Zach Carlson has skated nearly as long as he has walked.
"Since I was three," he said.
But after his freshman year of hockey at West Fargo High School in 2009, the goalie had enough. The politics of the system were getting to him, and the pressure wasn't worth it. There also were seven goalies, including Carlson, ready to move up from Bantams.
Besides, being an avid outdoorsman, he missed a lot of great hunting during hockey season.
For two years, Carlson gave up the sport that had consumed most of his life.
It did not take long for him to wonder if it was the right decision.
"I regretted it almost right away," he said, of quitting hockey. "I missed everything: the fun, the competition, playing alongside my friends."
So in his senior year, he came back for one more shot.
Gunning for a spot with the Packers varsity team, Carlson tried out during captains' practice. He was one of four goalies in the pool, and one of two seniors. Given that fact, Carlson figured he had a pretty good shot at a varsity spot even after a two-year hiatus.
The coaches didn't see it that way, however, as senior Kyle Olson and sophomore Bailey Vareberg were chosen for varsity. Carlson and freshman Seth Fretheim were in net for West Fargo's junior varsity team.
At first, Carlson was a bit disheartened. But in short order, he decided to make the best of it. Hockey was still a passion, after all, and he'd made a commitment to a new team.
So for this season - his final season - Carlson definitely was going to give it his all.
"He said 'I'm going to play my hardest and win every game I'm in,'" Zach Carlson's mother, Marlys, said. "I was just like 'Wow, he's got some determination.'"
It didn't take long for the lanky netminder to find his groove. In fact, his first time in net resulted in a win. So did the next time, and the next time. Pretty soon, Carlson was on a roll, and his coach noticed.
"I am glad that he found passion for the sport again," coach Ryan Griggs said. "He wanted to be a part of the team, even if he was a senior on a junior varsity team."
Carlson split time in the net with Fretheim. Halfway through the season, West Fargo was struggling at 2-6-1.
It was all up from there. The Packers went on a tear, winning 10 of their last dozen games to finish 12-8-1 on the season.
Carlson was a big reason for that. The senior played in eight games, and finished with perfect 6-0-0 record en route to an impressive 1.34 goals against average.
"I was impressed with Zach's worth ethic this season," Griggs said.
It took some soul searching to return to hockey, but Carlson is glad he did it.
"It was pretty surprising, actually. I thought it would be a lot tougher," he said. "I'm just glad I came back. It was great being able to play again."
Now he will be on to the next stage of his life, as he juggles the pursuit of a law degree at the University of North Dakota with the rigors that come with joining the Air National Guard. If one thing can be gleaned about Carlson, however, it's that with his determination, anything is possible.
"He has a firm grasp on what he wants to do moving forward into college in beyond," Griggs said. "I hope that he continues to have hockey be a part of his life, and it seemed like he enjoyed playing this year again, and I enjoyed having him on the team."
And Carlson has just one piece of advice to any other lifelong hockey player thinking about calling it quits early: "Don't do it, it's just not worth it," he said. "Besides, playing hockey is a lot more fun than sitting on your butt at home."