You could say former Monarch hockey player Blake Bride has gotten accustomed to wearing different sweaters out on the ice.
After an exceptional career with the Coyotes, the Peak to Peak grad chose to go the route of junior hockey — a path many take in order to get stronger and faster for either a professional or collegiate future — and in the two years since graduating Bride has played for three different teams.
He’s lived in the hub that is Boston, played a handful of games for a junior team in Minnesota, and most recently completed the North America Hockey League season with the Odessa Jackalopes in the middle of West Texas. To quote Johnny Cash, he’s been everywhere, man.
But it was a little serendipitous that Bride ended up getting a chance to be seen and heard by representatives from the Air Force hockey team, with whom Bride is committed to for the 2019-20 school year after his third year of junior eligibility is over.
“It really came out of nowhere, but it just kind of got started when I got traded down to Odessa in the middle of the year and with a new team things started to click,” said Bride, who was Odessa’s leading goal scorer in 2017-18 with 22. “One of my teammates was starting to talk to them and really interested, and he was planning a visit, and at the last minute they asked me to come out and visit, too. Just out of the blue, came up out of nowhere.
“Once I started talking to them, and with the visit … I had never really been there before even though it was so close to home. After that, it just really grew on me and really I just couldn’t pass up all the opportunities it offers for your future.”
For Bride, the opportunity to play for the Falcons is another step in what has been an impressive gradual progression through a couple of junior leagues. With the Tier III Eastern Hockey League’s Boston Junior Rangers in 2016-17, Bride racked up 42 points in 47 games, and he played another two games with the Boston Junior Elite Rangers, as well.
He moved up a tier to the Tier II NAHL with the aptly named Minnesota Wilderness and played six games before being traded to Odessa. Unlike a college student-athlete who typically gets to settle in to a new ‘home’ for two or four years, the bouncing around added a little bit of turmoil to Bride’s experience. At the same time, living with several different billets or ‘host families’ also helped him mature, Bride said.
When contacted by the Daily Camera, Bride was actually on vacation back in Boston visiting with the group that provided his housing.
“I wanted to continue my hockey career because I loved it, but moving away from home and everything was different for sure,” Bride said. “Living with a billet family and just living a whole new life, but you’re getting to know new faces and new places and making life-long friends. I’m thankful for all of that.”
Even with the commitment to Air Force hockey in place, Bride has to go through the same application process as that of any straight-out-of-high-school graduate. It’s an obstacle course in itself to get that all figured out, and that’s part of the reason why he’ll take the remainder of the calendar year and play a third season of junior hockey.
In May, Bride was drafted into the Tier I United States Hockey League — the top junior league in the country — going in the eighth round to the Sioux Falls Stampede. It’s another sweater and another destination, but the goal is to physically get stronger and be ready to compete for an Air Force team that has gained strength in Division I hockey in the past 10 years.
“The academic aspect will come into play and I’ll have to prove my worth, so we’re still connecting the dots on that side of things,” Bride said.
“Playing in the NAHL this year, I realized that most of the Air Force players come from that league. I know it’s a group that works their hardest. They may not have all the top talent, but they win because of their work ethic and the heart part. That military background shows through, and I think I fit in with that.”