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Local hockey team in Denver today for USA Hockey National Championships

By Caleb Odom (caleb@themadsonrecord.com)

The life of a travel hockey player from Alabama is full of road trips, hotel rooms and weekend practices.

The 14U AA Alabama Thunder Hockey team is coached by Jared Ross, a UAH player who played for the Philadelphia Flyers and views this program as a pathway from him to give back to a southern hockey town that has been good to him.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” Ross said.

“Huntsville is obviously well-known for hockey. It’s been around for a long time. I knew once I got done that this was something that I was going to be doing. With my kids, I have two boys, they both play obviously helped me make a decision to get back involved and start helping the community out.”

The Thunder are the top 14U team in the state of Alabama and they have a trip to Denver, Colo. on the schedule for Wednesday, March 29 for the Tier II USA Hockey National Championships.

“We are excited representing Alabama and going to a national-level tournament,” Ross said.

“It is obviously an honor to represent the state and do that. Being the best 14U Double A team in the state is obviously something that we are excited about.”

In Denver, the Thunder will play three games in a preliminary round followed by a qualifying round that is single-elimination.

For a program that has played over 50 games and traveled to places like Chicago, Phoenix and Columbia S.C. along with stops at Nashville and Atlanta, this journey to Colorado is something that the players are looking forward to.

“For these kids, there is a lot of hype for them and a lot of energy behind going up there and competing against teams that they have never seen before,” Ross said.

“We are playing a couple of teams from Montana and different areas were they haven’t seen a lot of hockey as well so it’s going to be fun to play against those types of teams that are really high level.”

Life on the road for the Thunder is also full of opportunities to bond as well with team meals and activities like Top Golf.

This age group is also where some players have already hit a growth spurt while others might still be on the small side.

“They all compete real hard all of the time,” Ross said.

“They are bring different aspects to our team play that contributes to our success.”

It is Saturday, March 25 and the Thunder are taking part in a practice before the trip next week.

Pucks are smacking here and there off of the boards as Ross has the team going through their paces.

The coach barks out orders in between shrill whistles for different drills.

Ross takes time to draw up plays on the whiteboard for the team to work on.

The Thunder coach glides around the ice chomping on some gum with a relaxed gaze of someone firmly in control of the situation.

For this team that was built from Huntsville and Birmingham-area kids, the stage will be massive up in the Rockies, but they have coaches who believe in them and parents who support them through it all.

All that remains for the Thunder is to go up there and show everyone what north Alabama hockey is all about.

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