Just a few months ago they were adversaries. Now, the other’s presence gives a sense of calm, a sense of belonging as professional hockey careers begin to bloom.
Chris Rumble and Matthew Zay went head-to-head throughout their college days, Rumble at Canisius and Zay at Mercyhurst. This weekend they suited up for the same Ottawa Senators team at the 2015 Rookie Tournament in London, Ontario.
“He’s actually one of the only guys I know so we’ve been hanging out a lot,” Rumble said. “It’s funny all the guys you hated when you played against them become your best friends when you’re together."
Rumble played two of the three games with the Sens rookies. His participation was part of the contract he signed in the summer with the organization’s ECHL team in Evansville, Ind. Rumble played for the IceMen at the end of the last season, getting his inaugural look at pro hockey life.
“Here, it’s their lives,” Rumble said. “That’s how they survive. That’s how they put food on the table. They come to the rink every day with that mindset, that they’re feeding their families. They’re supplying themselves with a future so you really get to see how seriously they take it. It’s a whole different level of the profession.”
While Rumble has signed with Evansville, his hope is to impress the Senators organization and earn a spot with their AHL club in Binghamton. And while he was one of the top defensemen in Atlantic Hockey and quarterbacking the Canisius power play from the blue line, he knows that a new level means he needs to bring another round of patience and humility to his game.
“I was actually a little better than I thought I’d be today,” Rumble said with a laugh after his first game in an NHL jersey on Saturday evening. “It’s an adjustment because everyone here, the last team they played on they played on the penalty kill, they played on the power play, they played every situation. That’s why you get to this level. So when you get to this level, you’ve got to wait and take your time again to get into those positions.
“I’m probably going to settle into a fifth-sixth defenseman role wherever I end up here. You’ve just got to keep it steady, stay the course, make simple plays and just be reliable.”
Hockey may be more business now, but that hasn't changed his humor or his infectious approach to life which most closely resembles the soul of an 8 year old. Rumble not only has an opportunity to play hockey at a bigger stage but an opportunity to share his story on more platforms. His status as a cancer survivor continues to be something he openly talks about, most recently telling his tale in the Ottawa Sun.
“I’ve said growing up that I’m a late bloomer and all I needed was a chance and an opportunity to show what I can do and this is exactly what I have here – an opportunity,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous for probably the last 72 hours but you get into a few shifts there and you forget the nerves and it just goes back to being a game. You start playing the way you know how.
“Everyone’s here watching so you’re under a lot of scrutiny and you just want to perform the way you know how. If they like what they see, they like what they see and if not, maybe someone else does. And if no one does then maybe it’s just not meant to be.”