Most teenagers in North Carolina grow up dreaming of playing ACC basketball.
Spencer Albright’s passion is hockey.
Albright, an eighth grader at Western Alamance Middle School, is a goalie with the Greensboro Stars 14U Bantam travel team, and prefers snagging slap shots on the ice instead of taking jump shots on the hardwood.
“It’s not scary depending on who is shooting,” Albright said of pucks being blasted in his direction. “Even if it’s coming at your face, I feel like I’m protected everywhere. I’ve never really gotten hurt other than bruises. I feel confident when the puck is coming at me. It’s when it’s not coming at me that I feel bad because it’s headed for the net and that’s not a good feeling for a goalie.”
Albright’s love for the sport started roughly six years ago when he went to see a Hurricanes game in Raleigh.
“I went to a game the year they won the Stanley Cup and I loved it. I wanted to play because it seemed like fun,” said Albright, who lives in Union Ridge just outside of Burlington where his bedroom is filled with hockey memorabilia, equipment and trophies he’s collected in the last five years.
After looking up different hockey clubs and teams on the Internet, Albright found that the Greensboro Youth Hockey Association was his closest option. That has meant long drives to practice two and three times a week, in addition to weekend tournaments in Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina. The Stars are playing in a tournament in Pineville this weekend.
Albright’s parents, Jane and Andy Albright, have spent a lot of time driving their son around to pursue his NHL aspirations.
“I couldn’t do it without my parents and it does take some planning,” said Albright, whose favorite player is Carolina goalie Cam Ward. “My mom makes sure I’ve always got my gear packed up and ready to go. There are some weeks where they have things going on too, so we get creative when it comes to getting me where I need to be.”
In the fall, Albright, who was the starting tight end for Western Alamance’s Middle School football team, had even longer days and nights.
“He knows he has to hold up his end of the bargain with grades, behavior and everything,” Jane Albright said. “We’ve always said if he does what he is supposed to do then we don’t mind helping him with his hockey schedule. It’s important to him so we want him to play.”
On hockey days, Albright got up around 6:30 a.m., went to school, practiced football and headed straight to hockey practice from there. After hockey practice ended, he got home around 10 p.m., completed homework and school projects and went to bed around 11 p.m.
Coach Michael Hutcheon of the Stars said Albright’s weekly commutes to practice and games puts him in a unique position most hockey players don’t face.
“I’ve been out to his house and he has a long trek to come to Greensboro regularly,” Hutcheon said. “He’s been a pleasure to coach this year and we’ve enjoyed having him on the team. He’s very patient when he’s in net. He kind of waits the shooters out. He’s had a lot of success and a lot of good games. He’s had a really good season.”
The Stars’ season entails roughly 40 games – regular season and tournaments. The season starts in late August and wraps up during the first part of March.
In 22 starts this season, Albright had an 10-11 record with four shutouts, averaged 17.5 saves per game, posting a 88.2 percent save average while allowing 2.3 goals against average.
“My friends at school think it’s pretty cool, especially with me playing goalie,” Albright said. “Most of them haven’t ever seen a hockey game in person. The ones that have think it seems pretty hard because of the skating involved and the speed of play.”
Once the season ends, it’s hard for Albright to practice. Albright wants to move to Michigan or Canada to play hockey before he turns 18. He would like to play NCAA hockey or get drafted by an NHL team. For now, Albright will have to settle for as much ice time as he can muster until he convinces his parents to let him move to a more hockey-friendly environment.
“If I could spend the whole summer playing hockey I would do it,” Albright said. “I go to a few camps each summer, but I don’t get that much training in the offseason. There’s not that much you can do in the summer here that involves goalie stuff other than working out. My main ice time comes during the season with practice and games.”