Joel Rumpel has become a hockey nomad in every sense of the word. The Swift Current product has now been a part of eight different professional hockey teams in four leagues over the past five seasons.
“When I was younger I kind of wanted to be in one spot and one team and that stability. Now I really enjoy travelling, I really enjoy new people and new countries and new states and provinces. I enjoy moving around and playing in different leagues and comparing the leagues to each other. I enjoy that and hopefully I got a couple more years left in me to do that,” said Rumpel, 29.
The 6’3’’ netminder’s hockey journey is on pause for now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s eagerly anticipating his next adventure.
“I am looking overseas. There’s about half of the leagues starting up over there in January they are hoping. The same thing with the ECHL, they are starting up in December seeing if they can make it work, but only half the teams are going. The AHL and the NHL are still kind of working out some details. There’s just not very many jobs out there right now and imports are kind of a tough spot to get to overseas. I’m looking in North America and overseas, just hoping and waiting for some leagues to start up and start opening up some jobs for goalies.”
Rumpel came up through the Swift Current Minor Hockey system, culminating with three seasons in the crease of the Midget AAA Legionnaires. He moved on to play two very successful seasons with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League, which resulted in the opportunity to join the University of Wisconsin Badgers, perennially one of the top men’s hockey teams in the NCAA.
“That was a very interesting, kind of cool time. Growing up in Swift Current you don’t really think of playing college hockey, you don’t really hear too much about. You’re always thinking the Dub [WHL] or hang up the skates. When I ended up going to play Junior A in Penticton I learned more about college and scholarships and how beneficial it can actually be in the long run if you need a little more time to develop.”
Growing up on the prairies, the Western Hockey League is the road more travelled for elite hockey players.
“It ended up working really well to my advantage. I was a little skinnier kid, so I needed more time to build muscle and kind of hone in on my game. I got an extra four years, whereas if I would have went and played in the WHL you get two years. It was a cool experience.”
His play at Wisconsin, including a 1.96 goals against average in his sophomore season, helped earn a contract with the San Jose Sharks in 2015.
“It was pretty surreal. It’s always your dream to sign in the NHL when you’re a kid. Then when the day finally comes I was lucky enough to sign a one-year with San Jose. It was pretty special. Unfortunately I only got to play in their AHL and ECHL farm teams, but it was still pretty cool to be able to go to training camp and being next to Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton and have those guys shooting on you and being in the same room as all those people it was pretty cool.”
Rumpel would have stints with the Allen Americans, San Jose Barracuda, Cincinnati Cyclones, Stockton Heat, Wichita Thunder, and Utah Grizzlies in the American Hockey League and East Hockey League during a whirlwind tour from 2015-18.
In 2018 he took his pads overseas to join the Glasgow Clan in Scotland.
“After playing a few years in the ECHL I knew I was getting a little bit older and my time to make the NHL was closing slowly. I really wanted to try and experience a new part of the world and get to travel and play hockey for a living. My wife and I decided to try the United Kingdom out. We got to live in Scotland and play there for a year and really enjoyed it, met a lot of cool people, some lifelong friends. We got to travel and see some amazing places.”
The following season he played in Fredrikstad, Norway.
“The next year we liked it so much that we decided to go to Norway and try it out in a different area. Again, it was nothing but good experiences. Everybody was so friendly and got to meet some really cool lifelong friends.”
“It was a lot different from North America,” he said of his experience in Europe. “Their fans are comparable to soccer fans, kind of rowdy, drinking beer in the stands, kind of a little scary at times almost,” he laughed. “It’s a different environment, but it was pretty cool. Just a passion for hockey even though a lot of them don’t play over there, their passion for showing up and cheering on their teams and their rivalries was pretty epic.”
Rumpel said that his team was middle of the pack, one game away from playoffs, with upset aspirations when the pandemic quickly brought the season to a sudden halt.
“Instead of going to practice that day we had to book flights immediately and we were on a plane the next day because they were shutting down the airports and the borders to the USA. We flew out on my birthday on March 14.”
Rumpel and his wife were eagerly anticipating a new hockey experience after he agreed to join the Sydney Ice Dogs of the Australian Ice Hockey League for the summer season.
“We were going to live in Sydney and get to travel and go to Bali. We were planning our honeymoon while we were over there. That all got put on hold and they actually cancelled their whole season. That was unfortunate, but I had to come back here and quarantine with everybody.”
Rumpel married a US citizen and is currently in Swift Current waiting for his Green Card to go through so he can rejoin his wife south of the border.
Rumpel recently returned to game action as he made one appearance for the Cabri Bulldogs in the senior mens White Mud Hockey League.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do for training and where I was going to be. A few teams reached out to me and I had a pretty good relationship with some of the guys on Cabri. I called my agent and was like ‘Would you mind if I played some Senior hockey?’ He was like ‘No, the more hockey you can play the better.’ He’s heard about the White Mud League and good things about it. He gave me the go ahead and said stay in shape and hopefully something will come up in January or February to play hockey again.”
Rumpel backstopped the Bulldogs to an 11-2 win over the Gull Lake Greyhounds on Nov. 20 before the league was shuttered due to the pandemic.
“It was a pretty cool experience. Unfortunately having to get shut down after one game, but it was still pretty cool.”
Besides trying to stay ready for his next professional hockey opportunity, Rumpel is also starting a mentoring and training online business. “It’s where I can help out youths, whether they want help improving their game or if they need help making decisions where to play. It’s just kind of advice from someone who’s been through it all and grew up around here. I want to help train some local kids and be able to do it all virtually through sending workouts and drills and different assignments for them to do everyday.”
Anyone interested in online training and mentoring can email Rumpel at firstname.lastname@example.org.