When a hockey player is drafted by a pro team, it opens countless doors and presents endless possibilities. Sometimes, a player’s dreams come true, and he makes the big club and has a successful career. Other times, players remain in the minor leagues for the duration of their careers, never reaching the highest pinnacle of their dreams.
Chris Zarb didn’t consider himself “on the map” until he went to play for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. It was there that he developed immensely, under coach Bliss Littler and defensive coach Tom Rudrud. Leading up to the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Zarb was ranked 37th in North America, and he was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round of the draft.
While he never made the big club, Zarb had some incredible experiences throughout his career as a Flyers prospect.
Growing up in Michigan, Zarb was — and still is — a diehard Red Wings fan. But when he got the call from Philadelphia, he was thrilled.
“Every kid dreams of being drafted by their hometown team,” Zarb mused. “I just felt fortunate to get drafted! It was the best feeling in the world to get a phone call from the Philadelphia Flyers.”
In his time with the Flyers, Zarb went to four development and conditioning camps in the summers, and also got to attend the Flyers main camp — where he worked alongside Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.
“It’s cool to see them come from where they were when I was there to be the superstars that they are today,” Zarb said of his former camp attendees, adding that he met a lot of great people along the way, and that it was a great experience having the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world in those camps.
After being drafted, Zarb played another season with the Tri-City Storm, then three with Ferris State University, where he scored 29 points and tallied up 130 penalty minutes in 79 games. He spent the 2008-09 season with the Mississippi Sea Wolves in the ECHL, and played four games with the Philadelphia Phantoms during that season.
The former prospect touched on the numerous perks that come along with the lifestyle, including the accessibility of the Flyers and their facilities, catered-in food, top-end equipment, and having Flyers fans cheer you on. But the most important thing was just having the opportunities that some people only dream about, and getting to play the game he loved for a living.
Zarb spent the 2009-10 season with three different ECHL teams: the Gwinnett Gladiators, Johnstown Chiefs, and the Tolledo Walleye. In the following two seasons, he played for the Dundee Stars in the EIHL. Following the end of this past season, Zarb decided it was time to hang up his skates, as a player, at least.
“Being in the minor leagues is a tough living financially,” Zarb expressed. “I had a great ride and I feel very fortunate to live the life I have lived so far, but it was time for me to move on.”
Though he isn’t playing hockey anymore, he is still very much involved in the sport, and always will be. In the summers, he is the head instructor of a stick-handling camp, and during this upcoming season, he is going to help coach two teams.
“It’s great to give back to our youth, and I look forward to developing young players into the best hockey players and people that they can be.”
Aside from his hockey endeavours, Zarb is also involved with an up-and-coming fundraising company called VIP Fundraisers, that helps to cut down costs and raise money for organizations, non-profits, teams, or anyone trying to raise money for an important cause.
Looking back on his career, the biggest lesson that Zarb has taken away from it is that hard work makes things happen for people. While he didn’t have the pro career that he’d dreamed of, he learned a lot about life in general from his experiences.
“I don’t feel that I worked as hard as I could have to make it to the NHL. It’s not something I am proud of, but I have a much better outlook on how I have to do things to be successful from here on out.”
In that vein, his advice to young, hopeful athletes is to never stop working and to control the controllables. “Hard work will always beat talent,” he emphasized, and he learned during junior hockey that the only thing he could control was himself, something he says has been a life lesson that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
The road to becoming a professional player, either in hockey or in any other sport, is not an easy one. Some will find success, and others will falter. But making a career out of something you love is a gift, no matter how far you go with it.
“It took a lot of work to get there [the NHL],” Zarb noted. “Hockey players give up a lot of their childhood to try and complete a dream of making it to the NHL. But there is nothing better in the world than playing a sport for a living.”