Air Force grads now have immediate pro hockey options
The dream of playing professional sports for service academy athletes, including Air Force hockey players, was breathed new life earlier this year when a U.S. Department of Defense policy changed.
The shift allows the possibility of joining a pro sports team after graduation instead of waiting two years. It will ease one recruiting disadvantage all service academies have faced, but it won’t be a magic pill for the athletic programs, Falcons hockey coach Frank Serratore said.
“Before, players who played a sport their entire life with the dream of playing at the highest level had to essentially abandon that dream if they went to a service academy,” Serratore said. “Now, they don’t.
“It’s a great thing. We’re already recruiting the best and the brightest for academics and leadership potential. This enables us to recruit some of the best athletically as well.”
Still, the winnowing process from college hockey to the NHL is dramatic.
“A lot of athletes feel they have high-level pro potential,” Serratore said. “The reality is very few do. To me, a higher number of good college athletes isn’t to going to affect the bottom line that much because a very small percentage become high-level pros.”
The possibilities are intriguing for the hockey program, which has had a handful of players with that type of pro potential. Defenseman Greg Flynn developed into an All-American and played a handful of games in the American Hockey League in 2009-10 while stationed near Boston. Goalie Andrew Volkening was a two-time All-Atlantic Hockey pick and a two-time All-NCAA Tournament team pick. And center Brian Gornick was selected by Anaheim in the 1999 NHL Draft and played nearly 90 AHL games.
Athletic director Jim Knowlton told The Gazette in Colorado Springs in July that, though graduates can apply to serve on reserve status instead of active duty, the Air Force would make decisions on a case-by-case basis. An AFA athlete also would need a contract or binding commitment from a sports team, and the athlete’s obligation to fulfill his or her service requirement remains unchanged, though it could take on different dimensions.
“Look at (former NBA star) David Robinson – what a great ambassador for the Naval Academy,” Serratore said. “They could run a thousand commercials, but one photo about him in Sports Illustrated is going to have a dramatic effect on prospective athletes.”
– Chris Bayee