January 4, 2013
Moving Forward Without Alber
Patch Alber didn't expect to be 10 rows up in section M of the Conte Forum Wednesday morning as his teammates practiced down on the Kelley Rink ice. "But it was just one of those things," he said as he pumped ice water through the brace on his damaged right leg and described the off-ice warm-ups before the big game in Minneapolis last Sunday night. "I kicked a soccer ball just like we have all done before every other game, but I just landed wrong. It could have happened to anybody."
But, it didn't happen to anybody. The damaged meniscus belongs to Patch Alber, the undersized senior defenseman who is one of the true success stories coming from the Boston College hockey program over the past four years. As a "recruited walk-on" Alber came to Boston College without a scholarship and without any kind of promise that he would see any ice time. He was the unknown guy with a funny name, a spare part among the four freshmen defensemen new to BC that year (Dumoulin, Samuelson, Wey- all big name recruits.) For the first part of his freshman year he watched the games from a seat in the bleachers, not far from where he sat Wednesday morning. He was given a locker, a high number and nothing else but an offer to show what he could do in practice. Now as a senior he has a scholarship and has been a respected leader on the Boston College blueline
"I had to work for everything," he said proudly. But then Tommy Cross got injured, Patrick Wey got sick and Patch Alber started showing up on the score sheet and it continued right through two National Championships and a number one national ranking this year up until his injury. "I've been very lucky," he said.
That first game for him was at home against Boston University, obviously a pressure situation. Alber says he knows what his replacement Sunday night, freshman Travis Jeke was feeling. "I remember my first game and my nerves were really going. I am sure Travis felt the same way Sunday night. But now all he has to do is be smart, make the simple plays, make the five-foot pass and go from there. That's exactly what I did and I think Travis can do it too."
Alber thinks that his BC teammates can go on without him because "we get a lot of people here who can play good hockey." He thinks the freshman defensemen can fill in for him, at least until he is able to play again "in the NCAA regionals," he predicts. (Remember, in Boston College hockey talk, the season starts in October and doesn't end until April.)
"I expect the freshmen will step up," he said, "just like I did when Tommy Cross got hurt. They just have to play up to their potential. I have complete faith in all the guys in the lineup and we can just roll from here."
Of those freshman defensemen, Alber said "you know Mike Matheson speaks for himself on the ice. Right now he just has to remember to play within himself and not try to do too much, just because I got hurt. That's very important now that he will be playing more with the other freshmen defensemen.
"Teddy Doherty will get to play a lot more minutes now and I have a lot of confidence in him," he said. "He sees things on the ice, sort of like Johnny Gaudreau. He sees the whole ice very well. Now he will have to play a more defensive roll and use his smarts like I did, because he isn't real big. Don't try to wrestle in the corners with a guy the size of Kevin Hayes, but play your position right and get your stick in the right position at all times. That's the learning curve for a small defenseman going from juniors to the college ranks.
"Colin Sullivan is big, strong kid," he said. "The more he plays, the more he will learn. We all learn most from our mistakes. And Travis Jeke will be getting his feet wet right away. Minnesota was a tough eye-opener. I'm very excited to see how they all respond."
Alber has been told that following Tuesday morning's arthroscopic surgery it will be 12 weeks until he is ready for a game, but for now he predicts he will be back sooner than that. "At least it wasn't an ACL or some other structural damage. They say that the first six weeks are non-weight bearing, so I will be on crutches," he said. "But after that I can walk and then jog and slowly work on conditioning." Obviously he expects that these freshmen defensemen will be keeping his seat warm until his return.
If he doesn't make it back in time, Alber looks forward to next year, when he hopes to be playing hockey somewhere. If not, he would be interested in a career in finance "Like Matt Lombardi, Matt Price, and Andrew Orpik. Maybe we can start our own firm."
It won't be easy leaving the Boston College scene, however. "There's a culture here that Jerry York has developed. I talk to other players around the country and I don't think any place has a community like we do, where everybody hangs out together like a family and it doesn't matter if you are a senior or a freshman. I can't tell you how many text messages I got from everywhere after I got hurt.
"Jerry has gotten everyone to buy into this culture we have here. Nobody is looking for personal accomplishment. It all starts with the coach," he said. "There isn't a classier guy in all of college sports.
"I came out of surgery yesterday morning and it wasn't long before Coach and Mrs. York were there for a visit."
NOTE: Patch Alber's hometown is Clifton Park, New York, just a few miles south of Saratoga Springs. Besides growing up a big New York Yankees fan "My dream is to eventually own a horse," he said. "Last summer all my senior teammates and their families came to visit and I took them all to the races in Saratoga. I've been going to the races since I was in diapers. Now that's was an exciting day."
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