UAB Roundtable: Hockey Basics, from the Blazers

By: Reed Gossard

Hockey is a fast sport.

The average NHL player skates over 20 mph. on the thin sheet of ice that serves as a rink. Players like to grow their hair out long, dubbing it “flow” due to to the fact that it will fly, like a stallion’s mane, as they speed past blue and red lines.

Hockey is a violent sport.

Collisions can be heard in the stands as players hurdle like comets towards each other. Even the goalies endure contact, as they forfeit personal well-being to stop a six ounce disk of solid rubber from hitting the back of the net off of a screaming slap-shot.

Hockey is a poetic sport.

The sheer skill required to weave in and out of defending poke-checks and hits can be seen as almost dance-like. After a game, the ice is still scored in several places from where players exhibit fancy footwork on offense and defense.

Hockey, however, can be challenging to understand for the uninitiate. In a game where the most basic motion, skating, is unnatural to the basic actions of daily life, what seems simple can be inherently much more complex than originally thought.

Here to help are the experts, the UAB Blazers. In roundtable fashion, they give their keys to playing the most beautiful sport on ice.

Hockey’s physicality generates an atmosphere of either being the hammer or the nail in game situations. A perfectly timed hit can knock an entire offense off-balance. Dillon Gasparek, on executing a correct hit:

“In a proper body check, your main goal is to separate the player from the puck so your team can gain possession. You should never leave your feet before impact. Lead with your shoulder, and aim for their chest or shoulder, keeping your elbows and hands down (much like a football tackle, without wrapping-up). You never want to hit anyone in the head, or from behind. (Doing) Both of those could cause major injuries.”

There are other means besides just a hit, however, that hockey players employ to inhibit the advancement of the puck while on defense. Dale Gaskins, on performing a routine poke check (when a defenseman uses his stick to try and steal or knock the puck from an offensive player’s possession):

“Executing a good poke check is all about trying to separate the opposing man from the puck without sacrificing your body position. Ideally, the best way to change possession of the puck is to play the man ‘body-to-body and stick-to-stick,’ or simply making contact with the body and stick simultaneously to ensure the puck is knocked loose.”

A poorly executed poke check can leave a single man stranded on defense against a rush of opposing players. Matt Zbell, on facing a two-to-one odd man rush on defense:

“The first thing you do when taking on a two-on-one is to have good gap control. You don’t want to give them enough room to make a play or play it so far up that you let the guy with the puck just go around you.

The second thing is to take the passing lane away from the guy with the puck. This means having an active stick to make it look like there’s not going to be a way for him to get the puck through (like using active hands to take away passing angles in basketball).

The most important thing is communication with your goalie. Hopefully he’ll be screaming at you, telling you what he wants you to do. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’ll be ‘take the pass I’ve got the shooter.’

That’s how I play a two-on-one and most of the time (I have) great success unless the shooter makes a good shot. ”

But not everything in hockey is about stopping a goal. The offense needs to put a few ticks on the scoreboard. Cam Dickinson, on his thought process when attacking on a two-on-one odd man rush, on offense:

“I’m a pass first kind of guy so I look at my teammate and try to hold back, creating a non-linear attack (applying pressure to the defense, like a give-and-go in soccer) to allow him to get a step on the defenseman and make that defender make a choice (between defending the puck or defending my teammate).

Next, I’ll take a look at the goalie and see where he’s sitting in the net. If he’s cheating over (to my teammate) I’ll usually skate a few strides in then rip one by him, but the goalie rarely cheats over.

After, I switch my focus back on my guy and the D. If the defenseman commits to my teammate I have a one-on-zero with the goalie and I’ll just pick a corner (to shoot at). But more times than not the defenseman tries to stay on me while getting into the passing lane.

My favorite thing to do is to try to thread the puck between the D’s skates, between his stick, or over him onto my guys stick. Now all my guy has to do is bat that puck in because the goalie won’t be able to move in time.”

Speaking of, goalies have perhaps the most grueling job on the ice: stopping a small rubber puck from going into a six-by-four feet goal. Once shot upon, there are many times where a goalie must make another stellar save in order to stop a quick rebound shot from going in. Aaron Roe, on saving a rebound shot with the game on the line:

“The key is to keep your eye on the puck for as long as you can. If you can’t see the puck chances are you’re not going to make the save.

Once you’ve made a first save and tracked the rebound, the goal is to get square to the puck. This means that you want your shoulders facing the puck head on. You want to be away from the goal line, challenging the puck, to take away more of the net, and you want to be in your stance with your gloves up and stick on the ice ready to make a save. Simply being in position for a shot gives you a much better chance at stopping a goal.

The last tip for rebounds I have is to never ever give up on a play. I specifically remember giving up a rebound against Auburn and it slid right to one of their forwards. As he shot with a wide open net, I reached out with my blocker (stick) hand in desperation and the player shot it right into my arm. So by just giving one small last effort to make a save we avoided giving up another goal.”

Hockey is beautifully complex; its penchant for ordered chaos and patterned violence make it an incredibly exciting game, albeit one hard to master. The UAB Blazers step onto the ice every game knowing that the best chance they have at winning is if they play with solid fundamentals and maximum effort, a sentiment echoed in all sports, whether they be played on grass, dirt, or ice.

The UAB Blazers will play their next game on October 5th in Athens, GA against the Georgia Bulldogs. Time is to be determined. Check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for all your latest news and scores.

State of the Union: Optimism High as Blazers Gear Up for Volunteers

By: Reed Gossard

The ice shone like polished marble, the sounds of sticks and pucks clacked and clanked up and down the boards. and the air dripped with palpable energy as the U.A.B. Blazers turned in a solid two days of hockey this weekend at the team’s annual try out. With the program’s attention turned towards this weekend’s home opener against the Tennessee Volunteers, many in the program are optimistic this could be quite the special season for the Blazers.

Some players and coaches sat down to share their thoughts on the team and the upcoming season:

Aaron Roe, Goalie: “We’re starting to see the work we’ve put (into the program) the last few years pay off.”

Jakob Hornsby, Forward: “We’re already better now than we were at the end of last season.”

Assistant Coach Colin Pritchard: “Looking forward to it, we have a strong group of players. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Adil Patel, Forward: “Best team we’ve had so far.”

Matt Zbell, Defenseman: “(We) definitely (have) a lot of raw talent; we have to work through some kinks but the talent is there.”

Ryan Kalson, Forward: “We have a lot of raw talent.  Great moments are born from great opportunities.”

Head Coach J.T. Smallwood: “We’re evolving, chemistry is developing, we just need to get our legs under us and get out on the ice.”

The U.A.B. Blazers kick off the 2018-2019 season this weekend, September 7-8th against the Tennessee Volunteers. Both games will begin at 7:00 p.m. The Blazers play all home games at the Pelham Civic Center. Check arena for ticket pricing.

UAB Blazers: Fire on Ice 2018-2019 Schedule Preview

By: Reed Gossard

The UAB Blazers will be entering their third season as a program, playing D-III ACHA ice hockey across the Southeast. In the three years since the program started playing a full schedule, the Blazers have turned into one of the more formidable teams in the Southeast, posting a 20-6-2 record last year. The team hopes to do even better this year, with a challenging schedule that should test the mettle of and bring out the best in the Blazers.

Here are a few of the matchups to be excited for in the upcoming 2018-2019 season:

September 7-8: Tennessee Volunteers @ UAB / October 12-13 UAB @ Tennessee

Opponent Record Last Year: 5-10

The Volunteers lay claim to the “oldest and most established hockey program in the southeastern United States” .(per https://utk.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/icevols).

Tennessee hails from the SEC and is quickly turning into one of the Blazers’ more arduous rivals. Last year, UAB travelled to Knoxville and were defeated 3-2 and 5-4 in two games, both of which went into overtime.

With a home and away series against the Volunteers this season, including the Blazers’ first game on home opening weekend and a shot at redemption, the UAB/Tennessee series promises to be fraught with tension and ripe with exhilarating moments on the ice.

September 14:  UAB @ Georgia Tech Yellowjackets

Opponent Record Last Year:  17-5-1-1

The Yellowjackets were one of the ACC’s strongest teams, posting a 17-5-1-1 record after a dismal four win season the previous year, while defeating teams like Florida State, Clemson, and Middle Tennessee State. They made the ACHA D-III National Tournament for the first time in more than ten years, finishing the season on a ten game tear where they went 9-1.

The Blazers lost 6-4 last year in a close contest. Playing in Georgia Tech’s home opener and first game this year, UAB heads to Atlanta with redemption on their minds against a tough, seasoned opponent that went 6-2 at home last season.

September 21: UAB @ Auburn Tigers / February 15-16 Auburn @ UAB

Opponent Record Last Year:  8-9

Auburn has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Blazers, going an even 2-2 in the teams’ four game series last year. The series provided UAB with one of its most memorable moments from last season, when Cam Dickinson was tripped on a breakaway but somehow managed to score and then, with three minutes to go,  Jakob Hornsby netted the game-winner as the Blazers topped the Tigers 3-2.

When the Blazers and Tigers engage on the ice, it is fair to assume that the next sixty minutes of hockey will be fast, physical, and electrifying.

October 5: UAB @ Georgia Bulldogs

Opponent Record Last Year: 17-5-1

The Georgia Bulldogs finished second in the final ACHA D-III  rankings for the South region, dominating their opponents in the SEC, including a 12-0 thrashing of Auburn.

They are one of the toughest opponents the Blazers will face all season, but if the Blazers rise to the occasion like they have done in the past, this game should be incredibly fun to watch.

October 26-27: UAB @ UAH Chargers / February 22-23 UAH @ UAB

Opponent Record Last Year:  N/A

While the Chargers have a storied NCAA program, they recently formed a club team that will play its inaugural game against the Blazers on the last Saturday in October.

Geographically, this could shape up to be quite the rivalry as Birmingham and Huntsville are separated by only 102 miles of I-65 and both are young programs hungry to prove themselves. 

November 30-December 31: Mississippi State Bulldogs @ UAB

Opponent Record Last Year: 4-12-0-1

The Bulldogs were swept last year in six games by the Blazers; however, they always play with grit and are a relentless opponent.

Mississippi State served as the Blazers’ inaugural game on April 2, 2015. The Blazers usually bring a packed house for their oldest rival, and a hard hitting game typically ensues for a fun night of hockey.

The Blazers hope to continue their momentum from last season forward into this season. While they face many tough  and experienced teams, the young program is definitely looking forward to proving itself in a growing hockey landscape in the South.

Author’s note: Several of these team records can be found on ACHA’s website at http://achahockey.org/statistics/1682-ACHA-Mens?type=standings&level=conference&id=1152&sport=1&league_id=1800 ; however, a fair amount of individual investigation was conducted as well, which included research on various opponents’ websites.  The UAB Blazers, while participating in the ACHA, do not as of yet participate in the postseason and therefore do not count for or against an opponent’s overall record on the ACHA site. Any questions or concerns can be directed towards the email found under the “Contact” tab found on this site.