The three college students stand in the cold outside their apartment waiting to leave. Someone is late, too late in fact, and this group is in a hurry. Cell phones start to emerge from pockets. Jake Collins tries to call the teammate one more time but gets no answer. They will have to leave him behind. Hockey practice awaits, and it’s an hour away.
Collins, with teammates Jon Lovorn and Jerry Jordan, makes the long drive to the Pelham Civic Center, a trip that has become routine for them. Each Monday and Wednesday, Alabama’s club hockey team, the Frozen Tide, practices for an hour and a half. Add in the time spent for travel, dressing out and showering after and they will spend four hours dedicated to hockey twice a week.
“I think it’s one of those things, if you don’t choose Greek life, you feel like you don’t really have a source of a big network of friends,” said Lovorn, a junior biology and pre-med major,. “Also, once you play hockey for 15 years, it’s in your blood. You always want to be doing it.”
Scheduling can be one of the biggest challenges the players face, which is why fellow teammate Andre Morard missed his ride that evening. As Honors students, Collins and Lovorn have the benefit of priority registration, but many players cannot avoid a class conflict.
“We’ll have a few guys that’ll have a class that ends at about 7 p.m. and they’ll be rushing to get to the rink,” said Collins, a senior civil engineering major. “That’s sometimes tough for them, but it’s one of the huge benefits of being in Honors.”
In addition to practices, the team plays all of its games on the weekends and often has to travel on Fridays before playing a game that night. The team had seven road trips this year including a 733-mile trek to Morgantown, West Virginia, where the team opened their first season at the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I level with two wins over the Mountaineers.
Collins has grown with the program over the past four years. He sees his role on team as “The Dad.”
“I’ve always taken the sport pretty seriously because that’s just how I am,” he said. “I try to bring that sort of constant to the table. And at the same time I do my best to keep my ears open to anything that’s going on — on and off the ice — and address it if it’s a problem.”
As president of the club, Collins is responsible for scheduling all of the team’s games. The team has a coaching staff, but they are all volunteers with jobs of their own. Since moving to Division I, the team is now independent and not aligned with any of the six leagues, which makes for some difficult scheduling.
Most teams will set up home-and-home series, where they play two games at home and two games on the road with the others in their league. As an independent team, Alabama does not have that luxury. They have to fit in around their desired opponents’ previous commitments.
“That’s something that’s taken a lot of maneuvering, but it also gives us a little bit more freedom to try to schedule whoever we want, which has been kind of nice,” Collins said.
The other challenge is that most larger programs have a full-time staff member that helps with scheduling and the team’s administrative needs. Collins often finds himself, at 21 years old, negotiating a schedule with men in their 40s who have been scheduling for over a decade.
Over the summer he spent his break hard at work preparing for the season. Collins would put in three or four hours a day booking hotels and ordering team equipment. The work didn’t stop when classes started though. Collins stays busy during the season as well.
“Pretty much any time I get a break in class I’m answering emails or filling out random forms for things like going on road trips,” he said.
The program is growing and trying to navigate through the proper process with the university. Collins estimated that the average attendance for a Frozen Tide game was between 700 and 800, but they drew a crowd of 3,300 for their Iron Cup matchup against Auburn this year.
“We’ve been doing pretty well for attendance this year and ticket prices recently went up from $5 to $8,” Collins said. “I think that goes to show that we have some dedicated fans.”
Collins finishes his career this season and will hand over the president’s role to Lovorn. Collins has tried to keep him involved in everything he’s done this season to prepare him for the task ahead of him.
“Jake’s been a great four-year player for us,” head coach Mike Quenneville said. “He’s been a leader all four years. This year, he took over as the president and had a lot of stuff to do, plus getting [his] education. Then you’ve got Lovorn, who’s coming back as a senior next year, who I think can fit in and do a great job as well.”
Lovorn tries to be a positive influence up and down the bench. He focuses on supporting his teammates and sees more value in his role as a playmaker who serves the team.
“I mean scoring goals is fun,” he said, “but when you set up a teammate for a really nice play and they get to have that enjoyment, it brings some enjoyment to myself as well.”
After hosting the Division III national championships last year, the Frozen Tide closed their inaugural Division I season at 15-16. One of those losses was to Alabama-Huntsville, the only NCAA Division I team south of the Mason-Dixon line, and a second was in the coin-flip that is a penalty shootout. Alabama also matched up with five teams that are currently in the ACHA Top 25.
“There are good things that this program can do, and there’s definitely new heights it can reach,” Lovorn said. “That’s what I’m pushing for.”
Collins expects Lovorn to provide the leadership needed to take the team in the right direction.
“He’s a very organized kid, a smart kid,” Collins said. “He can handle it. It’ll be a good workload, but we’re going to work as much as possible to hopefully get some of that taken off of his shoulders and spread that around. As long as he has a good group of officers like I did, he’s going to do a really good job.”