Big Commitment To Hockey Worth It To Players

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Big commitment to hockey worth it to players

L.J. Sanchez’s alarm clock rings at 6 a.m. every weekday. He has plenty to do before he goes back to bed at night, but such is the life of a high school hockey player.

A senior at Wallkill, Sanchez gets early release from school at 1 p.m. He then has five hours to study or get in some offseason baseball work before getting in the car for the one-hour drive to Brewster for practice with the Brewster Bulldogs, members of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

Three times a week, Sanchez will be on the ice for a one-hour practice at 9:20 p.m., be back in the car around 11 and home by midnight.

On the weekends, he travels all over the Northeast for Bulldogs games, but he also plays for Orange County West, a member of the Hudson Valley High School Ice Hockey Association. That means he’ll sometimes play two games a day for two different teams at two separate locations.

The Bulldogs are having a strong season (22-10-1), and Sanchez, a goalie, is 6-6 with a 3.51 goals-against average and a .874 save percentage. Orange County West, however, has struggled and is 2-5-3.

"There’s no better feeling than squaring up a baseball and hitting it," Sanchez said. "But day-in and day-out in hockey that adrenaline rush you get when the game starts makes it worth it."

Tim Conlin, a sophomore at Wallkill, is a center for Orange County West. He also plays for the Hudson Valley Polar Bears and his schedule is just as hectic as Sanchez’s.

"The most I ever had was, I think, nine games," Conlin said of his busiest weekend. "We had games on Long Island, then we had to come back up to Ice Time (in the Town of Newburgh). The next morning, we went back down to Long Island and came back up to Ice Time in the afternoon."

Conlin isn’t old enough to be doing the driving, so the travel is all part of the fun.

"Even if it’s far away on Long Island or something, on the way home we’ll always stop and find some good food," Conlin said. "We’ll try to find some of those little out-of-the-way places that not a lot of people know about but have really good food. It’s just a lot of fun."

Sanchez has been accepted to Boston College and Northeastern University. He plans to major in economics or business and someday wind up in sports management.

An athletic scholarship appears out of the picture, but Sanchez expects to remain involved in club and intramural athletics.

"I would say that if I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a single thing I’ve done," Sanchez said. "I’ve never had as close of friends as I’ve had with the guys on my hockey team.

"This year, we have a kid from Florida and another one from Denmark on the team. I never would have met them or become friends with them if I didn’t play hockey."

Conlin still has a few years before he has to make a decision about what to do after high school, but he plans on sticking with hockey in the meantime, even if it doesn’t result in an athletic scholarship or a spot on a high-profile travel team.

"I just love hockey. It’s tons of fun," he said. "There’s not one thing I don’t like about it. Whether we’re losing 12-0 or winning 13-0, it doesn’t matter. Either way, I’m still getting a chance to play the game."

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