In the decade since Aeros left Houston, the city did not have an ice hockey team to root for. That is, until last May when UH Club Hockey announced its first-ever season.
While the club brings hockey back to the city, which is what club captain and President James Calderone wanted to do, it also brings its founder a second chance to finish out his hockey career.
A 2020 high school graduate, the pandemic and the shutdown that came with it threw a wrench into Calderone’s plans of finishing out his high school hockey career on a strong note.
“There was always like a little part of it. It’s like wow, I never really got to like finish my career. And I didn’t. That’s not the reason why I started this at all, but there I did feel something when I got back on the ice — like wow, my whole senior year, it’s almost building off of that,” Calderone said.
Calderone started playing hockey when he was five years old, watching his two older brothers. His father, also a fan of the sport, was another major influence on Calderone.
“It’s just such a big part of my life,” Calderone said, “that I figured it’s almost like you can’t live without it.”
Having grown up in Minnesota, moving to Houston to attend UH brought a drastic change in scenery for Calderone, who was used to hockey being an instrumental part of his surroundings.
“In Minnesota, there are like, four rinks within five miles of my house. And here there are only four rinks in a city of two and a half million,” he said.
But the city’s lack of a team did not deter him. For Calderone it was a “wide net of opportunity” and he worked to find people like him — who loved the sport and wanted to play it.
“I did put out flyers, I was like, ‘anyone (who) wants to start up a club hockey team, here’s my number. Here’s my email, please reach out,’” Calderone said. “And I’d say within a week I have like seven or eight people signed up. And then we gradually got more over the summer.”
The hockey club hit the ground running in May and has had a challenging couple of games since the season began this fall.
“The skill level varies a little bit, there are some kids that were playing on a competitive juniors team last year,” Calderone said. “Then there are some kids that put on skates like three months ago for the first time.”
Despite the steep uphill battle that the club faces in its first year, the act of building a team and the bonds that come with it has made this experience fulfilling for Calderone.
“Hopefully those bonds build will translate to chemistry on the ice and again, just a solid group of guys that enjoy hanging out with one another,” Calderone said. “At the end of the day, we won’t always be hockey players, but we’ll always be friends.”