A junior from suburban Minnesota, Alec Rush has been one of the leading defensemen on the men’s hockey team since day one. He has played in all eight of the Tigers’ games this season, including the Tigers’ monumental victory over then-No. 4 Cornell at Baker Rink, in which he notched two assists. Before the team visits Rensselaer and Union this weekend, Rush sat down with the ‘Prince’ to discuss a proposal to end the NHL lockout, quirky teammates and juggling.
Q: Where are you from, and what is it like there?
A: I’m from Eden Prairie, Minn. It’s a suburb of Minneapolis, so pretty standard suburbia, with the difference that hockey is huge there. About 500 kids growing up with me were planning on going through junior hockey. Then you get to high school, and about 200 kids tried out for the varsity team. Recently, we’ve been turning out D1 players like it’s our job. For a long time, football used to be a dynasty in my town, but hockey has definitely taken over.
Q: When did you start playing hockey? And what are some of your most memorable or important hockey moments?
A: So, I started playing when I was 5. I hated it. Couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t stick-handle, couldn’t skate, could barely stand up. I was like, “Man, this sport stinks. I quit.” So I stopped playing. And when I was 8 years old, my parents made me take it up again. They said, “Come on, you live in Minnesota. Everyone plays hockey. Give it another shot.” I agreed pretty unwillingly. This time everything was better. I was able to stand up; I could skate a little bit. I stuck with it, and then I really started to love hockey. My favorite moment growing up was actually being a goalie. What I would do is I would stand on one half of the net, and since no one could lift the puck back then, I would stand completely on one post, and then as soon as I saw they were going to shoot it I would just lay down in front of the net. I was an awesome goalie before skill was involved in the sport. That pumped up my little ego, and it kept me in the game. I started to like how moving around on the ice felt, because it was pretty different from walking around. It’s a freeing feeling to be able to skate. That’s why I like it so much.
Q: What’s the dirtiest play you have ever seen in ice hockey?
A: The list on that one really goes on and on. I’ve actually seen a kid take a stick and wedge it underneath a kid’s helmet. He used that to steer the kid around the ice. That was in the corner, and he couldn’t get his stick on the puck because the other guy was forcibly moving the kid away from the puck. This happened when I was about 9 or 10 years old. At that point, you couldn’t hit and the puck would get stuck on the boards, so the one guy very creatively discovered that if he could move the other kid’s head, he could get the puck.
Q: Who is your quirkiest teammate?
A: [Sophomore forward] Aaron Kesselman, hands down. First of all, he’s a local boy. He’s from New Jersey. He has some interesting mannerisms, kind of like Eminem. He’s an incredible dancer. He talks in rap lyrics. It’s pretty out of the ordinary.
Q: Does the team have any odd rituals?
A: As a team, not really. But individually, every guy has his own thing. My pregame superstition is I always have to hit my two sticks I’ll be going out with. Then I do a stick-handling series. And then I have to get a touch on a soccer ball. And then I have to juggle. I juggle to get my hands warmed up. When we were freshmen, our old coach [Guy Gadowsky] used to make us do juggling competitions to determine who would pick up the pucks after practice. We all got pretty good at juggling. Me and [junior forward Jack] Berger are the only two who really consistently juggle still.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: So I want to start out with investment banking. Get promoted right up the ladder. Get really good at what I do and make money quick. Go back to Minnesota and try to be part of the Wild organization. Help run an NHL team. If I had to, I’d like to run any team, but if I could pick, I would run Minnesota to be with the family. Just because I don’t understand how Minnesota is like consistently the bottom of the league. They’re from the state of hockey ... I want to be able to go there and be like, “I can turn this around,” as arrogant as that is. I just want the Minnesota Wild to be a powerhouse.
Q: What is your most embarrassing moment at Princeton?
A: Oh man, this question. I’m going with a sanitary answer here. I forgot my shoes and belt when we were on the road once. We have to wear slacks, a polo and nice shoes when we’re getting off the bus and walking to the opponents’ rink. So I had to wear tennis shoes and a string to hold my pants up. Luckily, I don’t think anyone saw us, but a couple of guys got bent out of shape over it.
Q: What is your major, and what has been your favorite class at Princeton?
A: I’m an economics major, and I’m getting a finance certificate. Right now my favorite class has probably been my intro to macro class. Beth Bogan did a phenomenal job with that class. The other one is a course I’m currently taking called [ECO 362:] Financial Investments. It’s my first real exposure to that material; I don’t know a lot about it yet. It’s tough now, but the stuff is really interesting. I’m mostly struggling through it right now, but when I get all of that internalized and processed, it’ll probably be my favorite class.
Q: Do you have any quirky nicknames?
A: My one on the team right now is “Crush.” The whole Alec Rush thing got a bunch of rocket scientist hockey players to come up with that one. There was one from back home that stuck. It was “Hakeem.” It was because I had a buddy who was pretty much dumber than rocks. When he met me he only knew that my last name was Rush. He thought there was a basketball player named Hakeem Rush. So he called me that and it caught on. Back home Hakeem was my name. I looked it up, and that dude doesn’t exist.
Q: Share one truth and one lie about yourself, and let ‘Prince’ readers guess which one is false.
A: I’m missing three teeth, as in I have three fake teeth. I’ve broken 12 bones. Everyone runs around convinced that all hockey players are missing teeth. That’s all I’ll say. Also, my thumb is all sorts of banged up. I’ll definitely get some arthritis when I’m an old man. Part of the hazards of playing hockey, I suppose.
Q: What’s at the top of your life bucket list?
A: It’d be to go skydiving in a squirrel suit. With flaps under my arms. The whole idea would be to glide through the air in that. I’ve looked it up and you need 200 certified regular jumps with a parachute before they’ll let you do this. After that, you’re in a suit and on top of a mountain, so it looks like you’re a flying squirrel even though you’re not that high off the ground. It looks like such a rush. My mom would have a heart attack if I did it.
Q: What famous person do people say you most resemble?
A: The one that numerous people have said I resemble — I certainly don’t believe it — is Bradley Cooper. I want to believe it’s true, though. There was some girl in my zee group freshman year, before we knew everyone’s names, who said, “You know what, you look like Bradley Cooper.” That was the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. He is the man.
Q: If you could choose one song to play on repeat for a week what would it be?
A: “Man in Motion” would be my go-to song. It’s my running song. When I have to do long-distance running, which I can’t stand, I put that song on repeat anyway. “Knee Deep” by Zac Brown Band is my other repeat-worthy song. Freshman year, I was obsessed with the song. Every time I would study for finals, which added up to a lot of hours, I would put “Knee Deep” on repeat. It drove my roommates absolutely insane. They were so happy when study period was finally over.
Q: Complete the statement: When I dance, I look like ...
A: An Usher highlight reel. Definitely.
Q: What’s your favorite TV show?
A: Right now, my favorite show would have to be “Through the Wormhole.” It’s a show about the mysteries of the universe, and I have a soft spot in my heart for astrophysics. So I took the astrophysics intro course. For the rest of them, you need physics classes which I do not want to take, so I’ll have to come back and audit astrophysics classes after I graduate. Hopefully I’ll live nearby. If I do, that’s definitely the plan.
Q: If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
A: More effort is always better.
Q: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened during a game?
A: I had my own player hit me so hard I got a concussion. I actually got 17 stitches in my chin. We were playing a three-on-two, in a game. The forward on my side had the puck. I was gonna step up and try to make a play before he got into the zone. My partner decided that he was going to do the same thing too. He came all the way across the ice to do it, so I wasn’t watching him over here. My guy steps to the middle out of nowhere and just obliterates me. The other guy goes on a breakaway. I’m sitting on the ice trying to figure out where I am. Thankfully, the other guy didn’t score. I don’t remember the hit, but I’ve seen the video, and I get taken out pretty hard. My helmet got annihilated; the cage got broken off, hanging on by one screw and one strap.
Q: It’s day 73. What’s your proposition for the NHL lockout? How has the lockout changed your way of life?
A: It’s in the players’ best interest to get back on the ice. The owners are going to be fine no matter what. But for the players, that’s 30 teams taken right off the market. The second-rate guys are going to have to drop down to the minors. The All Stars will have to play in another country. So it’s in the players’ best interest to start playing again as soon as possible. They’re still haggling over salaries. Last time I heard, they are debating over $182 million. They should just take whatever they have right now and then trust the owners to get them the money they deserve. From what I can tell, the owners do try to find ways to get players the money they’re worth. Realistically, the owners don’t want good players going to other teams. The NHL is also in danger of losing a ton of fans — the “fringe.” There is the base constituent that will always follow hockey, but that’s pretty small ... They need to try to get a season started up after January. Get a half season in and go into playoffs. I don’t really follow pro hockey, so I’ve been affected in zero ways. I care about hockey, so from that position it’s sad to see, but otherwise I don’t really follow it.
Q: Lastly, what do you want Princeton to remember you for? Or do you have any parting words of wisdom?
A: I’d like Princeton to remember me as one of the best defensemen to ever come through here. But that’s a little bold, because there have been some great guys in the team’s history. So I’m gonna go with a cliche answer: I’d like to be thought of as a guy who contributed positively to the Princeton experience. I’d like people from back home to want to go here because people like me came through Princeton. I want to contribute to making Princeton special. I’d love to be able to talk to recruits and tell them why they should come here. I came in here as an unknown, especially because I didn’t go to prep school, but I hope that I will have embedded myself in the culture.