Former Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ben Stafford gave up on his childhood dream of playing in the NHL to serve his country.
After four stellar seasons at Yale, Stafford signed an entry level contract with the Flyers and would spend the next five years of his life playing for the Flyers' AHL affiliate Philadelphia Phantoms, winning a Calder Cup championship with the team in 2005 before ultimately joining the Marine Corps. In fact, Stafford scored the Calder Cup winning goal for the Phantoms back in 2005. Stafford served a tour of duty in Iraq following his official retirement from professional hockey and is now a practicing Doctor in his native Minnesota.
John Stevens, then head coach of the Phantoms, recalls the Minnesota born Stafford as a great leader and a "low maintenance guy". Stevens, impressed by the guts it took for Stafford to end his career in favour of military service, still keeps a photo of Stafford hoisting the Calder Cup in his office.
Nearly 10 years ago Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi caught up with Stafford to gain some insight into why he made the decision he did back in 2005.
Check out some of these quotes:
On missing hockey:
I do miss it. I didn't miss it for a little while after the Calder Cup in 2005, but in the past few years, it has gotten worse. I have to confess that I haven't put on skates since the Calder Cup in June 2005, more for a lack of opportunity than a lack of desire to play the game, however.
On retiring at just 30 years old:
I wanted to play hockey for as long as I could, and would have kept playing if I thought I had a good shot at being a consistent NHLer. That didn't seem to be happening.
I was doing well in the AHL and enjoyed playing for the Phantoms, but I had other things on my mind, i.e. medicine and the military. I knew 2005 would be my last season before the playoffs started. Winning the Calder Cup was an added bonus on my way out.
On his reasoning for joining the Marines:
Initially, it was their commitment to being the best and to going to places that our country sees fit to send them. I have had a lot of opportunities in my life, and I felt that if other young men were giving their time, then why was the same not expected of me?
I felt, and still feel, strongly about our mission in Iraq. But most of all, I wanted to lead Marines, who have proven to me that they are the finest young men this country has to offer.