By (Lucas Nunn)

In Canada, hockey is king of all sports. Some would even go as far as calling it a religion. Hockey in Canada mirrors football in the South. Alabama club hockey coach John Bierchen is aware of the hockey culture in the North, and has recruited players from there. This season, two of the Canadians on the team, Jeremy Hannah and Taylor Joseph, have already made a tremendous impact on the team.

The duo of forwards is leading the team in goals this season, and Joseph has a point (goal or assist) streak lasting 12 games. It is not just their nationality that makes them good hockey players. Most Canadians who aspire to play hockey at the college level also play junior-professional hockey, or “juniors” for short, right out of high school to help them prepare for the next level.

“I think we, as Canadians, bring a different feel to the team,” Joseph said. “We all played juniors in different places and that experience helps.”

There are some downsides to playing juniors. A player may not be in school during that time and live far away from home. The real-world experience provides an opportunity to develop not only as people, but as athletes.

“It gave me a chance to mature and still play the game and have fun,” Hannah said. “The juniors coaches also mentor you because they know you are not in school.”

The hockey club is not the only thing that the Canadian players enjoy about living in the South. It also gets them out of the cold weather that winter brings, which they are so used to growing up in.

“It is weird that it is 78 degrees outside in the middle of November, but I like it, though. I can wear shorts and a t-shirt to class,” Hannah said.

A lot of people native to the South have been complaining about the extreme heat this year, but Joseph has a different perspective.

“People at home have snow now and I don’t miss that at all,” Joseph said, “I’d rather sweat walking to class than freeze.”

The Alabama hockey club currently plays in the first division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). Bierchen has big plans for the Alabama hockey program and he is very glad to see the success of these students who transferred here from Division III NCAA schools.

“They’ve had a really good year so far transferring from their previous programs to our programs,” Bierchen said.

Bierchen plans to go forward and continue to grow the program with these athletes who are not necessarily Canadian, but have played juniors. It just so happens that those players are more likely to be Canadian than not.

“Going forward our target student athlete is someone who is older and has gone through a longer season,” Bierchen said. “It is proven those guys are more successful.”

The same methods Bierchen is implementing in recruiting are the same methods used by schools with NCAA hockey programs. Eventually getting an NCAA program here at UA is something that Bierchen hopes to achieve.

“Hopefully one day sooner than later the University [of Alabama] recognizes we are representing them well and that we can take that next step to become an NCAA program,” Bierchen said.

Joseph’s father, Curtis, is a former NHL goalkeeper who had an impressive career. Bierchen believes that Curtis sending his son to school here to play hockey says a lot about the state of the program.

“People who have had success in hockey their entire life recognize that Alabama is a good place to send their kid to grow as a hockey player and as a person, “Bierchen said. “I think that speaks highly of our program and university.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports