By: Reed Gossard
The UAB Blazer Hockey family would like to extend a warm welcome to its two newest recruits, Phil and Matt Zbell.
Phil, a 22 year old student on the pre-med track at UAB, is coming back onto the ice after a two year absence due to injury. He previously played for the EHL’s Tier 3 Philadelphia Little Flyers.
Matt, a 19 year old student studying neurosurgery at UAB, is coming back after a year taken off to focus on his academic studies. He previously played for the U18 Point Mallard Ducks.
Why did you guys decide to play for the Blazers?
Matt: “I gave up hockey, I stopped and focused on school and went to UAB for neurosurgery. Phil was at UAH studying biology and we just decided to play together. ”
Phil: “I transferred from UAH to UAB because of UAB’s great pre-med program. We just decided to both get back on the ice and play. I focused really hard on hockey (out of high school) and actually had a Division I offer. Then I blew my knee and because I hadn’t committed, lost every offer I had. The first few months were really hard, but I’m really looking forward to getting back on the ice. This is actually our first time ever playing together because Matt is 3 years younger than me.”
Is it exciting for you two, to have this opportunity to both be on the ice at the same time?
M: “Totally. We’re both two of the most competitive people. We really draw off of each other out there, just the competitive energy of the game and feeding off of our teammates.”
I see you’re from Huntsville; what introduced you to hockey growing up in the South?
P: “Matt was born here in Hunstville, but I’m from Houston. I grew up watching the (Dallas) Stars because my dad went to college with a player there, and my parents took to me to ice skating lessons and I never looked back.”
M: “My dad threw some skates on me and that was that. I will always remember, Phil and I used to shoot at a goal in our garage. I used to be a lefty, my shot wasn’t all that great one day. So Phil handed me a righty stick, and my shot was a hundred times better. Thanks, Phil.”
P: “No problem!”
Who would you guys compare yourselves to in the NHL?
M: “For Phil, I’d say he plays a lot like T.J. Oshie. He can skate really well and move through the offensive zone, but when he needs to he can definitely grind on the boards.”
P: “Matt plays a lot like John Klingberg for the Stars. He’s a lanky, offensive / defensive man.”
M: “I think that comes from my playing time as a forward. Switching from that to a more defensive centered role really allowed me to see the ice more clearly, like what the offense was trying to do in the zone or what I can contribute to the offense.”
What do the two of you think you bring to the table for UAB?
P: “We bring a different level of skill, but also leadership and knowledge of the game. We know the subtle details that matter to win a game. And we know other things that will help the team, like having accountability on the ice and in the classroom. Especially classroom first, hockey second.”
With that being said, what are your goals for the upcoming season?
M: “To not let anyone burn past me.”
M: “But seriously making the most out of rush opportunities. Knowing that if I see the puck go up the ice and I have speed, and am in the offensive zone at the right time, I need to make the most of the opportunity.”
P: “For me, I want to lead and bring a winning attitude and atmosphere into the locker room for future generations. Because that is important; if the younger guys see me holding myself accountable and competing night in and night out, they’ll start doing the same. We both want to boost the entire team. We’re both team first guys.”
Alright, last question: favorite chirps to use?
M: (laughs). “Definitely calling someone a grocery stick, because they’re just standing there and are in my way.”
P: (laughs). “Oh boy, trying to think of one that is okay to be published. Probably ‘google me’ .”
UAB Men’s Ice Hockey competes at the Division III ACHA level. Games are played at the Pelham Civic Center in Birmingham, Alabama. The full schedule for the 2018-2019 season is to be determined.