It takes more than just having incredible athletic talent to make it to the professional level. For these athletes, there is a ton of hard work, determination, and tremendous effort to continue progressing. Joe Pavelski’s journey to becoming a professional hockey player is no different.
Joe Pavelski, is a well-known name amongst hockey players, fans, and those familiar with TorchPro. As the current record holder for most playoff goals scored by a US-born player, the 12th captain selected in San Jose Sharks history, two-time Olympian, and the ninth player selected in the seventh round to ever reach one thousand games played; to say he has had an incredible career would be an understatement. But even the best players have to put in the work to make it and are still grinding every day to better themselves.
The Early Days
Joe Pavelski grew up in the small town of Plover, Wisconsin in a close-knit family that was deeply rooted in their community. It was in this small town, in his family’s driveway where his love of hockey first started around the age of two. Joe’s older brothers also played hockey and every winter his family would turn their back yard into a rink for the neighborhood.
Growing up, his father ran a painting and wallpaper business, where he would work during the summers. His father’s work ethic set the tone for Joe’s own character, instilling in him the mantra “if you want to work hard, you will do it.” This work ethic would prove to be invaluable to Joe during his career.
As a child, Joe remembers a future coach of his coming to their activity day and saying that roughly only one in ten thousand players make it to the NHL and that reality may have to be accepted. For Joe, he didn’t see it as a deterrent but rather confirmed his love for hockey. For all of those watching as Joe progressed in his career, it seemed that he had adopted the mindset that he would be that one in ten thousand.
Laying the Foundation
One of the first landmark achievements for Joe in his playing career was making his high school team as a freshman. Even at this level, his determination, attitude, and work ethic were apparent to his coaches and trainers. For Joe, the team always came first but he also had an innate desire to work and better himself knowing that the most effective way that he could help his team was through his own personal improvements.
“Going into high school, it seemed that every year the team would make the playoffs but then suffer a heart-breaking loss,” says Pavelski. “My first year, unfortunately, followed suit and we lost in the semi-finals.” This loss became even more devastating for Joe knowing that his coach, Jack Stoskoph, would be retiring after that season after over a decade of coaching.
The next year under a new coach, the team did well enough, but Joe and the team knew something was missing. In a strange twist of fate, the new coach ended up moving on after that season, and once again Joe’s high school team was coach-less. During this interim, Joe called Stoskoph one evening and asked if he would consider coming back to coach the team, saying they were missing his leadership and desperately needed his discipline. Stoskoph agreed, after talking it over with his wife, and returned to coach the following season where they went on to win the championship Joe’s junior year.
Setting An Example
Following the season, Joe decided to take the next step in his career and joined the Waterloo Blackhawks of the Junior League of the USHL. This move presented Joe with a new level of challenges and adversity.
Throughout his career, Joe’s size, speed, and skating have been called into question, even with his incredible ability to score. For Joe, this criticism was his motivation. He knew his weaknesses and faced them head-on, devoting himself to improving as quickly as he could to be a better asset for his team. In his first year with the Waterloo Blackhawks, Joe led the league in goals scored and began exploring his options for college. Again, Joe and coaches were told that there were still some reservations about his physicality, so he returned for a second year and a goal to prove that he could compete. This year Joe focused on his own leadership skills, leading his team to the playoffs as Captain, winning a national championship at the age of 18, and ultimately earning him a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.
College wasn’t any easier for Joe. The workouts were hard and he knew he had a long way to go and a lot to learn. Again, Joe knew the only way to progress and reach his goals was to put in the work, so he did. In his freshman year, he led the team in goals scored and led the nation in Freshman scoring. Wisconsin made the NCAA tournament that year but ended up losing in the first round. This loss pushed him and his teammates even harder. Joe met with his trainer to ask what else he could work on and improve and started a specific workout program in addition to the team’s regular training program. His teammates took notice. By the end of the season, eight players were joining Joe in the additional workouts. In his second season with Wisconsin, they made it to the first “Frozen Four” in fourteen years, and went on to win the NCAA Championship in 2006. Joe was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2007 and he left the University of Wisconsin to follow his dream of playing in the NHL.
After spending time in Worcester, Joe got the call that he was headed to San Jose to play in his first NHL game, where he scored his first goal. From there it was a hot start as he scored five goals over nine games, but it would soon get cut short. During an overtime faceoff against the Dallas Stars, Joe was struck by the puck in the ankle but finished the game. As he got to the locker room and took his skate off, he realized the extent of his injury. He had broken his foot and was unable to walk the next day. He showed arrived about half an hour before the next game where the head athletic trainer greeted him with some advice, “it doesn’t matter that you can’t play, you should be here even earlier than normal to prove to these guys that you’re willing to play.” Those words have stuck with Joe and only added to his resolve.
Coming back from the injury, Joe had to earn his spot on the team. He began honing his skills even more and devoting even more effort to his development. Joe is not only a talented player, but he is a dedicated student. He has a constant desire to learn and improve.
“Most people think it’s the skill that makes a professional, but it the attitude that makes a professional. It’s the desire to acquire skill, it’s the desire to be better. That has nothing to do with skill itself, it has to do with the person.” – Ron Johnson, Joe Pavelski’s Skill Coach
Even after making it to the NHL, Joe’s willingness to learn and his determination to better himself hasn’t slowed down.
“One of the biggest secrets of the pros is that they do their job and put in the work.” – Joe Pavelski
Join TorchPro to access the exclusive six-part docuseries Path To The Pros: Joe Pavelski to learn more.