PDT Sports Writer
NEW BOSTON — When the caps were tossed into the air after Minford’s high school graduation last month, most of the recent graduates made up their minds on what the next step would be.
Those decisions range from college to the military or jumping straight into the workforce. None of those options are for Jake Bloomfield.
Instead, the six-foot-four, 213-pounder is moving next month to Florida in order to pursue his dream of playing sports beyond the high school level. But unlike some from the region who would chase the glory on the gridiron or dreams on the diamond, Bloomfield will be a goaltender for the Palm Beach Hawks of the Eastern Junior Hockey League South, a league that will be going into its second year of existence.
The sport has been a passion of Bloomfield’s since the first time he watched an NHL game in person. The date was Dec. 19, 2002 when he and his family traveled to Columbus to watch the Blue Jackets defeat the Calgary Flames 3-0.
His travels have taken him from an ice rink in Huntington, WV, to Athens and everywhere in between. For the past eight seasons, Bloomfield had been a member of the Athens Wildcats, a club team that participates in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League and plays home games at Bird Arena, the rink of the Ohio University hockey team.
Bloomfield gives a lot of credit to his parents for making the sacrifices necessary to continue his dream.
“I’ve been kind of lucky because they haven’t had many complaints about it,” Bloomfield said. “They’ve been really supportive.”
The story behind the mask
In his first year of organized hockey, Bloomfield started out was a forward. It was the nudging of his teammates that Bloomfield stated was one of the reasons why he became his team’s last line of defense.
“For the first half of the season, I just didn’t want to at all,” Bloomfield said. “Finally about midway through, I switched and played (in) goal.”
He won his first game as the team’s netminder. From that point on, Bloomfield had his spot.
Bloomfield feels his game is very similar to that of Pekka Rinne, the starting goaltender for the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
Analyzing the player and the position
With Bloomfield’s size, he feels that he is at an advantage at his position. The only problems Bloomfield currently faces is the lack of skating and his flexibility.
As there is no ice to practice on within an hour’s drive, Bloomfield works on his strength and flexibility at Preferred Fitness Center in New Boston. His trainer, 2003 Wheelersburg graduate Jared Madden, has worked with Bloomfield since December.
“The one thing that I saw was that his hips are really, really tight,” Madden said. “It’s an everyday grind when he comes in that we do get a stretching session before and after his workouts.”
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree at Shawnee State and his master’s at Ohio University, Madden worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the Atlanta Thrashers, an NHL team that relocated last summer to become the Winnipeg Jets.
“I was familiar with the game where some other strength and conditioning coaches around the area maybe not aware of the injuries they might have and with him being a goalie, the injuries we try to prevent with him,” Madden said.
Bloomfield prefers to play a butterfly style, which requires the goaltender to drop to his knees and have his pads touch in order to protect the lower portion of the net. The style, along with the side-to-side motions along the goal crease, requires the lower body to be as agile as possible.
The duo train twice a week to keep Bloomfield in shape. The routine is a combination of lifting, speed, agility, balance and injury prevention.
Highs and Lows
During his sophomore year, Bloomfield’s team made it to the state championships. But the last two years did not match the success of his first year as the Wildcats missed the state tournament his junior year and followed that season up with a 1-28-1 record.
As the losses piled up, Bloomfield admitted that frustration was starting to build. Fortunately the anger did not overtake his demeanor.
“I felt like as long as I kept working hard, I could still play junior hockey if I wanted to,” Bloomfield said. “I never really stopped believing that I could.”
One thing that helped in his progress in front of the net was to stop scoring in a different sport. In his final two years at Minford, Bloomfield was the starting goalkeeper for the soccer team, helping the Falcons to the Division III Regional Semifinals last fall.
“When I went out for goal in soccer, I noticed I was just real loose and I was having fun,” Bloomfield said. “I take both sports seriously but with soccer, I went out and played with a lot of confidence all the time.
“With hockey, it wasn’t always that way. Either sometimes I would have that confidence or sometimes I would be real shaky during games. Just the mentality of it was really helping me out.”
There were jitters pulsating through Bloomfield’s body during the start of his sophomore year but felt like he calmed down afterwards. Advice of how there will be good and bad days have helped put things into perspective.
When Bloomfield talks to people from the region about his athletic intentions, there has been a general sense of support. At the same time, there is another type of reaction Bloomfield sees in conversations.
“They don’t connect the sport of hockey with Florida,” Bloomfield said. “There’s that big surprise there, that’s not where they would expect me to be going.”
During his high school career, Bloomfield stated it would not be a surprise to see a group of as many as 10-15 of his friends to show up for a game in support. Immersing his guests in a sport that isn’t as popular in the region made people cheer even more for him while he was playing.
“They love it for that reason because it’s a lot different,” Bloomfield said. “The people I’ve taken up there have really enjoyed it.”
Even Madden gets a plethora of questions when other people in his professional field ask about his client.
“They really think a lot of him just because of the dedication that he puts in a week,” Madden said.
Madden has not watched Bloomfield play, joking whether that would be a good thing or not as his trainer.
“I could’ve picked out a lot of things that we could’ve worked on,” Madden said.
Connections in Connecticut
Bloomfield recently traveled to Connecticut to try out for the Hartford Wolfpack, a member of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League. It was during that tryout where Bloomfield drew the attention of Tim Kyrkostas.
At that time, Kyrkostas was an assistant for the Wolfpack and was about to take the head coaching position in Palm Beach. It was during the weekend of the visit that Kyrokstas informed Bloomfield of his new coaching job and his wishes to sign the goalie.
“The coach told me his first impressions when he first saw me were that I could be one of the top two goalies on his team,” Bloomfield said. “I have a chance to play a lot of games.”
Now Bloomfield will be in Ohio until July 27, where he will move in with a host family while playing for Kyrkostas and taking online classes through Ohio University to obtain his degree in sports management. Bloomfield was informed his daily schedule would be structured.
There are nerves and excitement still going through Bloomfield but the latter is more pronounced.
“I’m ready to get out and experience a different place and different things,” Bloomfield said. “I think it hasn’t totally hit me yet.”
Both hope Bloomfield’s journey will grow the sport in the Southern Ohio region.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.