I watched Alabama win It’s 12th national collegiate championship while I was 2 days through a 3-day drive down to Tuscaloosa Alabama. I was in Corpus Christi, Texas, staying with an old teammate from my junior hockey days down in El Paso, and I couldn’t help but wonder just what the hell I was getting myself into. I didn’t know anyone, had never been to Alabama before, and hadn’t even gotten into school.
I lucked into a connection with the Alabama Hockey Team. My landlord was a roommate of one of the assistant coaches. Literally 1 degree of separation, the first person that I meet in the entire state, what are the odds?
I skated with the team while attending a local JuCo. I moved in with two of the players after my apartment got rented out from under me. People with a common interest, and it was the game that I loved so much, a bond was formed, one that comes only from an understanding gained on the ice.
I played 7 games after I got in to Alabama and made the hockey team before I was concussed in a game against Florida Gulf Coast University. I said that I was going to hang up the skates, having decided that the most recent concussion was simply one to many.
I stayed away from the game for the rest of the semester, but having grown up playing the game, having all of my best friends as teammates (or maybe the other way around), I couldn’t just stop. I began going back to practices, and watched from the stands as the team performed well.
The next year, I sharpened skates and pushed pucks at practices, and traveled with the team on several occasions. This year, my senior year, I was privileged enough to step behind the bench at Munn Ice Arena at Michigan State University to help our boys, my team, compete with the best that our level of hockey has to offer.
In December, the idea of playing again was introduced. The day after Christmas, I received clearance from a neuropsychiatrist to play, and on Friday, January 11, I played my first game back, against Auburn, no less. The game finished without me, due to pulled ligament in my ankle, but not before I could feed freshman Ryan Judge with a pass to help him on a goal to welcome me back out of retirement with my first collegiate point in over 2 years. My next game played would see me score my first goal since... well, since my first ACHA collegiate hockey goal in a game against Tennessee in 2010.
By far the most special moment for me, though, came this last Friday, January 25th when I was given the Brett Ullom Award, so named in honor of a member of the original Frozen Tide team who passed away after a long battle with cancer. Brent exemplified the spirit of Bama Hockey. What made receiving this award very special for me is that it is a team voted award. My team gave me this, in front of a crowd of 1,400 fans, which included my parents, who had flown out to surprise me all the way from Golden, Colorado. We beat Ole Miss that night 4-3 in a shoot out. I scored our first goal.
If I may take the opportunity to be slightly braggadocios, just for a moment, I will take the opportunity to do so. Skip this paragraph if you don’t care to hear me pumping my tires more than I already have… I got a really nice pass from my center as I was streaking down the right wing. Just inside the blueline I wound up, hesitated for just a second, then ripped a clapper that kept rising even as it found the back of the net. It went high blocker side, over the goalie’s right shoulder. The puck never fell to the ground, it intended to go through the net, and was caught halfway through in the twine. As I raised my arms in celebration, the team Captain came over, eyes wide, and said, “its caught in the effing net!” and my smile got bigger. I can’t help but feel satisfied, I glanced back after tapping gloves with our bench only to see the referees still trying to pry the puck free.
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We completed the sweep the next night, shutting them out 3-0.
That Saturday night was our Fillo Face-off game; a charity game benefitting our Fallen Tide Fund. Steve Fillo was a kid from Colorado Springs, Colorado that passed away in a car accident on the way back from training camp in 2009. I had played against him multiple times growing up in colorado. I was at the inaugural home game of the Boulder Bison of the Western States Hockey League when I heard about Steve. The Bison were playing my former team, the El Paso Rhinos, and a mutual friend who had played with Steve in club leagues and with me in high school, was playing for the Bison. His mom had driven to watch him play, so we sat together and caught up, and she informed me of Steve’s passing.
That same year, the year I moved to Alabama, they played their first Fillo Face Off memorial game. Alabama hockey teamed up with the AOII sorority, and have every year since the inception of the event, and it gets better and better every year. Steve is well remembered, and if there is one thing that they do well here in the south, it’s tradition.
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I received the Brent Ullom Award from last year’s winner, Matthew Talton, who came in from Mississippi specifically to present me the trophy. I will have one year with the cup before it will be my turn to come back and present it to next year’s winner, and the tradition will carry on. What I hope to do with my time with the Ullom Award, is to take it back home, to Colorado, and take a trip down to Colorado Springs and visit the coffee shop that Mr. and Mrs. Fillo run, and tell them how their son is being remembered, and how he is being honored through this great legacy, this great tradition that we have here at the University of Alabama and that Alabama Hockey is building.