When Jack Judson headed south to take the next step in his hockey career, it would’ve been fair to suggest that an adjustment period was forthcoming.
After all, not only was the 19-year-old Semiahmoo Peninsula resident making the leap to the NCAA from the junior ‘A’ hockey ranks – he spent the last two seasons playing for the BC Hockey League’s Vernon Vipers – but he also had to acclimatize to a new country, a much larger city and a brand-new team full of players he’d never before met.
Additionally, at his new home at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., he had to plunge back into student life, after a year spent away from the books; his final year with the Vipers served as something of a gap year between his high-school graduation and the start of university.
“Being out of school for a full year, it was a little hard at first, trying to get back into the groove, but we’re almost at the end of the first semester now, so I’m a lot more comfortable with it,” Judson told Peace Arch News last week from his family’s home in South Surrey, where he was spending a few days while on a brief reading break from ASU.
“It’s sometimes hard to balance hockey and school, but I’ve been doing pretty well with it, and I think it’s going pretty good.
Judson, who is a defenceman on the ice and a psychology major in the classroom, said a typical day for him and his teammates includes an early-morning gym session, followed by an on-ice practice. Practice is then followed by an afternoon of classes.
The team – which is relatively new to the NCAA, having only been in action since 2015 – plays its games on weekends. The Sun Devils are an independent team, meaning they don’t play within a conference, which in turn means their road games are scattered all over the country, from Connecticut and Vermont on the east coast, to Colorado and Alaska in the west.
In fact, the team gained a little bit of notoriety in U.S. hockey circles earlier this month when a short video – of Arizona players pushing the team’s bus out of the snow in Alaska – went viral on social media.
Getting the full Alaska experience. pic.twitter.com/3sNDNSDdzN
— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) November 7, 2019
Transportation issues aside, the ASU program has had the same growing pains that any other start-up squad would, though the fact that hockey isn’t exactly a staple sport in the U.S. Sun Belt region also throws a wrinkle into the equation.
Still, Judson was never swayed to take his talents to a more established program. In fact, he committed to the school before he’d even played one period of junior hockey, having agreed to play in Arizona while still a member of the Delta Hockey Academy.
So far this season, ASU has a win-loss record of 6-4, and are starting to gain traction both on campus and throughout the NCAA.
“I think we’re starting to get a lot more respect around the NCAA, and it’s cool to be a part of it, coming in now when we’re just starting to get pretty good,” Judson said.
“It’s pretty cool here. We don’t have the biggest rink, but people always pack it up. It seems like hockey is really starting to grow quite a bit down there, and it’s cool to be a part of something that you can see is heading in the right direction.
“Everyone loves their sports there, and there are pretty great fans for all the university sports, which makes it a lot of fun. We’ve been able to go to a few football games, too, which has been pretty cool.”
Judson’s never-wavering commitment to the team at just 16 years old meant a lot to ASU head coach Greg Powers, too. Earlier this month, he told The State Press – Arizona State’s university news outlet – that Judson “just bought into wanting to come here and build a tradition.”
“The thrills and material stuff like big, nice and new arenas weren’t important to him. He wanted to stay on the west coast and build something special and that’s the kind of kid he is… We’re thrilled to have him,” Powers said.
On the ice, Judson said the number-one difference between the BCHL and the NCAA is the speed of the game, though the size and strength of some of his opponents is a close second.
“It’s a lot faster out there, for sure. And there are a lot of older guys who are 24, 25 years old, so that’s a bit of a challenge sometimes,” said the blue-liner who is listed at six-feet tall and 180 pounds.
As he continues his hockey career in Tempe, Judson expects that he’ll become even more well-adjusted to his new surroundings – both at the rink and beyond. His experience of leaving home at a young age to play in Vernon has helped already, he said.
“I lived with a billet family in Vernon, obviously, but I still kind of had that experience of being away from home, so it’s been a pretty smooth transition, taking care of myself,” he said, adding that his parents came to Tempe to watch ASU’s home-opener in October, and were planning a Christmastime trip, too.
“That first month in Vernon was a bit tough, but I was confident that it would work, and it did.
“I’ve always been a pretty independent person. I’m glad I went through that at a younger age… I’m a lot more comfortable here already, and I know it will only get (better) over the next four years that I’m here.”