I was updating my resume today, a standard practice of mine a few times per year. Listed at the top are my most recent experiences with Virtucom Group, Higher Hockey Management, and Ottawa Senators Foundation (now known as Ottawa Senators Community Foundation). The line afterward reads “Professional Hockey Blogger – nicolesorce.com”.
By the time the pandemic hit upstate New York in March 2020, I was coming off one of the greatest seasons of my hockey career. I had covered the Ottawa Senators Foundation gala and written numerous articles for the Foundation’s website. Though the remainder of the 2020 season was canceled and restrictions followed in the next two years, I was still writing for the Ottawa Senators Foundation remotely and even had my first byline published on NHL.com.
Once hockey resumed later in 2020, the teams I so regularly covered on my website, Twitter, and Instagram accounts were only allowing “essential personnel” into their games. In other words, I was not considered essential media personnel, which I totally understood at the time (and still do). I am an independent photojournalist with nearly a decade of experience working in sports at the team level (primarily hockey and baseball), and because I am not officially affiliated with larger networks or local publications, I simply could not attend American Hockey League games during the craziness of COVID-19. The teams had to keep their people safe, and limiting the number of people in the arena was really the only way to do so.
Instead of being depressed about the turn of events, I 100% embraced it. Since 2010, I have worked tirelessly to become someone hireable in the sports industry. I spent my first summer home from college interning (for free) for the Sussex Skyhawks, Can-Am League baseball team. The next summer, I was a front office intern for the Trenton Thunder, the then-AA affiliate of the New York Yankees, and that fall, I gained my first hockey credentials at the Trenton Titans (formerly of the East Coast Hockey League). In 2012, I began interning at the Binghamton Senators, the former AHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators (and the lowest-paying gig I’ve ever had). And all throughout my four years at Ithaca College, I was the team manager of the men’s ice hockey team. I even tried to start a women’s ice hockey club, but there was very little support from the athletic department and even less interest on campus.
After graduating with a B.S. in Sport Management in 2013, I spent a few months at home with my parents while trying to figure out what to do with my career. In January 2014, I sold tickets for the Jersey Shore BlueClaws (A-affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies), and a few months later, I moved to Portland, Maine, to work in the AHL again for the Portland Pirates (still one of my favorite experiences to this day). I only left the Pirates to get a taste of the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes, but by then (2015), I had developed a deep hatred for the career trajectory I was on.
Selling tickets and being really poor just isn’t fun, no matter how cool your job is. When you can’t afford your rent, eating, or student loan payments, even at the NHL level, what’s the point of trying? I was severely depressed in Raleigh. I knew I had to get out of sales, and Hurricanes management knew it even more. Though I had already sold $10,000 in tickets in just a couple months there, they fired me for not doing things their way. Why would I want to make 100 cold calls per day when I could connect with fans on social media and sell tickets so much faster? In my opinion, media relations didn’t like that they couldn’t regulate my personal Twitter account, so the safest thing to do was to fire me instead of letting me try to crush my sales goals my way (not the old school, cold call way). Whatever. Being fired from the Carolina Hurricanes turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. As I was walking out of the office, I told my supervisor, “I’m never selling tickets again.”
Once I started feeling more myself in 2016, nicolesorce.com launched, and I garnered a lot of attention for my honest takes of working in the sports industry. Sports industry professionals reached out to me on LinkedIn to thank me for writing the truth. There are so many great, talented people currently working for less than $30,000 per year (before taxes), being brainwashed into thinking they’ll make more money by selling tickets or sponsorships and making the big bucks through commissions. Let me tell you one thing: it’s very hard to make a living on a ticket salesperson’s salary when the most frequent product you’re selling is a $15 group-rate ticket. I made more money in Portland (AHL) than Raleigh (NHL), and that’s only because I had season ticket holder commissions in Portland keeping me afloat. But I was barely living in Maine, either.
Sure, up to that point, I’d had experiences that many sports fans would kill to have. But in reality, the first few years of my career was nothing but stress over money. You’re taught to intern for free while earning college credit, build your resume, and pay your dues at the lower levels of team operations. It’s still so unfair to me that CEOs make six figures while ticket sales people can barely feed themselves, are plunging deeper into debt, and can’t save anything for the future. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’m still living through the financial repercussions of how I was treated by employers in my early 20s.
Anyway, back to my website launch in 2016. After writing my first few pieces, I was able to secure a full-season photography credential at the Utica Comets. I covered them in 2017, as well, and by then, I had built a following and reputation that enabled me to branch out. It wasn’t long before I was a regular at Syracuse Crunch games, as well as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Belleville Senators, Cleveland Monsters, Providence Bruins, and Adirondack Thunder games. Between 2017 and the beginning of the pandemic, I was traveling more than I ever thought possible and accomplished some pretty big feats for a young, independent, female sports photojournalist. These included covering AHL and ECHL games in more than 20 cities and 15 states; covering the entirety of the 2017-18 Calder Cup Playoffs; and becoming a volunteer journalist for the Ottawa Senators Foundation, which allowed me to attend my first-ever NHL gala and land an article on NHL.com. I was having the literal time of my life.
Of course, the whole time, I was not getting paid for this work. It was simply a very expensive hobby that I had to support by working outside of the sports industry, which I still do today. And honestly, that’s not going to change anytime soon. Once you become a full-time employee at a normal, non-sports company, after the experiences I’ve had, it’s almost impossible to see yourself going back.
All of my unpaid labor was not for nothing, of course. Covering AHL and ECHL games led me to Higher Hockey Management. In 2017, I started as a scout and marketing/PR director. While not a full-time job, it’s a dream of a side-hustle to be able to sit with other professional scouts in the press box and earn commissions on any deals you become involved in. But being unable to attend games in person due to COVID-19, I wound up taking a break from this work, as well.
What’s my point? I haven’t been to a professional hockey game since early 2020. I also haven’t posted anything new on my website since around then. It is now November 2023. That’s over three years of no traveling, no arenas, and no posting on my website or social media pages. And it’s honestly been the greatest three years ever. I was working towards a sports career tirelessly since high school, and stepping away to take a much-needed break is honestly the best thing I have ever done for myself. Sure, the universe kind of forced this break to happen, but again, I embraced the time away from the rink instead of being depressed about it.
When you’re constantly on the road, especially as a single 20-something, life can get really lonely. It’s hard to see your friends and family, and I have missed so many holidays and special occasions that I’ll never be able to get back. Being a female in sports is also a challenge within itself. You’re constantly labeled a “puck bunny” because you dress well and are seen with a camera and credential along the glass. Fans gawk at you and wonder what the hell you are doing there. Sure, I’ve met plenty of nice fans, as well as guys working for teams or even players/coaches themselves. But there are always the immature ones who mock you to your face or even on social media (the players who do this are the worst kinds of human beings). The sexual harassment was worse in the beginning of my carer, but it still hasn’t dissipated. I even had a very scary experience with a stalker.
Stepping away from the rink allowed me to make a lot of progress that the sports industry was keeping from me. I landed a stable full-time job that I truly enjoy outside of sports. I rekindled my social life, have been able to see my family more often, focused more on my health and wellness, and even met the love of my life. We brought home a German Shepherd puppy named Otto, of course, after Ottawa. I worked with therapists and started an antidepressant, which has helped me in more ways than I could’ve ever imagined. When you’ve been struggling financially and sexually harassed for the majority of your adult life, it really does take some time to unpack all of that and heal.
With all of that being said, there were many times since 2020 that I asked myself if I should retire from hockey altogether. But that is not who I am. After dwelling on the past and overcoming traumas (some of which are so personal that I’ve never written about them), I cleared the clutter from my past and have a new perspective that is now guiding me in my latest hockey gig: European Agent at Higher Hockey Management.
Higher Hockey Management is owned by former NHLers, Jason Krog and Derek Bekar. Over the past six years, they have taught me so much about the world of European hockey and are immensely supportive of me continuing to chase my hockey dreams. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to work with the agency, scout players, and hopefully get them signed into big contracts overseas. This is truly a new beginning in professional hockey for me, and I’m excited to see what happens over the next few seasons!
Thanks for reading and following my career journey. I promise not to go silent for three straight years ever again. I plan on writing regularly again about what I’m up to as an agent, and I can’t wait to hit the road again and get back to the arena. It’s almost 2024, and this is simply the beginning of my next chapter in hockey and sports.