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When Cody Hess was 5 years old, he was so hyper his mother would set a clock for 30 minutes of play time followed by 30 minutes of quiet time. His father figured sports might take some of the steam away from his son, but there was nothing available near their Decatur home for someone so young.
When a new roller-skating rink opened, Greg Hess signed his son up for roller hockey.
``I cried and begged not to go, but he made me,'' Cody, now 21, said. ``Thank God, because I loved it.''
Now his hockey ability has presented him with an amazing opportunity. He leaves June 28 to begin his professional career playing in the Czech Republic. Hess signed in May with HC Slovan Ustecti Lvi in Usti Nad Labem.
``At first it was exciting and as the days get closer you start to get a little more nervous,'' Hess said. ``Then I go work out and go run. I'm just trying to stay in shape and be in the best shape I can be.''
Hess grew up playing hockey in Fort Wayne, playing two years for former Komets assistant coach Gary Graham's North Side club team before moving to Boston and then Helena, Mont., to play junior hockey for former Komet Mike Butters' team. Last year he came home to play for the Fort Wayne Federals, scoring 41 goals and 109 points in 40 games. Hess has amazing stick-handling ability as the puck always seems to be on the end of his stick.
``He protects the puck real well,'' Graham said. ``He's got good vision with the puck, too and understands his surroundings well. He makes players around him better because he holds on to the puck and doesn't turn it over. He buys his guys time to get open, and he's real patient around the net, too.''
The way Hess got this opportunity is kind of unique as well. Czech goaltender Lukas Mikulasik played part of this season with the Federals. When he went home this spring, he talked to an agent who helped Hess find a contract. Hess is going to live with Mikulasik for the first month, hoping to learn some of the language as he gets settled in. HC Slovan Ustecti Lvi is a second-tier professional team in the Czech Republic. Hess will make about $1,300 a month with an apartment and car provided.
Hess said he had been considering playing NCAA Division III hockey or playing club hockey at IPFW, but this chance allows him to keep his dream of being a professional alive.
``I plan on being there for two years,'' he said. ``After that I'll either come back and either be done with it or if I rise through the ranks there and get to the top league, I'll stay as long as they want me. I don't want to stay in the (second division) for a really long time. I want to keep bettering myself. If I stop improving, then it's time to come home.''
The season will last until May.
``It's better for him to start at a lower level and prove himself there,'' Federals coach Kevin Shupenia said. ``They are focused on developing him and seeing how he does. I told him a number of times if I was his age and had this opportunity, I'd jump all over it. He's only going to get better as he gets older. He does have the skill level and the brains to play at that level and now it's being exposed to it and getting better playing at that level.''
Hess knows he's a long-shot, but his entire career has been. He got his shot in Boston because his father got on the phone and started asking questions and promoting his son. The same thing happened with Butters in Montana. Greg Hess has had to work a lot of long hours at his job with Fort Wayne Metals to pay for his son's hockey habit.
``He's sacrificed his entire life for me to be able to play hockey,'' Cody Hess said. ``My dad has done so much for me, and without him, none of this would have happened.''
To get ready for his first pro training camp, Hess recently worked out for two weeks in Chicago with former NHL player Reid Simpson, who saw him playing at at camp. Hess started the summer weighing 160 pounds and has now built himself up to 178.
``He taught me everything to do over the summer to get ready,'' Hess said. ``It was hard and it was painful, but it was worth it.''