Cliff Loya is a member of the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL) and will be writing a blog for Faceoff Factor outlining his life as a minor league hockey player.

Welcome to the very first entry of Loya’s Lowdown!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Cliff Loya, and I am a minor league hockey player currently playing for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, I grew up a huge Pens fan during the Mario Lemieux era. It would be an understatement to say that the Pens have influenced my choice of profession.

As an attempt to validate myself as a “hockey expert,” I am going to try to give you a quick review of my hockey career.

In Pittsburgh, I played for Mt. Lebanon High School and the Pittsburgh Hornets AAA Hockey Club. When I was 16, I traveled to Minnesota to play for the prep school powerhouse Shattuck-St.Mary’s School.

If the name sounds familiar, it should. This hockey factory has produced NHLers such as Crosby, Ryan Malone, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews to name a few.

Unfortunately, I am not included among those names.

After my stop in Minnesota, I earned a scholarship to play at the University of Maine and was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks during the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

I began my professional career after my four years at Maine, and at this point, I am about to enter my seventh year as a professional.

Now that I am done pumping my tires, lets get started.

As most of you know, the regular season is upon us. I am sure that you are chomping at the bit to watch your favorite team, whether it NHL or minor league, begin their quest for their respective championship. Let me tell you, as players, we are even more fired up to get going.

However, there is one thing that comes between the summer and the regular season: Training Camp.

For most ECHL players, training camp starts in the AHL. What you are trying to accomplish is catching the eye of the coaching staff for a potential call up when injuries strike.

You might be asking, “Shouldn’t your goal be to make the team?” This is possible, but you would have to grossly out play someone who is under NHL contract.

Those under contract get the first shot in the AHL because of the financial commitment made by the NHL team. This commitment far outweighs any kind of performance from a tryout player.

Sometimes a tryout player gets cut when he had a great camp and probably should make the opening night roster over contracted players. The thing you have to remember is this is a business and business is not always fair. The key is to not let demotions get to you. It is going to happen in pro sports and the shorter your memory is the better.

The other part of training camp is the whole getting back into shape thing.

There is a difference between weight room shape and game shape. You could workout four hours a days, seven days a week, for the entire summer and still be bagged after the first couple days of training camp.

I don’t know why this is, but it is a pain in the ass.

And it doesn’t get easier as I get older.

The other thing that I have to deal with is sore groins. Unfortunately, when I was younger, I didn’t see the importance of stretching. It has come back to haunt me in a painful way.

I guess it is just a part of playing a kids game when you are almost 30.

Although it is great to get back on the ice and see your teammates again, after the first week or so of camp, you just want it to end. We are in Day 6 of two-a-days in Wheeling and the boys are already wanting the regular season to start.

It is time to go back to work. Only 9 days and counting.

Until next time…