It was a weird minor hockey league event that ended Kaleb Toth's hockey career.
Kaleb Toth wasn’t quite ready to hang up the skates yet.
Disappointed about being passed over twice in the NHL Entry Draft, he wanted to give his professional hockey dream one last chance.
“I didn’t want to be 30 still hanging onto the dream that I’ll make it the NHL, dragging my family around, going from team to team, only making 40 or 50 thousand dollars and then what do I have at the end of it.”
He’d previously experienced NHL training camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes, but nothing panned out.
As a free agent, he signed a deal with the Baton Rouge Kingfish of the East Coast Hockey League, but also received a tryout with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League.
Back then, the IHL was the second step below the NHL.
He impressed at the Lumberjacks training camp, finishing as one of the top scorers in the exhibition circuit. He expected an IHL deal, but the numbers game got the best of him and he went down to play with Baton Rouge.
Cleveland liked what they saw in training camp, so they acquired him for their ECHL affiliate team, the Chesepeake Bay Ice Breakers.
He played well, finishing the season with 41 points in 57 games while being named the team’s rookie of the year.
However, a truly unique minor league experience ended his hockey career.
During the winter, he had heard rumours he was called up to Cleveland of the IHL, but he never physically received a phone call.
When a few Lumberjacks were sent down to the ECHL, they asked him where he was last month.
Turns out Cleveland had in fact called him up, stitched a jersey for him and were ready to play him. But no one told Kaleb.
He confronted Icebreakers head coach Chris Nilan, the famous enforcer for the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. Nilan confirmed Toth did get the call, but the Icebreakers were dealing with injuries and couldn’t afford to lose him.
Toth decided then and there it was going to be his last year.
“The breaks weren’t happening,” Toth lamented. “I never got drafted, I had a great camp but got screwed over with guys getting sent down, then I get called up which would have been my break but the guys on my team get hurt and they can’t lose me. “It was one of those things where it wasn’t meant to be hockey.”
Not wanting to abandon his teammates, he finished off the season. It was the last time Toth put on skates for six years.
Next winter, Toth became a member of the Toronto Rock, and the rest is lacrosse history.