Nephew of AFC’s Cheryl Corman has excelled on ice with stick and puck.
Jay Chenault didn’t grow up playing baseball and he didn’t ever play football. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t find a way to flex his athletic prowess. He chose a more unusual sport for Alabama’s warm climate. Chenault said, "No thank you" to the pigskin and "I’ll pass" to the baseball diamond, and instead embraced the ice, stick and puck.
When he was just a toddler, Jay’s mother and aunt would frequently make the 20-minute trek from Decatur to Huntsville to watch the city’s professional hockey team, the Channel Cats, play. It didn’t take long before Jay developed a love of the sport.
"I’ve been playing for 14 years and I became interested when I went to watch the Channel Cats play in Huntsville when I was little," Chenault said. "My mom, my aunt and myself would pile up in the car and go watch them play a lot. I started playing as soon as I was old enough."
So at the tender age of three years old, Chenault had his first shot at playing the sport he loved, which he confirmed would be just as chaotic as you’d imagine.
"When you’re that young, you just suit up in your pads and they put you on the ice," he said. "The practices at that age were mostly used to teach the players to skate. The games were really just a bunch of kids falling on each other and trying to hit the puck around while the coaches have to help them."
But it didn’t take Chenault long to catch on, thanks to a little help from one of his Channel Cat friends.
"I picked it up pretty quickly," he said. "Sometimes after the Channel Cats games they would allow you to go out and skate. We knew one of the players pretty well and he taught me to skate a lot better; I picked it up pretty fast after that."
Chenault not only picked it up quickly, he took his talent all the way to the top. In April, his team, the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association Midget travel hockey team, competed in the 2010 USA National Championship in New York, an honor that is but a dream for many amateur hockey players. Chenault said after winning each game in the three-game State Championship tournament, their team advanced to the national contest.
Although Chenault, who typically plays defense, has been playing hockey for a while, he said this year’s team seemed to work together exceptionally well, helping them to achieve the goal of playing in the National Championship.
"I don’t think any of our players had been to Nationals, so we were all really excited about it," he said. "This is what we dreamed about as kids.
"We were all really hyped-up about competing and this year was different because we worked together really well as a team; we bonded real quickly."
Working together well only goes so far before the need for talent comes into play and Chenault said there were areas where his team excelled.
"Our team is really fast; we’ve got a lot of speed," he said. "Most of our team has been playing hockey since we were kids and we’ve all been playing together for a while. Hockey is our lives; we don’t really do much except hanging out with each other and play hockey. We’re all kind of the same in that sense. We feel like we’re brothers."
When asked about the experience of playing in the National Championship, Chenault had two words to describe the experience — excitement and nervousness.
"It was exciting for us, but we were all kind of nervous at first," he said. "Once we got there, we all settled in and realized, ‘This is Nationals,’ we need to get our game plan and play like we usually do. There were so many emotions and thoughts, but we really had to just realize it was just another game."
Chenault said his team played three games and the first game was a bit shaky, but understandably so. After complications with air travel, much of the team arrived either late the night before or early the morning of the game. He said he actually wasn’t even able to arrive until 20 minutes before the start of the game. To make matters worse, one of the team captains broke his collarbone, which prompted a swap from Chenault’s usual defensive position, to offense to cover for his injured teammate.
The second and third games were nail-biters, according to Chenault. He said in both games they were leading going into the third period, but the other team came back to win.
Chenalt said, even with the heart-breaking losses, the experience of playing in the National Championship was one he thoroughly enjoyed. Now that the season is over, he said he doesn’t know what to do with his time since hockey has become such an important part of his life.
"Over the years, I’ve gotten to love it more and more, and it’s just become part of my life," he said. "I’m usually gone playing hockey every weekend now. So during the off-season it feels like I have nothing to do or something is just out of place in the world."
But he’s already got his mind on next year and he said he’s not sure exactly what his plans will be, but he knows they’ll include hockey.
"We’re all trying to figure out what I am going to do next year," he said. "I might go back and play for this team again, but I’ve also had offers to move out-of-state and play for another team. So, I’m just not sure what I am going to do right now."
Playing out-of-state for Chenault means he’ll probably have to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, which would make any parent of a 17-year-old anxious. But he has one family member who’s a fan of the idea.
Cheryl Cornman, an Alabama Farmers Cooperative employee, is Chenault’s aunt and one of his biggest cheerleaders. She commented that this would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her nephew.
"Jay will be missed, but he’s still family no matter where he is," she said. "It would be so hard to say ‘no’ to an opportunity that may never come again."
Cornman was the aunt who nostalgically carried Chenault to see the Channel Cats play when he was just a toddler and, since he started playing, she’s made it to almost all of his games, including the National Championship games.
Cornman may be a little biased, but she recognized the talent her nephew possesses for the sport.
"Sometimes I think he’s better than what he even believes he can be," she said. "He has progressed throughout his career and he’s gotten better every year."
Chenault may not have taken the opportunity to "brag" on himself too much, but Cornman was quick to note his talent, pointing out that when he was 13 he won the award for the fastest shot in the country, an honor she said few "Southern boys" are able to earn.
So in the coming months while most other Alabama boys are gearing up for summer ball and, before too long, those dreaded football summer workouts, Chenault just might be packing his bags to go take his love for hockey to the cooler climate of Salt Lake City…we’ll just have to wait and see.
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.