For me, moving on from hockey was a paralyzing decision in many ways. Only those who have given their entire life to something can likely relate to that type of fear, self-evaluation, and unknown.
But this post isn’t really about my hockey career. Sure, playing Division I and the minor professional level is quite the accomplishment for some lanky kid from Arizona — and I proved a lot of people wrong along the way — but I’ll always feel like I fell two steps short of my dream.
Regardless, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. It was certainly one hell of a ride:
I should probably back up a tad. Those who are close to me know that the entire life that I had planned for “after hockey” came completely crashing down in the fastest and worst way imaginable in the summer of 2015. Exactly one year before I hung em’ up.
The details of said event aren’t exactly relevant, what matters is, in a weird way I’m unwaveringly grateful every single day for what happened. Que the “everything happens for a reason” narrative.
My spiral was hardly unique. I went out every night, racked up a bunch of credit card debt, and refused to face reality. I didn’t care about anyone… my friends, my family, and definitely not hockey. I did a lot of things I regret and was acting completely out of character.
There was a very real “where do I go from here?” type of feeling. I think my thought process with hockey at that time was something like this:
“Yeah… maybe. I guess. I might as well. Sure.”
For the first time I think I truly needed hockey, but more as a smokescreen than anything else.
To make a long story short, I proved to myself I could more than perform at that level and gained a greater sense of closure than I ever could have hoped for in the end. It’s funny, as soon as I started to care a bit less about hockey the pressure I had grown accustomed to was completely off. Ironically, I had by far my best season since juniors.
In some ways, this made my retirement decision harder. Maybe I could grind it out a few more years and catch a break, still live out my dream in the NHL or at least play some AHL games for my own ego.
The problem was, the lifestyle wasn’t my dream anymore. I didn’t have any fight left in me, all I wanted was to be happy. I wanted to be around people that truly value me and deserve everything I have to offer on a personal and professional level.
My beautiful girlfriend was finishing up school in Minnesota to be a special education teacher. A life there, and who knows maybe even a life with her, meant a lot more to me than a few more years of hockey. I’m ready.
So what. Now what?
I should probably back up again (I’m really good at this blogging thing if you haven’t noticed). Anyways, I was forced to do a bit of driving in that summer before my last year pro, if traveling cross-country four times in a period of a couple months qualifies as “a bit”.
So this is where football and predictive analytics first came into play. Podcasts, a lot of podcasts, to keep my mind busy on the road. Ask any of my friends or former teammates, fantasy football was always something that I took way too seriously, but it was more of the competitive aspect of things that was appealing to me.
- “These guys think about football in an entirely different way than the crowd. I dig that.”
- “Wait. These guys actually do this for a living? No chance that’s a thing.”
Somehow amidst all this turmoil I couldn’t help but feel like I fell into an industry that I loved, and I definitely wouldn’t have found otherwise.
But I already had a finance degree. Even though I finished in three years… isn’t that kind of a waste if I decided to do something else? The thought definitely crossed my mind, but I started writing anyway on a freelance basis during my final season of hockey.
I was fortunate enough to feel things out and discover what I liked and what I didn’t like in the industry pretty quickly. I did it all: season-long, dynasty, best-ball, game summaries, and DFS.
Around that same time, I decided I was moving back to Minnesota. So I started firing off emails to all my bosses, editors, and people I respected in the industry. I still read through these sometimes and it was one of the first times I realized how great the people are in this line of work. I honestly didn’t expect to get a ton of feedback.
I was sitting in the lobby of my hotel room in my suit, waiting to get on the bus and go to my game when I got a call from a Texas area code. I don’t know anyone in Texas, usually, that would go straight to voicemail but for some reason, I answered.
“Hey Joe, this is Sigmund Bloom.”
I couldn’t believe it. He spent like an hour talking to me about the industry. I told him my story, turns out he’s a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan. He stressed to me how difficult it is to find a full-time job in the industry but hockey could be a unique niche for me. I played the game at a high level, and to a lot of people, that would mean instant credibility.
The idea of working in hockey, after hockey, was something that was incredibly appealing to me. I decided to try and make my name in football first, but I always planned to circle back to hockey if at all possible.
Grind for a Purpose, Or Just Get Lucky Like Me
From that point on I was officially down the rabbit-hole. Somehow stars aligned and I fell into a fantastic situation with Josh Moore at 4for4 Football with very limited experience. He was the first person to give me a shot writing about daily fantasy sports. A huge turning point for me.
I could compete, and display my skills in all the ways I used to with hockey. But at the same time, at the end of the day, I felt a sense of accomplishment and feeling of wantedness through my content.
I was fortunate enough to learn from TJ Hernandez and Chris Raybon, and somehow they didn’t get sick of me asking a million questions. I must have listened to their DFS Theory segments on their podcasts ten times each. I was so hooked on the strategy and game theory behind DFS. It wasn’t about projections, it was about beating your opponents. This was the closest thing I could find to fill the hockey void in my day-to-day.
A full-time position was always the goal, but at that point, it was more about getting exposure than thinking long term. These kind of moments were so exciting:
I discovered Matt Harmon’s “Backyard Banter” podcast, which was essentially interviewing people in the industry on their story and giving people (like me) on their way up some advice. In Episode 50, Matt gave his listeners the opportunity to send in clips of what they learned. This was my short segment.
The above was my playbook, more importantly, how I was going to get where I wanted to be. People started to recognize my name because of Rushing Expectation, but I knew DFS was where my heart was leading me.
I was going to try and describe FantasyLabs here, but I found this in an email from Bales and it perfectly highlights the moment I knew I was all-in.
I got extremely lucky, but I also did a lot of things right. I surrounded myself with people like Freedman, Bales, Chris, and TJ (read: people that are a lot smarter than I am). While I was fortunate that DFS was paying a large portion of my bills, I knew that I was being paid handsomely with opportunity elsewhere. It wasn’t always easy, but I can’t stress enough how important it was for me to focus on optimizing for the future.
Betting on yourself is one thing, but I wouldn’t recommend how heavily I relied on DFS to anyone. I caught some breaks, and it was admittedly a very high-variance approach given my situation.
Buried in credit card debt and student loans, I chose to sell a specific item from my 2015 turmoil in order to fund a modest bankroll. I believed enough in what I was doing that I could be profitable, but looking back, that decision could easily have gone terribly wrong.
Fortunately, this happened:
I’m not really about #screenshotlife, but for me, this win meant that I was officially “debt free” and had a fresh start. I was a little emotional on twitter after a few adult beverages (if “a few” was represented by counting on fingers and toes of multiple people around me).
Embarrassing tweet to wake up to the next morning, but it’s true. I’m very fortunate to converse with people a lot smarter than me on a daily basis and I am truly thankful for everyone’s help and support along the way.
While 30k might not be a lot of money (especially for some people in our industry), for me it represented a greater sense of validation for my decision to bet on myself and give up on my NHL dream. Now the pressure was finally off.
The rest of the story — or at least the past year — has been pretty boring. I just continued to grind. Well mostly… thanks to a live five-figure sweat from Stefon Diggs. Of course, my girlfriend had to one-up me on the sidelines:
On the plus side, her mom was able to take in the entire experience.
I would definitely recommend a live sweat if you despise the “I work in predictive analytics” parents talk. Somehow you need to prove that you aren’t a complete loser.
So I figured that bought myself a bit more time, but I’m proud to announce (as of today) I am officially a full-time employee for The Action Network / FantasyLabs and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
In typical Holka-fashion this post is already way longer than I wanted it to be, but two years ago I was convinced I was running bad. Little did I know… I was simply in-route to the absolute stone nuts.
Here’s to 2018 and beyond:
Most of You Probably Won’t Read This, But I Wouldn’t Be Here Without You.
**Apologies to anyone I missed, this was hard. Don’t @ me.
TJ Hernandez- One of my best friends in the industry and someone that has looked out for me since the very beginning. Neither of us can be considered natural writers, but I like to think we can both out-work a lot of people. So much respect, man. I know I can come to you with anything and I hope you feel the same.
Chris Raybon- Truly one of the smartest guys I know and he constantly thinks the right way through issues and DFS. He identified a glaring weakness in Rushing Expectation last summer and helped me solve the issue (not a quick fix) for free. I appreciate all the opportunities on DFS MVP and recognize how big of an impact you have had on making my signature series what it is today.
Josh Moore- First thing that comes to mind about Josh is he cares (like actually cares) about each and every person who works for him. One of the good guys and there’s a reason 4for4 is the staple that it is — and will continue to be —in the industry. My only regret in my new position with Labs is the feeling that I may have let Josh down, but excited to keep Rushing Expectation with them as long as they want it. Josh took more than one chance on me and was always fair, I’ll never forget that.
John Paulson- The best projections in the business in my opinion. Thoroughly, enjoyed our back and forth in the offseason discussing running backs. Reach out anytime, John.
Mike Tagliere- The first person I ever met up with in real life from the industry. Like Josh, Mike is indisputably one of the nicest guys you will ever come across. I still remember having beers and showing you my first raw Rushing Expectation charts when I was still working on them. I miss doing our DFS podcast, Mike was the first guy I called when I won my first big tournament and has always looked out for me.
Sigmund Bloom and Matt Waldman- So much respect for these two and Footballguys. “The Audible” is what brought me to this industry — I was a fan for so long — I couldn’t believe how normal and welcoming they both were when I reached out. Sig has always been there to give me unbiased advice (and talk hockey) and I can’t describe how much Matt has done for me with my offseason running back endeavors. The film room sessions with him are some of my favorite things I get to do in the offseason. No one is better at talent evaluation in my eyes.
Rummy- Talk about someone that all he does is give and lift people up, yet never asks for anything in return. He’s retweeted more articles of mine that I could ever count and went out of his way to put my content in the early days into people like Evan Silva’s hands. I truly appreciate everything, Rummy. I speak for everyone in the industry when I say your role of elevating people never goes unnoticed or underappreciated.
Matt Harmon- When I told Matt I wanted to essentially do a running back version of his Reception Perception he easily could have felt threatened or annoyed that I essentially tweaked HIS unique idea. Not once did I feel that way. In fact, Matt did everything he could to help me refine the process and give me industry advice on how to handle it once it started to gain popularity. I appreciate you, man. Hope I’ve done you proud.
JJ Zachariason- I’ve never really talked about it but my biggest failure in the industry came at numberfire.com. I logged probably 30 hours on three separate articles (ones that I thought were great I might add), but they always seem to be missing something to make it to publication. JJ, just want to say you were right. I wasn’t near as good as I thought I was and I more than appreciate the endless amount of feedback you gave me along the way. Ever since then I’ve worked to improve as a writer and make sure my evergreen content has a defined purpose.
Evan Silva- I haven’t had a ton of interaction with Evan, but I know that he didn’t have to let me on Rotoworld or give me the classic “Silva retweet bump” on Twitter. That’s a real thing by the way. His breadth of knowledge when it comes to football is unparalleled and he’s always been more than willing to make time for me when I have a question about specific beat writers or where to find certain data points. Thanks, Evan.
Dan Hatman- The Scouting Academy was my first stop when I wanted to learn how to evaluate talent for the RB position. Thanks for all the help in my process early on Dan.
Mike Rigz and Jody Smith- The first time I was published was on Mike’s site gridironexperts.com. It was a redraft strategy article with Rob Gronkowski on the cover, I was so proud. Thanks for giving me a shot Mike, and Jody for putting my work in front of the right eyes.
Proctor and Hodge- Absolutely love these guys at PHP. So underrated what they are doing over there. People now know how good Proctor is at preseason, but the depth of the research he does for the mini degen slates is incredible. There’s no one I would rather discuss pivots with and I owe him a large part of a pivot I made before one of my biggest hits ever. Hodge is the man, always up to talk crypto, DFS, game selection, anything. I consider both of these guys some of my favorite people to interact with on a regular basis even if they for sure hated me for the few days I was picking out new office stuff. ❤
Anthony Amico- Got to know Anthony when we worked together at RosterCoach two season ago now but always interested in his analytical takes at Rotoviz. Very underrated and just a stand-up guy. Thanks for all the back and forth bro.
Jake Ciely- The third member of Mike and I’s DFS podcast two seasons ago. Jake is so good on podcasts and on camera it’s stupid. That’s an area I still really want to improve on so it was great to be able to work with him. And he made me play Terrance Williams on that one playoff slate. So there’s that.
Matthew Freedman- People know Freedman is smart, but my guess is they still completely underestimate how brilliant he actually is. His resume says he is far too smart to be doing what he’s doing, yet he has this remarkable way of never making you feel like he is talking down to you. I will never be as natural a writer as Matt, but he has spent so much time with me to help me improve that someday I may actually be above-average. I really appreciate all the extra time, editing, and most of all making me sound smarter than I actually am on a regular basis.
Bryan Mears- Talk about grinding? Bryan is a machine and probably doesn’t get near the credit that he deserves. Great editor, and never complains when Freedman pawns off my bad articles on him to fix. Appreciate you, thanks for having my back.
Bill Monighetti- If you don’t know Bill, he’s so valuable to FantasyLabs it’s insane. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside him for the better part of two years now on support admin and trust me, the guy is a big-time undercover degenerate. I love that about him. But for real, thanks for listening to every one of my bright ideas involving absurd game selection, pick’em, crypto, and I promise not to tell your wife you’re considering buying a flamethrower to flip for 2x profit.
Justin Bailey– One of the few guys I’ve met in real life so far. Justin lives in Minnesota about 30 minutes away from me. Who knew I would become great friends with someone who went to the University of North Dakota (Go Huskies). Day-to-day we talk a lot, appreciate all the back and forth man, can always count on ya. Justin is undercover one of the sharper cash-game players out there for NFL so always curious his thoughts. That time you were all-in on Goff and I told you he wasn’t in play… turns out I was wrong. Standard.
Sean Newsham- My partner in crime at FantasyLabs for the NHL product. Taught me everything I know about DFS hockey and only gets mad at me like once a day usually. Everyone could use a Sean in their life, his role is very clear in our friendship. He has no problem telling me I’m a moron or something I say is stupid. I do that a lot, so there’s a ton of value in someone that isn’t willing to just tell you what you want to hear. I owe him a lot in that regard. Another guy who is undercover too smart for his own good, Sean does things in lineup construction that I agonize over for hours, but usually has the intelligence to weed out things that don’t make sense even in sports he is less familiar with. Most of all Sean has taught me about how the real DFS world works – staking, qualifiers, high stakes, game selection, and all the other things I missed out on entering the space much later than most of the OGs he runs with. Thanks for making me feel my like even my good decisions were still dumb on a regular basis bro.
Jonathan Bales and Peter Jennings- I’ve been bugging Bales about NHL at FantasyLabs since like 2015, but about a lot more than that consistently since. I hope my persistence never came off as invasive in any way bro. You guys both know how bullish I am about the company — I’ve been all-in at Labs for quite some time — and I’m just happy to become a much bigger part of it. Appreciate you guys making me feel welcome in a space where the OGs can sometimes come off as a bit cliquey to outsiders. I won’t forget that. Even though Pete never sent me a FantasyLabs hat and Freedman has four of them… I still think he likes me enough to take me out golfing if I’m ever in Denver. Jokes aside, it’s been great to learn from you guys over these past couple years and I look forward to everything we can accomplish together in the future.