Many children grow up playing youth sports, and dream of becoming a professional athlete. Looking up to icons like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Derek Jeter and many others, boys and girls across the country work their hardest just to make it to college, because becoming a professional is typically a far stretch.
However, for two California natives and Castleton State College students, their hard work and dreams finally paid off. Seniors Justin Alonzo and Josh Harris both signed contracts with professional hockey teams quickly after their season came to an end after falling to the rival Cadets of Norwich.
“It was definitely really exciting,” said Alonzo.
Harris headed to the Las Vegas Wranglers to play in the AA East Coast Hockey League for the final month of their regular season, while Alonzo went south to play for Pensacola Ice Flyers in Florida in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“It happened so quickly that I was still bumming about our season being over. The coach pretty much told me what my contract entailed, and I didn’t even read it, I was so excited I just signed it,” Harris said. “I was really excited knowing that I was able to keep playing.”
Both Alonzo and Harris flew out to their team’s just days after their final game to start playing with their new teams as soon as possible. While still enrolled in classes, the boys had to continue their schoolwork while maintaining their busy lifestyle.
“I had practice in the mornings, and then promo’s for my team in the evening, and I had to do the homework my professor’s e-mailed to me at night after that,” Alonzo said.
For Harris, he spent most of his time on the road with his team, allowing for a lot of down time in hotels, where he said he got most of his schoolwork done.
Harris, the Torrance native will be moving closer to his family, which will make it easier for them to watch him play. Since playing hockey at Castleton, his family has only been out twice to see him play. Otherwise, it was viewing the live broadcasts of the games provided.
Alonzo leaves behind his one and a half year old daughter, Maeve, who lives in Massachusetts with his family.
“Wherever I go next year, whether it be Pensacola or anywhere else, it’s going to be really hard to not see her as much as I used to,” he said, “but I’ll try and get her to visit as much as I can.”
The duo made quite an impression at Castleton. Harris had 127 points in his four years with 47 goals and 80 assists. Alonzo had 116 with 34 goals and 82 assists. Alonzo had two assists in his time with the Ice Flyers, while Harris had one goal with the Wranglers. Adjusting to the professional style of play has been a little more difficult for the players.
“It’s a lot different than college hockey,” Harris said. “I used to have regular shifts, now when I mess up I sit the bench for ten minutes.”
Alonzo said that there was a lot more control and that he had a lot more space on the ice, allowing him more time to react.
“I had more time to think about plays and where I wanted to put the puck,” Alonzo said.
Harris described it much like any other type of job.
“Your coach shouldn’t have to tell you what to do. You have to know your role on the ice If you want to continue to play. If you want to keep your job, you have to play well, or you’ll get fired. The coach shouldn’t have to tell you how to do anything just like in the real world.”
They aren’t just partners on the ice, they are also roommates and have been for the past three years. The boys share a small two-bedroom apartment just off campus.
“I think their close friendship and living situation helped with their chemistry on the ice,” said classmate and teammate Brad Barber, “they always knew where each other were on the ice which resulted in them having very successful careers here.”
Alonzo and Harris came back from playing in the beginning of April. Since then, the Wranglers ended their season on April 14 after falling to the Stockton Thunder in game seven of quarterfinals. The Pensacola Ice Flyers went on to win the Presidents Cup for the first time in franchise history, after defeating the Huntsville Havoc. Coincidentally, the Havoc is the team of two former teammates of the boys and former Castleton students, Nick Lazorko and Stuart Stefan.
“It would have been really exciting to play in the playoffs with my team, especially to play against Stu and Nick,” Alonzo said.
Both of the boys would like to continue playing with the same teams, but said they are willing to go anywhere to play.
“It was overall a really good experience, I got paid to play hockey and live on the beach,” Alonzo said, “what more could I want?”