When asked to define the everyday life and lifestyle of an Air Force Academy hockey player in a few short paragraphs, I would have to initially state that my hockey players are first, and foremost, cadets.
The young men in my locker room have made a decision to attend the Air Force Academy to play Div. I hockey, receive a highly accredited education on a full financial aid package and further develop their leadership skills in preparation for a career in the United States Air Force and beyond.
That being said, the game of hockey has been a big part of their lives since they were little boys, and the passion they possess for the game will likely never change.
I am often asked what we look for in an Air Force hockey prospect. This is a simple question with a complex answer. In short, the young men we recruit must have a lot of things going for them; they must be strong students, good athletes, United States citizens in good standing, be in good health, and be willing to accept a five-year commitment to the Air Force.
I always joke that other than these stipulations, our recruiting is a breeze. Like any business plan, the process begins with a basic philosophy. The easiest way to explain our recruiting philosophy is best explained by a line from Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle,” “we are not necessarily looking for the “best players,” we are looking for the “right players.”
The type of person and player we look for is the classic overachiever; good student, good athlete, outstanding citizen, and a team-orientated person. The young men we recruit generally possess the foresight and maturity to see the “big picture,” where they will be in their lives in five, 10 and even 25 years down the road.
I tell our recruits that their decision to attend the Air Force Academy will set them up for the next 40 years of their lives and not just the next four. In essence, acquiring an Academy degree is acquiring a foundation for their lives and a launching pad for their futures.
Our former players are highly sought after individuals. Our graduates are constantly being recruited by the Air Force to maintain their active duty status while at the same time being heavily pursued by the corporate world for various opportunities in the civilian sector. This is not surprising when you consider the fact that our graduates are pressure tested, have lived under an honor code and have done what their peers at civilian schools either could not do or chose not to do.
Once we educate our recruits and their families on the opportunities at the Air Force Academy and beyond, the interest level usually becomes very high.
In summary, finding the right players for our program is a difficult job, but a job that can be done. The fine young men in our locker room and the championship banners that proudly hang in the Cadet Ice Arena are proof of this.
I could write a book on all the incredible things our graduates have gone on to do in the Air Force as well as the civilian sector. I will share one recent example.
Capt. Mike Polidor is one of our former goaltenders who graduated from the Academy in 2004. As an F-15E pilot who flew during Operation Enduring Freedom, Polidor was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Col. James J. Jabara Award for Airmanship for his heroic actions.
During a nearly eight-hour sortie, he helped coordinate and integrate 19 aircraft and orchestrated precision strikes on the enemy. Low on fuel, executing strikes and performing battle-damage checks for his wingmen, he helped save 72 American and Afghan lives.
On this particular occasion it was Polidor, but in actuality it could have been any number of young men and women who chose to come to the Air Force Academy to play a sport, develop as leaders of character, and defend our nation.
People often ask me how I inspire my athletes. My response to them is simple, “my athletes inspire me!”
In closing, coaching at the Air Force Academy has been an honor and a privilege. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to play a small role in the development of such fine young men who have chosen to serve our country.
Frank Serratore is entering his 15th season as the head coach of the United States Air Force Academy hockey team. He is only the fourth head coach in the 43-year history of the program.