Alabama hockey important to large community
Published 11:56 am Friday, October 2, 2015
By BRIAN OGDEN / For the Reporter
There’s an old saying, “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out,” but this time the fight sparked much more than a hockey game. It gave Doug Shoe a name for his son.
When the Alabama Frozen Tide faced Ole Miss last year, Shoe was in the crowd for his favorite Alabama hockey moment. Ole Miss’ Matt Obstarczyk took a run at the Tide’s goalie Tommy Condon. At that moment, the Tide’s 5-foot-11-inch defenseman Casey Donegan got involved, taking the 6-foot-2-inch Rebel to the ice and winning the scrap.
“When the referee got a hold of Casey Donegan to go put him in the penalty box, Casey brushed off both sleeves and shot two fingers like pistols as he was going into the penalty box,” Shoe said, “From that moment on, I’ve been an Alabama hockey fan.”
The Frozen Tide was founded as a club hockey team in 2005 and has seen growing interest and support from the community. The team averages 1,000-1,500 people at their games and regularly draws excess of 3,000 people for the Auburn game.
After seeing Donegan defend his goalie at the Ole Miss game, Shoe decided the defenseman would make a good namesake for his son. The Shoe family is expecting twins – one boy and one girl. Shoe is three-quarters Irish and wanted to find Irish names for his children; his son will be named Donegan Michael Shoe.
“That perfectly fit,” Shoe said. “The boy’s coming. He needs to be Donegan. He needs to be tough just like Casey Donegan. He might be smaller than everybody else but he will not put up with crap from anybody.”
Senior captain Jake Collins said the dedication of the fans surprises him most. He was stunned when he heard Shoe would be naming his child after one of Collins’ teammates.
“When I heard about it, I was just like, ‘Wow, this really means something to a lot of people,’” Collins said.
Those dedicated fans don’t let a road game keep them from tracking the Tide. Kendall Grayson calls the Tide’s games for the radio broadcast the team streams online.
“My broadcast typically will have between 300 and 750 people tune to each game to support the team,” Grayson said. “Our season opener this year saw a 197 percent increase of broadcast listeners from our season opener last season.”
Patrick Lynch is one of those listeners. From his home in North Alabama, driving to home games in Pelham would take two hours, too far to do so regularly.
“It means a lot,” Lynch said. “It gives you access to while the games are going on like it would with Alabama football and Eli Gold. It’s a different level, but just to be able to hear the play-by-play and everything brings you able to be closer when you can’t be there.”
For home games, Shoe likes to sit behind the visitor’s penalty box so he can “rouse up” the opponents when they’re sent off the ice. He tries to make every game because he feels as though he is a part of it.
“The fan support from the city of Pelham has grown a ton,” Collins said. “And then even student support has grown. It’s a little more slowly because of the drive, but our fan support in Pelham has been awesome.”
Part of the fans devotion comes from the athletes’ openness and interactions with the fan base. The team signs autographs after their games and often talks to fans before and after practice. Collins said that the fans, especially young children make playing for Alabama fun.
“They think you know that you’re a professional athlete or something and that’s something that’s really cool for all the guys to get to experience,” he said.
The fans support the Tide in more ways than one. Though the team does not formally recruit, Collins said students interested in playing who visit are often drawn to Alabama because of the support.
“That’s a huge deal to people, knowing that when they play hockey in college, they’ll have people there watching them and cheering them on,” he said.