By SCOTT AUST/ Director of Communications
GARDEN CITY — Alex Elchuck could not stop smiling Saturday afternoon.
Surrounded by his parents and local hockey family at the Garden City skate park rink Saturday afternoon, the tall, slender recent Garden City High School graduate’s infectious grin radiated from ear to ear as he prepared to sign a letter of intent to play hockey starting this fall at the University of Jamestown in North Dakota.
“Everyone here has helped me in some way or some form, whether it was hockey or studying math with Nicole. I’m just thankful for everyone that’s part of this program. Thank you,” Alex told the assembled members of the Garden City Hockey club.
Alex, the son of Louis and Isabel Elchuck, plays locally with Garden City Hockey, a group that travels to various adult ice and inline tournaments; and also participates in High Plains Youth Hockey, a non-profit based in Dodge City that operates their program in the fall and takes youth to various ice hockey tournaments.
Alex is the first player to ever go on to play collegiate hockey from the local club.
“I remember Alex’s first time playing hockey out here,” said Shannon Dick, one of the organizers of Garden City Hockey. “He came to the front, I think we did a faceoff, and then he promptly, slowly waddled to the fence and pulled himself around the fence. And that was six years ago. Since then, he has definitely improved. He’s one of the better players and it shows.”
An Early Start
Alex started playing hockey in sixth grade when a friend, Trevor Baier, urged him to come along to the skate park near the Finney County Fairgrounds where the local hockey group practices. Flash forward six years and Trevor was the first person Alex told about being accepted at Jamestown.
“He’s like, ‘Really! No way. When you go pro, make sure you mention me,'” Alex said with a laugh.
Alex’s parents are grateful for the opportunity their son has to pursue his passion for hockey.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s just amazing,” Louis Elchuck said. “He’s worked hard for it and he deserves a shot. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s going to a part of the country that has a big hockey culture so he’s going to be exposed to a lot of hockey.”
Isabel Elchuck said she and her husband are very excited for Alex and the support he has received.
We’re excited for him, but me I’m a little heartbroken that he’s gonna be so far away. But we’re thrilled for him,” she said.
Louis, a New Jersey native, played hockey as a kid and grew up in a hockey culture so he was pleasantly surprised to learn about the local hockey group after moving to Garden City. Isabel, a Garden City native, said the closest hockey before this was watching it on television.
Louis said Alex tried every sport available in Garden City but hockey turned out to be his top sport. And the one he’s most passionate about, Isabel added.
“He loved all of them, but this was his passion,” Isabel said.
Huge for Local Hockey
Seeing one of their own move on to the collegiate level is also a huge milestone for western Kansas hockey and bodes well for the growth of the sport in the area.
Shannon Dick said he’s seen local hockey grow from a group of friends playing in an alley back in the 1990s, to being able to build some teams and get groups of people together to travel and play in inline hockey tournaments in Colorado in high school, to slowly growing Garden City Hockey after he and his wife returned to Garden City about six years ago.
“We are glad to have him here,” Dick said. “He has made us better and hopefully he will carry on the spirit of Garden City Hockey to North Dakota and the University of Jamestown.”
Louis Elchuck said he hopes Alex’s story will show western Kansas kids that it is possible to reach that next level.
“I hope we can encourage the kids in the High Plains Youth Hockey program to keep working. It doesn’t matter what kind of program you come from, you work hard, you like the sport, you keep on playing and this is what can happen,” Elchuck said.
Elchuck said he had never heard of the University of Jamestown, and had never been to North Dakota, before the school contacted the family expressing interest in recruiting Alex after seeing video of him playing. The family sent the school more video and Alex participated in several interviews while the school also checked out his academic record.
Elchuck said hockey is big in Jamestown, and the school has a two-sheet arena and quality facility. The Jimmies play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I.
Elchuck also thanked the adults involved in Garden City Hockey and credited them for making Alex’s opportunity possible. He added that while local hockey programs don’t yet have all the amenities of larger programs in Colorado or Wichita, it’s not been much of a disadvantage.
“I think Alex is pretty lucky to be part of this program because you guys made him the hockey player that he is. From the beginning, you guys weren’t going to take it easy on him, you made him work. You guys made him work for everything,” Louis Elchuck said. “He’d come home and brag about the battles he had with Mike and Shannon and guys like that. You made him earn everything and he learned from you guys. So as he goes on, I think you guys should be pretty proud.”
“It’s really been a journey through struggles like only having ice for three times a month, but I’m so glad that we have this program here to develop skills and kind of further myself and my hockey abilities,” Alex said. “It’s kind of cool to see where I am now compared to six years ago when I started, not being able to skate and now being able to play and have this opportunity at Jamestown.”
Alex said he plans to major in biochemistry when he enrolls at Jamestown this fall.