Thursday, March 6, 2014

RPI's CLASS Act

On the cusp of playoff hockey, I'd like to take some time to recognize a player who's up for a national award. I'd support an Engineer up for a major award anyway, but this one is deserving of some extra attention.

Brock Higgs is a competitor, and a heck of a hockey player. He has rarely been out of the lineup for the Engineers when he's been healthy, and even more, he's certainly played a number of games while banged up, especially last season. That's the mettle of a true warrior of the game right there. We've all seen the stories of professional players, especially in the playoffs, getting stitched up after suffering an injury, missing maybe a shift or two, and then getting right back out there on the ice. That's the kind of competitor Brock Higgs has proven himself to be.

But then again, some injuries you don't just bounce right back from. Some you are lucky to bounce back from at all.

I'll never forget December 30, 2010, and neither will Brock or anyone in his family. In the 2nd period of a game in Huntsville, Ala. against the UAH Chargers, Brock was nearby as Chase Polacek was tripped up near center ice by Keenan Desmet. Polacek was upended, and his skates went high into the air, catching Higgs along the neck. It was nobody's fault. But if hockey is a game of inches, so too can life be a game of inches. Polacek's skate just missed hitting Brock's carotid artery and his jugular vein, either of which could have ended his life had they been punctured.

As it was, Brock was still bleeding pretty badly. He was fortunate that there were UAH fans in the house, season ticket holders, who were medical professionals who knew right away what had happened, and rushed to help out. He was fortunate that a teammate, Alex Angers-Goulet, was a pre-med student who could also recognize the severity of the situation, and even went back with him to the locker room to help keep him calm (as an aside, Alex is in med school today and his brother, Matt, is going into the orthopedic surgery field in Quebec).

I was there that night, calling the game on WRPI. When the game was over, Perry Laskaris and I rushed Seth Appert over to Huntsville Hospital so he could find out more of what had happened to the young freshman who had only just put on the RPI sweater for the first time a couple of months earlier.

I've had the distinct honor of meeting both of Brock's parents, and if you were listening to the RPI-Yale game last weekend, you may have heard my interview with Harold, Brock's father. He recounted that horrible night, but also talked about what has happened since that night as well. His parents never missed a game after that - they'd been to most of them before it, but not all - and we've all seen Brock's comeback on the ice as well. Impressively, he only missed a few weeks worth of games before hitting the ice once again.

No one would have blamed him if he'd have hung up the skates after something like that. But that would completely ignore the passion that burns inside of any competitor. Brock Higgs is more than just a good hockey player. He's an inspiration to anyone who's ever been in a position where they wanted to just quit, even if they had a good reason for it.

On top of his exploits on the ice, Higgs has been a dedicated student, a regular on the dean's list and his summer have been spent in Troy, working not only on his strength but on his mind as well, and he's on pace to graduate this semester with a master's degree.

Brock is more than just a student, and more than just an athlete, he's become part of the community. He helps kids learn the game with the Troy-Albany Youth Hockey Association, and he's been a counselor at the RPI Hockey Camp. He's lent his sweat to Habitat for Humanity, the Newman Foundation, the United Way, and the Relay for Life. He was part of an RPI squad that embraced Ben Mayo and made him as much a part of the team as any who skated in the Cherry and White.

And there's little question that he's been a leader on the ice - that's why he wears a letter on the front of his sweater. This season, he's got his scoring touch back that eluded him through an injury-plagued season last year for the Engineers.

When Brock was announced as a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, a national honor saluting players who exhibit outstanding achievements in the classroom, in the community, and in competition while showing a tremendous amount of character, I was hardly surprised.

I'm certain that the other candidates for this award have compelling stories as well, and are certainly deserving of their candidacies. But I'm just as certain that Brock is the man for the award this season.

It takes about five seconds. Head on over to the Senior CLASS Award website and vote for Brock. You can vote once per day. He's in the lead by a significant margin, but let's see what we can do to boost him even higher. The fan vote online counts for 1/3 of the total vote. At about 33.4% of the vote at the time of this posting, that equates to about 1/9 of the total vote definitely going for Brock. That's a great start heading into the other 2/3 of the voting, which is done by coaches.

Brock Higgs is in the midst of the best season of his career at RPI. Let's do our part to bring it to a great conclusion with a richly deserved honor.

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