Nineteen-year-old Brent Alexin is no longer special. It's not that he's changed, but the people who surround him have. As far as hockey was concerned, he used to be considered outstanding and there was little competition for the limelight.
Now, however, he is one of many former superstars playing Division I ice hockey, where exceptional talent is expected and competition is fierce. In this atmosphere, Alexin is just another face in the crowd.
During his years at Orchard Park High School, Alexin was definitely "big man on campus." He breezed onto the varsity hockey team as a freshman. He later moved to Canada to play junior hockey for a year before signing to play Division I hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Now that he's on a campus, things have changed. For the first time in years, Alexin has been seeing more of the bench than the ice and is facing the challenge of balancing highly competitive athletics and challenging academics.
"It's tough, the schedule is demanding, but they let you know that when you're going to be a student-athlete that you gotta work on things a little harder, so you set your priorities," Alexin said.
Effective time management is essential. The RIT hockey team has two mandatory workouts and four on-ice practices each week. The team often travels on weekends, so it can be difficult to find time for homework. "My class schedule is based around my hockey schedule," Alexin said. "I don't have Friday classes because of games -- plus I don't take any classes in the afternoons because of practice."
Alexin began skating at age 3. "Brent always wanted to play hockey," his father, Tim Alexin, said in an e-mail. "Except for one of the first learn-to-skate programs we signed him up for, one of the instructors had to pick him up and carry him on the ice to get him out there."
From an early age, Alexin has played with the best. Hockey "was the background of my childhood," he said. He participated in various travel leagues throughout his youth, piling up points no matter what the competition. As a freshman at Orchard Park High School, Alexin played a few games with the junior varsity team before jumping to the varsity squad. "He lasted two or three weeks on the JV and he racked up so many points that it just wasn't fair," said Bill Gehen, Alexin's former coach. "Going into the last week of the season, he was leading scoring for the JV even though he had only played a couple weeks."
While playing at the varsity level is a large commitment in itself, Alexin also played for the Buffalo Saints during high school. In his senior year, he led the city's team to victory in the Scotty Bowman Cup, a showcase of the region's premier players. Alexin scored two goals in the finals. After the tournament, a Buffalo News writer noted that "it should have come as no surprise that a team featuring Alexin earned a victory. The 17-year old has known success and nothing else."
"What's unique about Brent is that it wasn't just about him, he pushed his teammates to be better," Gehen said.
Now that Alexin is at RIT, this attitude has been tested. According to the Web site for RIT Athletics, he has only started in eight of the team's 24 games so far. His two points this season pale in comparison to the 29 he netted last year while playing junior hockey. For the first time in his career, Alexin is not the superstar. However, his loyalty to teamwork has helped him retain a positive attitude. His team is in first place in conference standings.
"You just gotta understand that it was your role before to be the superstar but now you just gotta be a guy that goes out, works hard, and gets stuff done for the team," he said. "The most valuable piece of advice I've been given is -- to just try and have the best attitude that I can," he said.
Brian Willett is a sophomore at the University of North Carolinaat Chapel Hill.