Conklin takes flight
Ty Conklin flies.
Detroit's new goalie -- signed as a free agent, July 1 -- is a licensed pilot who takes his Piper Super Cub up during the offseason.
"It's relaxing for me," said Conklin. "I love it."
Tomorrow night against the Carolina Hurricanes (2-0-0), Conklin will get his first start of the season in net after backing up Chris Osgood in the Red Wings' (1-1-0) first two games. In the summertime, however, Conklin trades his helmet and mask for headphones, skating across clouds instead of ice. With floats attached, Conklin will land his plane on water.
The 32-year-old began training to be a pilot seven years ago. During the NHL lockout winter of 2004-05, Conklin became a licensed pilot.
"When I get time in the summer, when I get three or four hours which is rare, I go up and poke around," said Conklin. "Just a lot of little trips. Go up and waste gas. I do that instead of golfing or whatever."
Conklin's aviation bug is one part geographic and one part familial.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Conklin grew up in the state with the most pilots per capita. According to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association statistics (through 2007), Alaska leads the nation in licensed private pilots per capita by a healthy margin. Alaska has 47 private pilots per 10,000 residents. The second highest rate is Montana at 18 pilots. Michigan ranks 27th with seven private pilots per 10,000 residents -- the national average excluding Alaska.
"It's very common there, especially if you like the outdoors," said Conklin. "Just getting from place to place is done in planes more there."
In fact, it was aviation that brought the Conklins to Alaska. Ty's grandfather was a military pilot who went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration when he left the service. The FAA stationed him in Alaska.
Conklin left Alaska to finish his high school in Minnesota, then to play junior hockey in Wisconsin and collegiate hockey in New Hampshire. But the Alaska flying bug stayed with him.
"It's very safe," said Conklin. "When people understand that planes were meant to be up there in the air, they feel safer."
And if you enjoy it enough, you can feel calmer than you would on a golf course.
"I flew a friend back to Wisconsin last summer," said Conklin. "We flew right past downtown Chicago about a half-mile out. It was early in the morning. Nothing really going on. No commercial stuff really. The airways were quiet. Air traffic control was talking to us. It was a pretty cool flight."