A World Without Ice: Alabama Hockey Rebuilds Amidst Adversity
With college athletics across the nation being forced to adapt and adjust during a global pandemic, few sports have had a rougher go of it than college hockey.
The University of Alabama club program is no exception.
As of July 1, the Frozen Tide is still without an ice rink to skate on, with the Pelham Civic Complex — a small hockey facility located approximately 60 miles east of Tuscaloosa — still without ice and unable to reopen as the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the state.
When the players were forced to head home back in March following the university’s announcement that classes would be shifted to online, the team was forced to deal with a world without ice.
The adjustment proved to be tough.
“The transition has been very difficult since everyone has flown off to their different spaces,” sophomore defenseman Matt Brown said. “We haven’t had yet a team workout such as if it was like virtually or something. Coach [Phil Tesoriero] has been in contact and he does say get in the gym and continue maintaining your skills, go outside and stick handle, go practice with a puck, see if you can put on a pair of roller blades.”
You heard that last part correctly. Roller blades.
In this new world without ice, the players have done so to maintain leg strength and dexterity as best they can. While the experience is very different from handling oneself on blades, the practice is better than nothing at all.
“There’s a huge difference,” Brown laughed. “The biggest difference is — it’s the same stride, it’s the same posture that you have to push — stopping is one crazy difference. You can just bring your foot over and get that quick, hard stop and you can move directions. With roller blades it’s not so easy.”
Last season, Alabama hockey struggled to get the puck in the net, resulting in an overall record of 4-25. While in the previous seasons the program had seen some success, 2019 was a bitter disappointment.
Hoping to retool a program that was already considered to be in a rebuilding year, the Frozen Tide hired a new D1 head coach in Tesoriero, who had coached the team’s Division 3 program in 2019. Thanks to the COVID-19, there's no way of knowing when he might actually see his team or hold a practice.
That being said, the same difficulties that Alabama hockey is facing are also seen nationwide, with most if not all of the teams of the American Collegiate Hockey Association having to traverse the enormous obstacle of no ice being available.
“Obviously there’s going to be some adapting if there is a season which — who knows what going to happen?” senior defenseman Dale Gaskins said. “I think it will definitely be interesting since we’re in the south not a lot of people have really had access to ice at all.
"Everyone’s going to have the same kind of handicap going into the season so I think a lot of it is going to come down to whenever things start opening back up and teams start gathering it’s really going to come down to those first few weeks before the actual season starts and how fast you can get the team together and get the team gelled and start working on systems and getting everybody back into midseason shape.”
While the circumstances are grim, there is some small comfort knowing that the team is not alone in the struggle to stay in shape and remain conditioned through the offseason.
With Tesoriero and other new leadership at the helm, Alabama hockey is looking ahead rather than behind.
“2020 is a new year,” Brown said. “We had a rough season last year. The stats weren’t there but at the end of the day it was a rebuilding year. We were trying to find the foundation for ourselves. We had a lot of new freshmen coming in last year including myself.
“I’m looking forward to it and I know a lot of other guys are as well.”
Gaskins played on the D3 team in 2019 under Tesoriero and has already been bumped up to participate with the D1 team for the 2020 season. The team fared slightly better than its D1 counterpart.
As a senior, Gaskins expressed his confidence in the new direction that the team is headed in.
“He was my coach last year so I’ve had plenty of experience with him,” Gaskins said. “He definitely knows the game really well and he knows what it’s like to play the game at a competitive level. He knows how to come up with strategies and apply what you need ahead of time at practice the week before. He knows how to watch other teams beforehand and learn how to adapt to play them before you actually play them.”
Regardless of the fact that the team has a new head coach, the no-ice problem remains a huge hindrance.
Scattered across the country, players are still forced to work out at home. Gyms have started to open up in less-populated areas and even some rinks have reopened. But regarding the Frozen Tide’s home ice, the issue of not being able to lace up skates remains ever-present.
“[We’re] just trying to stay a little bit active and trying to eat right since there’s really not a whole lot we can do,” Gaskins said. “I’m trying to do my best right now and with a busy work schedule too it’s definitely been hard.
“You can’t just go to the rink after work and get on the ice.”
Brown echoes Gaskins’ sentiments but remains hopeful that his team will be able to get some work done soon in this new world without ice.
“As things start to open up we’re hoping to get on the ice,” Brown said. “Go get around and get those legs moving again since we have been off for a little while.”