On Friday night, when he wasn’t frustrating Notre Dame and sending Air Force to the power play again and again, Blake Bride was darting with the puck around five Irish and still managing to get a good scoring chance.
“I went into the post really hard on that one,” Bride recalled.
The Irish were at home and No. 10 in the country. Seven players on their roster are NHL draft picks. Those odds are nothing compared to what Bride has seen.
Bride, a 21-year-old freshman, didn’t skip a rung on the way up the youth hockey ladder. The smallest and skinniest on most of his many teams, he had to prove himself every step of the way, from Colorado high school hockey to captaining a Clark Cup-winning team.
“There’s not a lot of people who went through all the channels I did, going through every level of juniors, high school, Bantam A two years in a row,” he said. “You get the full experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The Broomfield native went to, and lost, three straight state title games with Monarch High School. He had no expectation of playing higher than Div. III.
“Ain’t many high school hockey players playing Div. I college hockey,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said.
Next up was the Boston Jr. Rangers of the Tier III Eastern Hockey League. Only six other EHL players committed to Div. I programs the year he did.
Then, Bride bounced around the Tier II North American Hockey League, splitting the 2017-18 season between the Minnesota Wilderness and Odessa Jackalopes, where was the leading goal-scorer (22 goals, 25 assists).
Appropriately, he wasn’t even the player Air Force was interested in. His Jackalopes teammate was invited on a visit, and at the last second, Bride was asked to come along. He didn’t expect to like it, but something immediately clicked.
“One thing I do I want to do is help people,” Bride said. “This is the best place I could actually help people. You’re supporting everyone around you. ...The ideology kind of works for me.”
He was drafted in the eighth round of the USHL Draft, and after some hesitancy, went out for the Sioux Falls Stampede. He had the ‘A’ immediately - “Probably because I talk a lot, and I’m older” - and was the captain by Christmas - “People thought I was a fit, don’t know fully why” - en route to a sweep of the championship series, a feat he still can’t fully put words to.
He had 34 regular-season points and scored in the clinching game.
“He’s proven everyone wrong every step of the way,” Serratore said. “I think you’re going to see him continue to make steps as a player.”
Bride clocks in at about 165 pounds, in a three-way tie for lightest player on the Falcons. He said gaining weight is “impossible” for him. Two weeks of constant meals and protein shakes, and maybe the scale will tip ever-so-slightly.
“I have to make it up in other areas,” Bride said. “I have to be smarter, quicker, know how to get out of sticky situations so I don’t get hurt.
“I could definitely catch them by surprise. I think I can stand my ground most times.”
He became the first Air Force freshman to record a point this season on Friday with an assist on captain Matt Pulver’s goal.
He said his teammates know and respect what he’s been through to join their ranks.
“I probably wasn’t good enough. I needed the time to get better,” Bride said.
“I can’t complain looking back now because it worked out.”
Arizona State at Air Force
High expectations surrounded independent Arizona State, fresh off its first NCAA Tournament appearance. But the start to the Sun Devils’ season was no picnic, and they were swept by No. 3 Minnesota State after splitting with Atlantic Hockey's Mercyhurst.
“They’re not going to be in a real pleasant mood being 1-3,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said.
Hobey Baker nominee Johnny Walker leads the team with six points (3 goals, 3 assists).
How to watch
XTRA Sports 1300’s broadcast will begin 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. faceoffs Friday and Saturday. Every home and conference game will be streamed on FloSports.tv. Links can be found on the schedule on Air Force’s website.