Oh, the places I’ve been: TJ Sneath’s journey through hockey

Megan Youngblood

When Rockers forward TJ Sneath was playing hockey as a kid and traveling all over, his goal was to get to the next level, juniors, college, and then pros. After 27 years, while he is still focused on getting to the next level, it is something different that is more important to Sneath. 

“As a kid, I was super tunnel-focused like I didn't understand that going to Quebec for two weeks and fourth grade was a big deal,” Sneath said. “I was just focused on getting to the next level, getting to juniors, getting into college, going Pro. Now it's more, I'm still trying to get as far as I possibly can and have no regrets in hockey, but the experiences and the life experiences are vastly more important than it was when I was a kid.”

Playing hockey since his dad put him on skates when he was two, has meant a lot of hockey for 29-year-old Sneath, and with a lot of hockey comes a lot of travel and a lot of different experiences. 

How Swede it is

One experience that Sneath has that is different from a lot of Division Three college players like himself is going to Sweden after college instead of right to SPHL or FPHL. 

“I saw going to Europe in Sweden was an opportunity to not just solidify my pro career but to allow it to continue for the future,” Sneath said. 

While going to Sweden had the chance to allow Sneath to play well into the future, it also came with challenges both on and off the ice. 

“There was a big difference in playstyle,” Sneath said. “Massive difference. It was very skilled. The ice is bigger, and you have a lot less contact. I’d say a lot more speed, a lot more breakout structure.” 

The playstyle and the ice size were different than what Sneath was used to but being a die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan thanks to his dad being from Detroit, he grew up watching and idolizing the Swedish players that were a part of the Red Wings. 

“I thought it fit my style better,” Sneath said. “Growing up a Red Wings fan, I grew up idolizing Swedes, so I’ve modeled my game after a lot of guys and going over there kind of seemed like it fit my style of play.” 

While the style of play seemed to come naturally to Sneath, the language barrier was a more difficult process but not in the way you’d think. 

“It was hard in ways that you wouldn’t assume,” Sneath said. “I have a nut allergy so going to the grocery store was like a two-and-a-half-hour ordeal just because I had to google translate every ingredient.” 

The adjustment and struggle continued when it came to the weather. Being from California, winters can be hard, but Sneath, who still has family in Michigan whom he visited and going to school in New York is used to the colder weather, but Sweden was a whole different ball park when it came to cold. 

“We were up in the Arctic,” Sneath said. “It was freezing cold.’

Not only was it cold, but the sun would be out for about two hours, messing with Sneath’s sleep schedule. 

“The sun would typically rise at about noon and set about 2:15,” Sneath said. “My sleep schedule was terrible because we didn’t have practice until 6 p.m. I had no reason to go to bed, so I would just sit up until five o’clock in the morning because it didn’t feel any different than three o’clock in the afternoon.” 

When it came to practices, that came a little easier thanks to help from his coaches and teammates. 

“Practices were fine because most coaches were bilingual,” Sneath said. “And if I didn’t understand something, someone on the team would translate for me or if there was a drill in practice, I just went to the back of the line and figured it out.” 

Playing in a foreign place, especially fresh out of college can be a hard adjustment, but Sneath was lucky enough to have his biggest support system with him every step of the way. 

“I met my wife at Oswego,” Sneath said. “She was a defenseman at SUNY Oswego and we’re 20 minutes away from each other in California.. Then we both transferred to LBC and then Sweden after that. In a foreign country to be able to come home and speak at a normal speed was nice for once.”

Home sweet home 

Sneath spent two years playing in Sweden and after winning a championship there, Sneath was ready to come back to the United States.

“I felt like I had solidified my European career enough to where I could go back to if it I wanted,” Sneath said. “And I kind of wanted to take my shot in North America and just see how it played out.”

Before joining the Rockers, Sneath played one year in the SPHL with the Vermillion Bobcats, Knoxville Ice Bears, and the Macon Mayhem but a want to live in Michigan and a connection to the Rockers, the Motor City became home to Sneath. 

“I trained with Todd Mcllrath who does skill work with our team, and he suggested I go here because he also represents Scott Coash,” Sneath said. “I trained with Scott a little but over the summer, I came here, did the skate in the summertime, and I just liked the team, the facility, the fans, everything. Plus, I wanted to live in Michigan because of family roots.”

Despite wanting to live in Michigan, Sneath is still a California boy at heart and has something to say about the Michigan weather, especially the snow.

“I have been living away from home now for well over a decade,” Sneath said. “And the majority of it has been in cold climate.. so I’m perfectly fine with never seeing snow again.” 

Off the ice 

Hockey is a big part of Sneath’s life and most likely always will be, but when Sneath isn’t on the ice he is using his business degree as another form of income.

“During the COVID year through a guy I met playing a beer league game, I ended up selling cars,” Sneath said. “I did really well there and because of how well I did in six months before I left to go back to Sweden, they kept me on as a remote worker for like 20 dealerships.” 

Aside from working, Sneath spends his off-ice time in different ways.

“Any kind of fishing,” Sneath said. “But bass fishing is the main fish. Other than that, I like to golf, and hang out with my wife because I still genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. And I guess my nerd quality would be Pokémon, so I’ll go to a lot of Pokémon card conventions.” 

Lessons learned

Hockey has brought Sneath a championship under his belt, lots of goals, assists, and points but it is the connections he has made and places he has been along the way that will stick with him most. 

“If you’re only going to hang on to the statistics, there’s always going to be people better than you,” Sneath said. “To me, there’s no point that I can be proud of what I accomplished in comparison to the full spectrum of the sport. The friendships, the things you learn, the places you get to see. My wife and I have had more life experiences through visiting places, and seeing different things, and different cultures than most people will ever experience in their life. We’re incredibly grateful for that.”

On top of being grateful for the places they’ve gotten to see, the Sneath couple is grateful for the friends they have made along the way and continue to see.

“Majority of my lifelong friends I’ve met through hockey,” Sneath said. “If I met them through school, they were also a hockey player. Kyle Gonzalez on Danbury is one of my closest friends. We went to high school together and we’re probably going to play them in the first round of the playoffs.”

One connection that Sneath made lives on with him every time he puts on his number 17 jersey.

“My captain for many years growing up was Nic Kerdiles, we were really close friends,” Sneath said. “Unfortunately, he died in a motorcycle crash earlier this year and he’s a great person, great captain, and great leader, and I just wanted to do anything I could do to honor his memory.”