Let Dreams Re-Joyce

Over and over again, your mumbling words sound like a prayer. It's your personalized movie script, really. The broken record lapses. You trot to the plate to the tune of your own narrative:

State Championship, bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded, two outs, down by three. One pitch ends it.

Closing your eyes, a mighty uppercut swing launches the Wiffle ball deep over the neighbors’ fence. Rounding the mounds of makeshift-bases, you hear Joe Buck offer the perfect curtain call. MVP? Why stop there? Division I letters start pouring in from Kingdom come. Forget Boston College and LSU. Why not Cornell-- except as a Rhodes Scholar! Bigger, stronger, smarter—the world is your canvas, only the sky as the limit.

Then, an even louder, real voice scores home before you do:

“Dinner time!”

What happens when mom calls you in from the backyard? When you open that rejection letter from Cornell or hear coach say, “Maybe next year”? Wide awake, reality hits hard. Does the dream die for good—vanishing into thin air? When the fall proves too mighty, who dares continue dreaming in the midst of a nightmare?

Well, a special few never quite wake up from their dream. For those die-hard Fighting Irish fans, Rudy immediately crosses the mind. But, here at BC, one needs to look no further than Walsh Hall to find his or her own secret piece of South Bend.

Meet Alex Joyce—BC’s living proof that a kid may let the dream die, but a real man lets that dream outgrow the shoes of his expectations.

A homegrown product from Darien, Connecticut, Joyce credits his Conte journey to humble beginnings. The journey began over fifteen years ago. Joyce vividly remembers the first day he laced up his skates, taking the ice as a three-year-old.

Screenshot Courtesy of Mike Kotsopoulos / Gavel Media

Screenshot courtesy of Mike Kotsopoulos / Gavel Media

“I wasn’t very good,” Alex laughs, recalling the fond memory. “I played for four different teams while growing up. I went all over the place. Man, I loved playing so much. I did anything to keep playing. It even meant switching between goalie and forward at least a dozen times. The game never felt boring that way.” At the age of seven, Joyce finally settled in net, no surprise to those who know Alex best. His calm, composed presence translates into the game, putting those around him at ease.

Any athlete sees the road to success as one littered with countless twists and turns. For Joyce, that road resembled an uphill battle. No shortcuts existed; just pure heart and desire for the sport he loves.

Oddly enough, Joyce’s turning point occurred not on the ice, but in the unlikeliest of places—the classroom. “When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Paladino, set me aside. Now, I wasn’t a very good student,” the goalie remembers. “After school one day, he goes, ‘What do you want to do when you get older?’”

With the mindset of your average middle-school hockey player, Joyce’s response left his tongue without hesitation: Be a Division I college-hockey player. More specifically, he dreamed of goaltending at Boston College—one of the most storied programs in the nation.

“Do you really want to play at Boston College?” the teacher questions. “Well, if you want to play Boston College hockey, you need to get good grades and be a good student. Skill comes second; hockey never lasts forever.” Tattooed to his heart, the message gave birth to a dream heavier than Joyce ever fathomed. “I mean fifth grade, middle school, I don’t think I listened to that. It’s just funny to look back and realize that the only reason I’m able to play here at BC is because of my grades.”

Even on the ice, nobody saw Alex Joyce as the next Thatcher Demko. Standing at 5’10’’, Joyce’s height proved a disadvantage. Sure, he appeared at numerous national camps and combines, but the goalie left empty handed each time. Junior year of high school proved his biggest test. Stuck behind two different goalies, Joyce fought for any spare minute of playing time. “I always stuck with it, always stuck with it..." Joyce recalls, thinking of what motivated him to weather the storm. “I guess I just really loved playing hockey, you know? I guess my parents helped me. They were the ones who really helped me start doing goalie lessons and stuff like that. They really pushed me to do better.”

Transferring schools on multiple occasions, Joyce eventually graduated from Pomfret—a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. Despite little success in net, his dream never wavered. Once his weakness, academics saved Joyce at the end of the day. “Boston College was the best school I got accepted to,” says Joyce, recalling how his dream was now in reach. “I decided to ask [Jerry York] if I could walk on. At the time, I had hoped to play Juniors, but my parents really pushed me to go to college.”

Imagine having the audacity to approach one of the best college hockey coaches in NCAA history. Who in their right mind gives a small, backup goalie from the backwoods of New England a chance to skate on the same ice as Johnny Gaudreau? Why walk on with a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster?

Never underestimate the heart of a champion. Arriving bright and early to tryouts, Joyce scratched and clawed his way to the team’s practice squad, all while cementing his place on BC’s club hockey team. “[Jerry York] was the only coach inviting me to walk on.” Sure, Colby College in Maine made an offer, but it paled in comparison to wearing maroon and gold.

Seeing this diamond in the rough, Jerry York polished the goaltender with the finest talent Hockey East could offer. Day after day, the shell shock of playing alongside NHL draftees faded into the Conte’s darkest shadows. For once, Joyce felt above the water’s surface, no longer in over his head. “Once you step on the ice and make that first save, even the hardest slap shots seem to slow down,” remembers Joyce. “You always just sit and wait, hoping for the next opportunity to present itself. You find your confidence, do your job.”

Photo Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon / Getty Images

Joyce’s moment arrived in the midst of disaster. Senior goaltender Brian Billet took an undisclosed leave of absence the night before Boston College squared off against Harvard earlier this season in November. That same night, the team deactivated starting goalkeeper Thatcher Demko, plagued by a hundred-plus degree fever. With Brad Barone starting between the pipes, BC had no backup goaltender left on their roster.

Then, the phone call came.

“It was a BC number. I remember exactly where I was. My friends and I had just left the movies. I just watched Interstellar and my mind was already racing. Then, I get the phone call from Jon Hegarty, one of the directors in the athletics office. They needed a guy and [Jon] basically asked if I could help the team out by playing. Monday I practiced; Tuesday I dressed.”

Of course, history speaks for itself. BC lost at home to Harvard, 6-3, en route to a fourth straight loss. Joyce never saw a second of time, but the tale only grows taller. That next day, the practice squad goalie reached the pinnacle.

“Jerry just came up to me in practice and was like, 'we’re going to keep you for the rest of the semester,' and that was it.”

The legendary coach himself even offered his two cents. “We made one phone call and he said he’d love to play," York commented amid the somber atmosphere of the Harvard loss. “He’s not bad…put on a good thrill for him tonight. Let him sit on the bench and dress.”

Lucky? No. Overlooked? Absolutely.

Through all his success, Joyce remembers his roots, never forgetting those who got him here. “To live this dream because I had people who led me in the right direction, it feels incredible,” an emotional Joyce reflects. “To have parents constantly saying, ‘get your grades, get your grades, and everything will work out after that'…wow.”

At the end of the movie Rudy, the film's namesake records a sack on his first, and last, career snap as a member of the Fighting Irish football program. The entire team carries him off the field-- an image forever defining resiliency, heart and the wonders of determination.

Alex Joyce embodies a hope that these traits still exist in the American athlete. He inspires us on a daily basis to let our hearts guide the goals we cherish, despite blindness in sight.

Humbly, the goaltender thanks BC for the opportunity bestowed upon him. Yet, the thanks belong not to Alex, but to us here on the Heights.

Thank you, Alex, for giving Boston College another reason to dream tonight.

Follow @BCGavelSports on Twitter for the latest updates on Boston College athletics.

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Mike Kotsopoulos