Hockey duo playing together again this summer
Two Wildcats will spend the summer gearing up for next season while playing with other college hockey standouts and professionals in a program based in their home state.
Freshmen and Michigan natives Alex Vazquez and Alex O’Dea have been accepted to play in the Eastside Elite Hockey League for the third straight year. O’Dea, a speedy forward, and Vazquez, a hard-nosed defenseman, saw a large amount of playing time in their freshman season at Arizona.
Before they became Wildcats, Vazquez introduced his longtime junior league teammate O’Dea to Eastside Elite Hockey to improve their chemistry on the ice. Like in the previous three summers, O’Dea and Vazquez will be on the same roster.
“We’re able to be out there against competition that is higher during our season [as Wildcats], which I think will help us a lot,” O’Dea said. “There are a couple times a week you’re playing in a game-like setting. There are real refs and it’s really competitive.”
Arizona hockey forward Alex O'Dea fights for the puck during a game against NAU. O'Dea and defenseman Alex Vazquez will play in the East Side Elite Hockey League in Michigan this summer.
The Eastside Elite Hockey League was founded in the summer of 2008 by Michigan native Steven Olesky, who has spent the past couple of seasons in the Washington Capitals organization. Olesky started the league with just five teams, but it has since expanded to 13.
With players from the junior levels, NCAA Division I, European professional and amateur teams and even the NHL and AHL, there’s a wide array of talent featured in Eastside Elite Hockey.
In order to get into the league, players must apply. After the potential players are approved by Olesky, he creates rosters for each team based on ability and experience. Applicants can request to be on the same squad, which is how O’Dea and Vazquez have been consistently paired together.
“There are guys who will take it end to end, use spin moves and put the puck through their legs and put a spin on the goalie,” Vazquez said. “That’s the cool thing about it, though, because playing with those guys makes you better.”
Running from June through early August, two regular season games are played each week over six weeks with playoffs and a league championship to end the season, according to Vasquez. All contests are held at the Mount Clemens Ice Arena in Mt. Clemens, Mich.
Vazquez and O’Dea said that regular season play is more laid-back; however, once playoff time rolls around, everyone gives their full effort as the teams begin to chase the championship.
“In the beginning, you’re coming out of that restful period before training starts and then it’s like boom, boom, boom,” Vazquez said. “Passes are crisp, there’s lightning speed coming from the pro guys and then it’s awesome to see where you’re at as a player.”
The Eastside Elite Hockey League has several rules that differ from the American Collegiate Hockey Association Men’s Division I level Arizona is in.
There are no coaches for the Eastside Elite Hockey squads, but Vazquez noted that some will play in the league to scout younger players. O’Dea said that Sean Hogan, UA head hockey coach and a Michigan native, came out to watch some of the games last summer.
Since participants primarily belong to other clubs, hitting is illegal in the league. Also, unlike the ACHA, players are not required to wear facemasks on their helmets.
Vazquez said that he won’t be wearing a facemask because he’s comfortable with how experienced the competition is. Meanwhile, O’Dea said he has a completely different idea for his bucket.
“I plan on either wearing the full bubble or cage because taking a puck to the face doesn’t feel good,” O’Dea said. “I don’t want to put my face at risk and then, of course, my mom doesn’t want to deal with that dentist bill either.”
O’Dea and Vazquez said that they will return to Arizona this fall as sophomores. The Wildcats will open up the 2014-15 season Sept. 27, in Flagstaff, Ariz., against NAU.
—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo