In this file photo, Rick Emmett is pictured at a Gwinnett Gladiator practice at the Duluth Ice Forum.
Rick Emmett returned to the Gwinnett Gladiators as an assistant coach this season after five years away from hockey. Emmett played professionally for 11 seasons, including his last three with Gwinnett. He retired after helping the Gladiators to the Kelly Cup finals in 2006 and went on to join the fire department in Barrow County.
Emmett and his family, including two young sons, have been residents of Gwinnett since 2001. Emmett also served as the head coach for the Atlanta Phoenix Squirt AA and Pee Wee Minor AA youth hockey teams based out of the Ice Forum in Duluth.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...", Emmett talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including leaving home as a teenager to play major junior hockey, meeting his wife, Danielle, and helping grow his family's hockey academy, Pro Tech.
CT: What's your hometown like?
RE: Toronto. Great city. Clean. Very diverse culturally. It's got a great arts and entertainment district. Great restaurants -- you can get any type of food you want. Authentic, too. Polish, Italian, Greek, any type of Asian. So it's a great place to go and eat.
CT: Do you have any favorites?
RE: There's actually a fish-and-chips place. It's just a dive. If I drove past, there's no way I'd eat there. But our family has been going there since I was 5 or 6 years old. I just recently went back a few weeks ago and that's the only place we have to hit.
CT: When did you leave to play junior hockey?
RE: I left home when I was 17 years old. I was drafted in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). Played for Peterborough for the majority of my junior career, about two years. Then I finished out with the Windsor Spitfires.
CT: How far is Peterborough from Toronto?
RE: About an hour and a half.
CT: So not too bad?
RE: When you're first leaving home, I was a bit of a momma's boy, so it wasn't easy. It seemed like it was world's apart. I go from a big city to Peterborough, which has a population of about 60,000. But it's one of the best junior towns you can play in in Ontario. I quickly learned that.
CT: And you were able to spend most of your junior career there?
RE: I played three years in the OHL and about 2 -1/2 were with Peterborough.
CT: Then traded?
RE: Yeah, requested a trade. I went to the Kitchener Rangers actually and that was a bit of a debacle. The coach and GM that was trying to trade for me for a couple of years, he got let go my first week there. So they brought in a new guy and they traded all the third-year players away. Which was fine. The team was struggling. They just wanted to a fresh start. I ended up in Windsor with a pretty loaded team. We basically underachieved. It just came together a little too late I think. We had probably a half dozen skill guys added and just didn't have time to gel.
CT: After that you turned pro?
RE: Yeah, I got invited to the Buffalo/Rochester camp my first year and filtered on down to the East Coast, to South Carolina.
CT: You grew up in Toronto, played all your junior career in the OHL -- what was it like getting to Charleston?
RE: They sent me a recruiting video between my time in Rochester of their amenities and attractions -- the free golf, the beaches and the beautiful rink they had.
CT: Was it brand new at the time?
RE: It was pretty close. I had no idea, really, about the East Coast League when we were coming out of juniors. The league wasn't well-known at the time. But I was surprised when I got down there at the caliber of hockey.
CT: You played in three pro leagues -- were there any major differences?
RE: At the time, when I left the East Coast League after my first pro season, I went to training camp in Houston and signed a contract with Flint in the United League. I went to Houston camp and (Quad City's) coach, Matt Shaw, who is now with the San Jose Sharks, saw me there and traded for my rights.
I spent five years in Quad City. Met my wife there. Won two championships,. Lost in the finals three times. So it was quite a place. Really, really good hockey town at the time.
We were the big show in town.CT: How did you end up in Gwinnett?
RE: It was not hockey related actually. I decided I was done playing hockey in Quad City. My contract expired and at the time my wife got an offer with the PGA Tour, where she worked, to come down here to Sugarloaf.
So that was it. I thought it was a good time for us to move and kind of get out and let her do something with her career.
I knew there was plenty of hockey around here. Didn't know the Gladiators were going to be here though.
We were already in town. We got here in '01. I played a season in Macon and I basically commuted back and forth. The following year, I signed with Greenville -- a year after they won (the Kelly Cup). I was basically buying time. I think in the summer of '02, I found out that the East Coast League was coming to Gwinnett, that it was Mobile that was moving.
I had talked to (GM Steve Chapman) and (head coach) Jeff (Pyle) about going to Mobile so we had a connection. Before I signed with Greenville, there was an agreement that I'd be released at the end of the year to come to Gwinnett. Kind of meant to be.
Then here we are, nine years later, back in the same family.
CT: Was your decision to retire after your third season here primarily motivated by the injuries you had been dealing with?
RE: Yeah. The wrist surgery, four and a half months off and being 30-year-old and my boys starting to play. It was a culmination of things.
My boys were beginning to get involved in hockey themselves and at the time, I thought I was missing out on some of their stuff. Then the opportunity with the fire department, which was something that as a young kid, I always wanted to do and be.
I didn't know if that opportunity was closing at the time.
It was just a host of things at the time.
CT: Were the hours, the schedule you had with the fire department any more or less hectic than playing pro hockey?
RE: Not really. At the time it felt great. You had your two days off. But then it was 24 hours on. So it's like your traveling anyway.
Then it's year-round, whereas with the hockey, you've got three, four months off.
CT: What was your decision like to move on from the fire department like?
RE: It was a tough decision. But I knew I wanted to get back into hockey. I enjoyed the four-plus years in the fire department. It was an unbelievable learning experience. But something was always missing. I knew I wanted to be part of the game somehow.
I had spent time helping grow the family business with Pro Tech (Hockey Academy) and teaching lessons, basically just trying to get back into the game.
CT: How long ago did your family start the business?
RE: We offer the full-line service. We do camps, private instruction, seminars. We just recently went to an Inuit and native community off Hudson Bay north of Quebec. We went up there for a week and just kind of gave them the full service. We did a couple clinics to help educate their coaches on development and whatnot. Then worked with the players on everything, including nutrition and leadership.
My dad started it when I was still playing in '02. He and my uncle started it out. Then I got on board a little more, full-time, once my playing career was over. It's seasonal thing, so when I'm not with the Gladiators, it's something I can continue to do.
CT: How old are sons now?
RE: Payton is 11 and Parker is 8.
CT: That's crazy. I remember them out in their little skates after (Gladiators) practice, just learning to get around.
RE: I know. Be-bopping around, cleaning the ice more than they're skating, you know? Now they're skating circles out there.
CT: Do they play other sports?
RE: Yeah, Parker plays in the GFL. He's a quite a little football player. A running back and linebacker there. He really enjoys it. That may be his first love. It bounces back and forth, depending on which breeze is blowing. They're the same season, so at some point, he's going to have to choose. Life is chaos right now trying to get him to both, but he enjoys both and we enjoy watching him. But the day will come when he has to make that decision, unfortunately. I think it's going to be a really hard decision for him. But it will be his decision.Payton and Parker both also play travel lacrosse.
But as long as they keep sports in balance with education, that's what we're trying to teach them at home. Sports are important, but education is the first priority. I think they're getting some good life lessons, being busy and learning how to keep everything in balance.
CT: How did you meet your wife, Danielle?
RE: She did some radio promotions in Quad City and actually my roommate was dating her friend. So we kind of got thrown together that way. Just more hanging out than anything. It was friendship at first and we discovered we liked a lot of the same things and enjoyed spending time with each other.
CT: So no official first date?
RE: No, yeah. None of that pressure.
CT: What kind of music do you generally listen to?
RE: Band-wise, Foo Fighters are my favorite.
CT: They're coming to the arena next month.
RE: I heard that and I've got to find a way to get in there.
I like Rise Against, too. They're relatively new. Of course my boys, whatever they've got on the radio. I'm really a chameleon when it comes to music. I'm not a huge country fan, but I don't dislike it. We hear some techno stuff (in the locker room). Not a huge fan, but again, there's nothing I really dislike.
CT: So you're not grouchy about the music they play in the locker room like Brownie was?
RE: No (laughing). It's not going to ruin my day.
CT: Are there any TV show you try not to miss?
RE: A lot of TiVo going on. We find ourselves on a Sunday afternoon spending three hours getting our DVR unloaded. I like NCIS: Los Angeles. Then Modern Family and we watch Big Bang Theory all the time.