The RunDown

The RunDown

Liam Freel Follows Passion Out West

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In early March, River Dell’s Ice Hockey team was ready to blow through the first round of the state tournament. This was especially true for one player in particular: senior captain and goalie Liam Freel. Unfortunately, the team dropped the game 2-1 officially ending their season.

For most seniors this would be the end of their sport career, but for Liam it was only the beginning.

Unlike most seniors, Liam is following his dream of playing hockey after high school. Not at a college, but in the Juniors Program. Juniors is a league that allows 16-20 year old hockey players to perfect their skills so they can continue their careers at the collegiate or professional level.

At the age of two years old, Liam’s grandfather, Stephen Devaney, helped him put on his first pair of ice skates. That first pair of blades would ultimately lead Liam to his life-long passion.

Since Freel was fourteen, and first learned what Juniors was, he felt as if it was “his calling” to play rather than attend a four-year college after graduation. His end all goal is to be able to play to the highest level possible, and this year will allow him to grow and develop as a goalie.

The process of playing Juniors is just as intense as going to college, some may even argue it is harder. The first step is to be recruited or picked up by a team. There are teams all over the country. Liam in particular was looking to play in states such as North Carolina, Virginia, and even Florida.

After being picked up by a team, it does not stop there. Now you must worry about living. It is rare that you see families pick up their entire lives and move to where their child is playing for only a few months. Instead, there is a thing called a billet family. These are people that take a player in and give them a home while they are playing hockey. The rules and conditions vary from house to house, so you won’t know what is expected of you until you talk to one.

Although Freel had his heart set on playing Juniors, it took him a bit of time to get his parents on board with him. Liam explained, “Everyone questioned my decision, no one had been able to truly understand it. But, eventually both supported what I want to continue with even though it is scary for them; sending me off to live with another family and not being able to see them as much.”

Freel continued, “My guidance counselor has been on the same page with me since the beginning by just making sure this is what I want to do and that this is the right decision for me, but at the end of the day, it is the support you get within yourself rather than the outside.”

Liam’s guidance counselor, ¬¬¬Brian DiUbaldo, shared how it was very evident that Liam was going to go the route of Juniors, when he first came into a college planning meeting and suggesting this instead. DiUbaldo shared that the success of Juniors for a player “is driven been their ability, passion for the sport, and a clear thought-out goal.” This was everything Liam displayed when talking about it. He came up with a plan, he knew what he wanted and had to do if going about this way, which shows the dedication and commitment he has.

Throughout the upcoming year, Liam’s overall goal is to take the next steps to play at the higher level, such as growing physically and strategically. He hopes to see himself playing at Ohio State University after Juniors because a lot of his family lives out there.

As of March 12th, 2024, Liam has signed with the Lake Tahoe Lakers who are based out in California. He will be moving out to California in the middle of August to play hockey and take online community college courses to gain credits for when he is ready to go to a four-year college.

Hockey is so much more than just a game to Liam. “If you were to ask me what I would do without it I wouldn’t know what to tell you. It’s a game I love and want to keep playing, and I am not ready to hang the skates up yet.”

Although he is ready to take on the challenge, he is going to miss his home and family very much. Through it all he plans to keep a positive mindset, he shared “even if it doesn’t work out in the end as I hoped it would, I know that I tried and would never get an experience or memories like I would anywhere else.”

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