There are many ways to describe Lee Stempniak's hockey career. Nomadic. Journeyman. Itinerant.
In 12 seasons in the NHL, the forward has played for 10 teams. That's quite a journey. But it's also a point of pride for Stempniak, the West Seneca native who now lines up against his hometown team as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
It takes work, and cultivating confidence, to stay in the NHL for 12 seasons regardless of how many teams end up on the resume.
Perhaps his biggest challenge came last season, when he was without a team and was invited to the New Jersey Devils training camp. He made the team, was traded to Boston late in season, and finished with 19 goals -- the most he scored since tallying 14 with the Calgary Flames in 2011-12.
"There are people who get a couple chances and sort of wash out of the league where I feel like I’ve been able to contribute everywhere I’ve played," Stempniak said. "Last year I went on a tryout to New Jersey and I ended up having one of the best years of my career. That really forced me to take ownership of my confidence. That’s something that’s never come extremely easy for me. I think having that challenge forced me to be more confident and have a mature approach."
Finding ways to fit in with different teams and new teammates isn't the difficult part of his wandering NHL career which went from St. Louis to Toronto, Phoenix, Calgary, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Winnipeg, New Jersey, Boston and now Carolina. The challenging part comes when his family has to move over and over again.
"It’s something I take pride in where I can go and play with different people on different types of teams, playing different situations and just be someone who can contribute to wins," Stempniak said. "The off-ice stuff with your family is difficult. I’ve got three children now. They’re young. They’re not in quite school yet. My wife has lived all over North America. That’s the part that’s hard. It’s easy when you show up to the rink or the locker room. But when your family is effected, that’s a little more difficult."
Stempniak played four years at Dartmouth. He was a fifth-round draft pick of St. Louis in 2003 and started his NHL career with the Blues where he learned from players like Keith Tkachuck, Doug Weight and Paul Kariya. He took those lessons into his role now as an NHL veteran on a young Carolina team.
"Those were guys who really looked out for me and just made sure I was doing things the right way, taught me a lot about the game but were very good people to me off the ice," Stempniak said. "That’s the thing I’ve tried to carry forward. A lot of times coaches do the coaching but it’s a tough business. Sometimes guys need a pat on the back or encouragement. I think for the most part we’ve got a great group. It’s very inclusive. There’s no cliques. It’s very welcoming so a lot of that is just trying to foster that."
Stempniak has been playing with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and has found chemistry with the pair of young Finnish players, something Hurricanes' coach Bill Peters welcomes.
"He’s got really good hockey sense," Peters said of Stempniak. "He’s a finisher by trade. The other two look to make plays. Two young guys with an older guy, he can help them on the bench, talk to them and be a mentor in that regard. But he’s a real good player. I like him no matter where he plays but now he’s found a comfort level with those two guys playing in offensive situations."