How Derek DeBlois shifted from a career in professional hockey to the sport-fashion industry

Author: Spencer Karn, for PHPA.com
Date: Feb 5, 2018

“Hockey is a game that we’ve been a part of our whole life and it’s a big part of who we are. There’s a lot outside of hockey that can bring you happiness and keep you around the game.”

It is a lengthy journey to become a professional hockey player. After many years committed to the game, hockey becomes engrained as a lifestyle for these athletes. That is why making the decision to walk away from the sport such a difficult one. Fortunately, opportunities exist for players to begin a new chapter in their post playing career and maintain their involvement in the game.

Derek DeBlois had a successful career in professional hockey, spending time in the American Hockey League (AHL), ECHL, and Europe.  Since retiring in 2017, hockey has remained a major part of his life as he transitioned to a new journey in the sport-fashion industry with State and Liberty Clothing Company.   The e-commerce clothing supplier provides athletic fit performance fabric menswear, which has been well received by professional hockey players.

DeBlois attended the University of Michigan as a General Studies major and member of the Wolverines varsity hockey team.  The team’s run to the National Championship ranks as one of his most memorable moments during his time at the University.

“The rush to the Finals in my freshman year was pretty spectacular. We played in St. Louis to get to the Finals, then we beat North Dakota in Minnesota, which was probably the loudest arena I’ve ever played in to this day.  We lost to Minnesota Duluth in overtime, which is tough, but just being there was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget. To come that close when you’re a freshman, you think it’s pretty easy to get back.  But you come to learn it’s much harder than you think.”

DeBlois’ stretch at the University of Michigan would help lead him down two future career paths.  Lee Moffie, Co-Founder of State and Liberty, was DeBlois’ Michigan Wolverines teammate at the time, where the two forged a friendship that would not only help DeBlois launch his professional hockey career, but later lead to a position with State and Liberty.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2014, DeBlois was ambitious to extend his hockey career to the next level. Landing a tryout with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL at the time, DeBlois made the team out of training camp. He recalls being ready for his first game when a player was reassigned to Worcester from San Jose, bumping DeBlois down a spot on the roster.

“I was caught in the trickle down effect at the beginning of the season where guys from the NHL started coming down and I was that 12th or 13th forward.”

Uncertain of his status and career trajectory, DeBlois reached out to his former Wolverines teammate, Lee Moffie who was playing for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL.

“I had some friends who put me in touch with South Carolina, and the coach, Spencer Carbery, was willing to have me come out.  I talked to Lee who had nothing but good things to say about the team which really put me at ease.  Knowing that he was there made it an easy decision to join the Stingrays.”

After a slow start in South Carolina, the team turned things around and would go on a historic 22-game win streak before making a playoff run to the 2015 Kelly Cup Finals.  This success eventually resulted in DeBlois being recalled back up to the AHL.

“I got called up to Worcester in the middle of that run. When a team has success like that, guys usually get called up, so I think a handful of us from that team did. Then as the playoffs came together we all came back and went on a great run.”

The combination of playing well on one of the top teams in the league along with the competition for roster spots at every level led DeBlois to note one of the biggest challenges of being a professional hockey player was “just bringing it every day.”

“The ECHL has so much movement and there’s so much transparency within the league that players are gunning for your spot all the time. Whether it’s guys getting sent to the AHL or guys getting called up, you have to be able to bring it day in and day out, which is easier said than done. You learn how to be a pro.”

DeBlois credits having a reliable core group of veteran players on that Stingrays team, including Tim Spencer, Scott Ford, Sean Dolan, and Drew MacKenzie as guys that you could learn from, including making the most of time spent away from the rink which was also a big part of transitioning to professional hockey.

DeBlois split the following season between the AHL with Lake Erie and South Carolina.  After an injury left him without a contract, he took an offer to continue his hockey career in Germany with the Kassel Huskies.

“It’s definitely a tough decision. Probably one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had in my life. I had a great relationship with South Carolina. They were awesome to me and treated me like one of their own. I have nothing to say but compliments for that organization.”

After completing the 2016-17 season in Europe, DeBlois returned to the United States, where he has embarked on his new career with State and Liberty.

DeBlois now works as Director of Customer Acquisitions, growing the State and Liberty brand through consumer sales. He credits his relationships throughout the hockey community, as well as his education in helping him transition to this new career path.  

State and Liberty has been actively engaging new markets across the United States to promote their elite line of athletic fit performance fabric menswear. Some of DeBlois’ top picks from the clothing lineup right now include "The Boylston" and "The Springer" Limited Edition, along with their trademark dress shirts and over-coats.

“Thanks to a great partnership with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association a lot of PHPA Members are coming to customer service asking questions or looking for sizes. It’s great seeing some of the names that come across the customer service portal."

Acknowledging the organizational leadership with Co-Founders Lee Moffie and Steve Fisher, DeBlois is excited for the direction State and Liberty is headed.

“It’s pretty incredible what they’ve managed to do in only two and a half years, building the company from the ground up.“

The State and Liberty team will be heading to the Major League Baseball Spring Training Camp in April, looking to push sales to a new demographic of professional athletes.

DeBlois emphasizes the importance of a strong support system that helped him throughout his professional hockey career and in his transition to State and Liberty. He acknowledges he is fortunate to have received excellent mentorship from his coaches throughout his career, and credits his father for always encouraging him in his ventures.

“He’d be at all my hockey games. He loved to come out to Michigan. He’d drive eight hours to come to games, which is pretty remarkable, and I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”

As a former member of the PHPA, DeBlois discusses how the organization played an important role in his hockey-support system as well.

“In minor league sports it’s hard to have an organization that is so well put together, and that really looks out for the well-being of its players.  I know minor league baseball doesn’t have something like it and Europe doesn’t necessarily have the professionalism that the PHPA has. They were always great to deal with and have on your side.  While I was playing, we always had meetings about how to take advantage of the programs offered through the PHPA so I spent a fair bit of time looking over all of the information and contracts.  As a player, when you get injured it can be a tough time with a ton of uncertainty, but the PHPA is always just a phone call away and they were great to me, and guided me through the process.”

DeBlois offers this advice to any professional hockey players looking to take the next step in their career development following their playing career:

“It’s a tough transition out of hockey but you just need to know there’s so many great people and resources out there willing to help you, whether it’s taking a phone call, answering questions, kind of guiding you in the right direction, so don’t be afraid to reach out.  I know the PHPA just launched an Alumni Network program and I hope guys take advantage of that.  It looks amazing.  Ask for help if you need it and know you’re not alone.  I’m fortunate to have transitioned with State and Liberty and am looking forward to being part of some big things on the horizon with the company.”

 

Follow the author on twitter @KaptainKarn16

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