Jake Dietrich didn’t think his face would pop up on sports websites for reasons that had nothing to do with his talents in hockey.
Dietrich recalls one of his pals back home in Deloraine taking a screenshot of a web page and sharing it with other buddies in a group message.
In that picture was Jake, the hockey player turned model, in a promotional ad for a clothing retailer.
"He said, ‘Guys, make sure you have your pop-ups blocked today,’" Dietrich recalled with a chuckle.
"Obviously they throw some jabs at my current situation, but they used to throw jabs at my old situation, that’s just what buddies do," the 30-year-old added of their joking nature. "I wouldn’t want it any other way."
For a rural guy from Deloraine, uprooting himself to New York City where he found employment in the high-profile modeling world is definitely unique, and it certainly wasn’t sought. It was a chance meeting with a modeling booker, during a stop in Toronto.
"This is still funny to talk about," Dietrich said, crediting Philip Clements, a former modeling booker, with being the "first one to essentially discover me."
Two years ago, Dietrich and his girlfriend, Taylor, now his wife, were taking a roundabout way to New York City, where Dietrich was moving to pursue his dream of entering culinary school.
They stayed briefly in Toronto where Dietrich was literally stopped downtown by a stranger. It was Clements, who asked Dietrich if he had modeled before or if a modeling agency had his number. He said no to both questions.
Learning Dietrich was New York-bound, the booker encouraged him to contact modeling agency, Wilhelmina. Within a week of arriving in the Big Apple, Dietrich had signed with the company.
His early months in modeling were busy, as Dietrich learned the trade and developed his portfolio. Any assumptions a new model can snag advertising campaigns in short order are false, he said.
"You have to work. You have to build your book and work on your look."
Meanwhile, he was taking culinary classes and found work in a kitchen. With modeling not paying off at first, he refocused his energies on cooking — the whole reason he came to New York.
One day he remembers well was when he was moments from starting a shift in the kitchen when a Wilmehima booker called. He said Polo Ralph Lauren wanted Dietrich at a sitting as soon as possible. Dietrich said he couldn’t, he was due in a restaurant.
"My agent said, ‘Jake, it’s Polo,’ and then he hung up."
Dietrich understood the importance of the call. He made up some excuse to bail on work and ran to the sitting.
"This was kind of my first break," he said. "This was my first time getting something substantial. Any time you’re with such a strong brand like that, you’re going to get eyes on you and it’s going to open up opportunities."
The phone’s been ringing since, to the extent that in May 2016 he stepped away from cooking. He was enjoying modeling and wanted to see what he could accomplish if he committed himself full-time.
He’s modeled for big names in the fashion industry, such as Joseph Abboud, Michael Kors and Uniqlo.
He did a campaign for Moda Operandi, released in time for the holidays, and was in Montreal last month for his fourth campaign with Joseph Abboud, modeling the company’s fall line.
You may even see his picture at The Gap, which has prompted certain questioning from Dietrich’s buddies.
"They say, ‘My wife wants me to buy this sweater — how does it fit?’" Dietrich said, laughing at the memory.
Dietrich finds he’s taken a likening to modeling, to his own surprise.
"I’ve really been loving it. I love being on set, I love the creative people I get to be around every day."
He compared it to the team environment he enjoyed in hockey, a career that took him from the Western Hockey League to the East Coast Hockey League and wrapped with a few years with the Acadia Axemen, a Canadian university hockey club.
"You have this art direction you want to create, this vibe, this look, and we all work together to kind of create it. It’s fun."
Since January, Dietrich’s taken acting classes to see where that path may take him.
In addition to support from his friends back home, Dietrich said his wife, parents and siblings are in his corner, too.
He credited his mother Nadine, a former model, and father Don, former NHL player, with fostering his interest in good cuisine as a child with their Deloraine diner and now supporting his modeling career.
"They see how happy I am down here in New York, and obviously that’s all it takes to make a parent happy, to see you happy."
Many people who knew Dietrich as a hockey player or personal fitness trainer in Deloraine have reached out to congratulate him, or even ask how his life has taken him to New York City. He encourages others who may want to ask questions or say hello to contact him at www.instagram.com/jrdeets/
He said the encouragement he’s received has meant a lot, keeping him humble amid a journey he’s grateful to be on.