two hours later, after a long conversation, Stephen had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the Palm Beach Hawks of Florida. A chance to play goalie in the top amateur hockey league in America was on the line. College coaches don’t find players on high school teams; they find them in the Juniors.
Two weeks later, he survived the competitive tryout with the Hawks, earning a contract along with two other goalies to play in the EJHL.
After the Hawks offered him a contract, Stephen was immensely relieved. His hockey career had been given new life. With his contract, he could play for years in the EJHL, opening up opportunities for him to get recruited by college and even professional squads.
Although he knew as soon as they offered him the contract that he would sign it, Stephen waited a few days before signing in an effort to not look too eager.
“I didn’t tell them [at first] because you can’t just be like on the spot, ‘Oh, I’ll sign right now!’” he said.
Stephen also needed time to consider some of the downsides to signing with the Hawks.
He would have to miss over half of his senior year at East, leaving family and friends behind to live in a place over 1,000 miles away from home.
He would have to beat out several other goalies to start, each one possessing the same aspirations to play in college and each one just as determined to reach their goal.
He would have to endure a constant grueling schedule of practices and workouts during the week, with weekend trips all over the East coast to play tournaments.
The sacrifices Stephen had to make gave his mother Susan reason to doubt whether he should sign. In the days leading up to his signing, she voiced her concern.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. “Is this really what you want to do?”
“Well, I’ve got to,” Stephen replied. “If I want to go somewhere, it’s what I’ve gotta do.”
On May 17th, Stephen officially signed with the Palm Beach Hawks. None of the sacrifices he had to make mattered enough to stop him because, for Stephen, hockey is everything.
“Hockey’s my life. It’s never really [been] a question of whether I’m going to play hockey or not. I’ve just been doing it for so long that it’s just like, natural for me,” he said.
When Stephen heads down in August to begin training camp, he begins a new chapter in his 11-year hockey career. From now on, when he steps in to the goalie’s circle to defend that little 72” by 48” goal, he plays for a starting job over two other goalies. From now on, he plays for a chance to play in college. He plays to keep his dream alive.