Fire and Ice

Hockey club wins respect while scoring victories
By Emily Krawczyk • Photos and video by Jeff Myers, Laura Thomas, and Steve Wood
Photo of UAB ice hockey player hitting puck; headline: Fire and Ice
Hockey club wins respect while scoring victories
By Emily Krawczyk • Photos and video by Jeff Myers, Laura Thomas, and Steve Wood
The driver waves as his giant red Zamboni finishes its last lap, leaving the rink gleaming and sparkling beneath the jumbotron’s flashing lights. Up in the stands, behind panes of thick glass, a horn alerts a growing crowd of fans to pull on jackets and sweatshirts. Suddenly, they burst into cheers. The players glide onto the ice—first, the maroon-clad Mississippi State Bulldogs, and then the UAB Blazers, led by #16 Cameron Dickinson, flying the green-and-white Blazer flag. The noise level inside the Pelham Civic Center rises as the teams line up on either end of the rink with their sticks ready and skates dug into the ice in anticipation.
In just two years, UAB men’s hockey is drawing crowds and winning big games, which might come as a surprise in a subtropical, football-obsessed state like Alabama. Officially, it is a club sport under UAB Campus Recreation. But Yves Cordeau, the student group’s president, sees Blazer hockey as something more—the beginnings of a new school tradition, propelled by a determination to make UAB a force on the ice. “A few guys with a vision came together and put their hearts and souls into starting a program that would end up being their legacy,” says Cordeau, a business administration graduate student from Syracuse, New York.
Team captain Jakob Hornsby was a freshman when the club began. Today the junior marketing major, who has been on the ice since he was three years old, is captain of the 20-strong group. “We’ve tried to make it better every day,” says Hornsby, #12, whose passion and agility are evident both on and off the rink. It’s not easy to balance 10:00 p.m. weekly hockey practices and weekend games in Pelham with a busy schedule of classes on campus. But he credits his time in the club with clearing the way for opportunities that benefit his education and future career, including interacting with local business leaders who support the sport. “Hockey has been my baseline to help me get where I want to be,” Hornsby says.

Speed and Choreography

The game begins, and the crowd cheers and claps for each slap of the puck and spin on the ice. Adil Patel, a computer engineering graduate student from Minnesota and another original club member, says hockey’s appeal lies in its speed and choreography. “You have the physicality of football but the flow and beauty of basketball,” he says. “A hockey power play is amazing to watch. All five guys have to be on the same page, all controlling the puck. Everyone has to play both offense and defense.”
As coach Steve Cagle, a former hockey player himself, reminds the students of his “four pillars”—discipline, accountability, character, and finishing strong—the Blazers’ illustrate their teamwork and dedication to the sport by slicing through the ice, passing the puck, and outmaneuvering the Bulldogs. The scene takes Patel back to UAB hockey’s first-ever game, also against Mississippi State, in 2015, when the Blazers won 11-10. “The arena was packed out, standing room only, with people chanting, ‘UAB! UAB!’” Patel recalls.
On this night, the cheer of “UAB!” reverberates through the arena again, for another goal against the Bulldogs. The Blazers congratulate each other with backslaps and high-fives, and then quickly prepare for the next play. This season, they have proved that their skill and professionalism match up against an impressive lineup of collegiate competitors including Auburn, Georgia Tech, LSU, and Tennessee. Patel is encouraged by the club’s success. “Recently we beat Auburn at home,” he says. “We use them as our benchmark in skill level. If we can consistently play with and beat them, then we feel good about our program. We are up there with some of the top teams in the Southeast.”
Hornsby credits those opponents, like Auburn, for stoking the growing popularity of ice hockey in Birmingham and Alabama. He says that fans often begin attending hockey games affiliated their favorite football schools and get hooked. “Then they come no matter whom we play,” he says. “You don’t realize just how fun a hockey games until you have been there in person.”

Future Goals

At the buzzer, the rink erupts in cheers once more, celebrating a 4-3 UAB win—the second victory in the Blazers’ doubleheader against the Bulldogs. The rivals congratulate each other on a set of great games and anticipate their next meeting. “I hope to see the club perform at this level for years to come,” says Cordeau, predicting a bright future on the ice for UAB. “We hope to join an official conference within the ACHA [American Collegiate Hockey Association] within the next few years. One thing they look at when considering new members is consistency. We are on their radar now with our current season, and we will need to prove we are able to maintain this success.”
Hornsby shares that optimism. “At the end of the day, you want to have fun, and this is the most fun I have ever had on a team,” he adds. “We stick together through everything.” Pumped up by their victory and the possibilities ahead, the Blazers follow the excited crowd out of the arena, leaving the big red Zamboni to begin its first lap over UAB’s winning ice.

• Follow the UAB hockey club on Facebook and Twitter.

Published April 2018