Team chemistry has Alabama hockey off to a hot start


Ehsan Kassim

Doing homework, playing card games, watching movies, karaoke, making inside jokes and just hanging out.

This is how the Alabama Hockey Club team spent it’s 9 1/2 hour road trip to Lynchburg, Virginia, as they traveled to take on Liberty on Sept. 15 to open its season. The teams split the two matches.

Alabama does not have a lot of opponents it nearby, so it uses the long bus rides as an opportunity to build team chemistry, according Ian Soifer, a senior geography major.

“You got the boys together, for how many ever hours on the road,” Soifer said. “You got to find stuff to do, so you end up talking to whoever is up and usually you end up talking to guys or sitting with guys you haven’t talked to very much during the season.”

Due to the bond that the team started building on these road trips, Alabama club hockey team is off to one of the best starts in its history, since it moved up to Division-1 in 2015.

The bus ride over was the start of a bonding experience for a team that tries to get to know each other.

“It’s just a natural process,” said Club Hockey President Jon Lovorn. “We don’t want to force it and say ‘We need to be the tightest knit family by the time we get to Lynchburg, Virginia.’ It’s an ongoing and developing process and it gets started on that road trip and it doesn’t really stop.”

Alabama is off to a 9-3 start and is ranked No. 22 in the most recent polling.

Lovorn, a senior biology major, believes Alabama is succeeding because everyone has bought into the team’s culture. 

“You need 30 guys and the coaching staff to buy into what’s being taught,” he said. “If everyone really buys into those systems and are 100 percent committed to executing what is being taught and holding their teammates accountable for not being up to standard, for not executing to a 100 percent, that’s what’s going to get you to the tournament.”

Soifer was named team captain by head coach Kyle Richards, immediately after Richards took the head coach position. Richards previously took a job with the Connecticut Nighthawks, in the U.S. Premier Hockey League. But when the head coaching position at Alabama opened up, he was ready to pounce on the opportunity.

He has deep respect for Soifer and sees him as a younger brother.

“He’s a kid that when I was playing I would have no problem following,” Richards said. “He just gets it, absolutely gets what we are trying to do with the culture and how we want to run things. He’s the nicest kid in the world, probably the most improved since I joined the program.”

The Frozen Tide returned 83.6 percent of the total points scored a season ago, with 20 of the team’s 30 players returning.

Jesse Gordichuk, a junior business administration major, has been a big key for Alabama. The team is 9-2 in matches with Gordichuk manning the net.

Serving as the team’s goalie, he has played in every match, except one. He has posted a 0.941 save percentage, with 366 saves and is only allowing 1.90 goals per match.

Gordichuk transferred to UA from University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, seeking a winning program and more playing time. 

He was referred to the school by a friend and after watching the Midnight Classic in which Alabama defeated Liberty in 2016, Gordichuk was convinced Alabama was the school for him.

Along with Gordichuk, Pierre Ouellette, a junior business major, has been big for Alabama’s defense. Ouelette was third-team All-American last year. He has become more of a complete player this year, according to Richards.

“His offensive game has picked up where he left off last season, which is big for us,” Richards said. “He brings an aspect from the defensive side that most teams don’t have in having a high-scoring defenseman.”

Junior forward Taylor Joseph, a business administration major, leads the Alabama Frozen Tide offense with eight goals, appearing in all 12 matches this season.

While these three have been some of Alabama’s biggest contributors, Richards feels the depth of the team is what has been carrying them so far.

“We can really put anyone on the ice and we aren’t losing much,” Richards said. “Whereas last year we just didn’t have the guys to have that kind of battling in practice, guys competing for spots.”

Another point of emphasis for the depth of the program is the speed Alabama likes to play at, according to junior journalism major James Benedetto. 

“It’s important because we go non-stop for 30-45 seconds,” Benedetto said. “There’s no real break like in football. We can play 20 minutes and not have a whistle. We need to be fresh in order for us to be at our peak performance to push the pace to the other team. The fresher you are, the less mistakes you make.”

Even with the hot start, Soifer warns the team cannot get complacent and has areas it needs to work on.

“We need to work on playing three solid periods of hockey,” he said. “That’s been one of the biggest things in every game. We’ve put together some really good games, but there are still areas where we are lacking. This weekend we had here and there good parts of periods and then we just fell apart.”

Alabama travels to Nebraska to face No. 16 ranked Midland on Dec. 1-2. It returns home for matches against Midland on Dec. 8-9. 

The home matches will be played at the Pelham Civic Center in Pelham. Even though it is a long ride for Alabama students, the hockey players encourage Alabama fans to make it to the games.

“It’s something to go see,” Gordichuk said. “A lot of people don’t know much about it, but it’s a high-paced sport. It’s not boring. There are big hits, goals. People love that stuff. It’s a change of sports. It’s a fun atmosphere and it’s something I’d like to see more people a part of.”