R.J. Umberger has enjoyed the extra time hes had with his wife and kids since NHL players were locked out at midnight Sept. 15 and regular season games were canceled through Oct. 24.
Ive gotten to do extra things I wouldnt have been able to, said the Columbus Blue Jackets forward.
And as of Monday, the three year letter winner for the Buckeyes will return to his alma mater to work as a volunteer coach for the Ohio State University mens hockey team keeping his legs moving and his mind on the game. A move that helps him stay ready for when the season starts up again as well as helps him define his life post-NHL player even further.
I think college would be really fun, said the Pittsburgh-native of which level of hockey hed like to consider coaching someday. Being around the young kids and impacting their lives.
These are all good things, he said, but at the same time, it was already a long summer with the season ending early, said Umberger, whose seven years and 551 career games in the NHL with the Flyers and Blue Jackets (four years) has earned him 143 goals and 171 assists. I was anxious to get started. I put in a lot of hard work and was ready to go.
The Blue Jackets are once again heading into a season with something to prove. After a disastrous 2011-12 campaign that was capped off with Captain Rick Nash being traded to the New York Rangers, Umberger and crew were ready to put the pieces back together under head coach Todd Richards.
I did a lot of weight room; more than I normally do, said the 62, 220-pound Umberger of his summer routine to prep for this season. I skated on the ice twice a week trying to work on my individual skills; fine tuning.
Umberger, who wears an A for the Blue Jackets squad alongside 37-year-old forward Vinny Prospala new Captain has yet to be named, also got in touch with OSU mens hockey coach Mark Osiecki about skating.
I contacted (Osiecki) about skating in practice to stay in shape, said Umberger. He suggested maybe I do the volunteer coach.
Having Umberger in as a volunteer coach is a boon for the program, said Osiecki, adding that he hopes his players glean the type of commitment needed to play hockey at a high level.
I want them to see what sort of sacrifice it takes, said Osiecki. That might just be to a high-level player in our program or an All-American; but if (Umberger) can shed some light on the sacrifice it took for him to get where he is, thats what I want them to see. How hes taking care of his body, what hes putting in his body and how hes recovering after practices. If they can see the commitment level, our guys are going to benefit.
Umberger is hoping to impart that as well. But its a weird spot for an NHL player to be in, for sure. A lockout, what with all the extra time, has a way of making a man antsy; he starts thinking about the season left behind, the season he wants to play and life after hockey. Umberger is no exception.
I have mixed feelings, said the 30-year-old. Now that Im getting a little bit older, within the next 5-10 years, it will come faster than I realize.
I finished my degree (last year) because I wanted to have options after Im done with my career, said Umberger, who earned his bachelors in marketing last spring. Obviously I want to be connected with sports; mainly hockey.
And this OSU gig is a first step towards thinking about the possibility of coaching. Imparting some wisdom into young minds is a role Umberger could easily step into. Its what hes looking forward to when he gets on the ice Monday in his new role.
Being around the guys and being able to help out in any way I can. Giving advice on the ice. Telling them how I went about preparing for games or how I do it now; just add any kind of experience I can, said Umberger. I remember being their age. In a way Im jealous; I wish I could be that young again.
Well minus those blonde highlights he sported sophomore year that gave him a two-tone look forever captured in the photo above and for four years on his drivers license.
We were in a playoff race and trying to get home ice and somebody suggested we dye our hair blonde, laughed Umberger. I dont know; it didnt look that great for a lot of us. It was a bonding moment. I would recommend maybe mustaches or a beard for these guys.
Hed also recommend working harder. Umberger, considered one of the hardest working guys on the CBJ squad with an unparalleled work ethic, said he looks back on his college days and wishes he would have done more.
I look back and I didnt realize then as much as I wish I would have. I think I could have accomplished more, he said. The way I play the game, I played with skill in college; I wish I would have played with the same work ethic defensively, and back checkingthings that are demanded at the pro level.
That dedication to the game, honing individual skills and creating a culture of hard work on such a young OSU team is something Umberger hopes to impart on the squad of mostly underclassmen in a role he describes as more player advisor than coach.
I think my relationship with them will be a players relationship; solely an advice thing, said Umberger. I dont think theyll be looking at me as a coach but more a player as somewhere they want to be someday.
One things for sure, while going back to Ohio State is a special thing for Umberger, its the NHL season hes looking forward to.
Im just trying to get myself ready, said Umberger.
In more ways than one.