Some lessons aren’t revealed until the end and in this case, it didn’t come until the handshake line after UCLA dominated Cal State Fullerton 9-0 to collect their third consecutive win to start the season.
Before the game, I spotted the Titans goaltender, Gabriel Zelico, warming up alone in the hallway. As he stretched, I noticed his birth defect: a right arm and hand that were not fully formed. I didn’t say anything to the Bruins and they went out there and peppered this courageous athlete with 96 shots on goal. Gabriel stood strong despite the relentless barrage and the score would have been far more lopsided had it not been for his tenacious will to compete.
When the teams met at center ice for post-game handshakes, instead of fist bumping each player with his catching glove, the netminder took it off and shook hands with our squad. It was only then that they became aware of Gabriel’s deformity.
After the Bruins got off to a 4-0 start against a team that was clearly not in their class, between periods I stressed the importance of respecting the opponent. In that handshake line, and throughout the entire arena, we all had tremendous respect for Gabriel.