"To achieve in sports you first have to have a dream, and then you must act on that dream. The best athletes are those who truly enjoy what they are doing and display a tremendous amount of work ethic. They continue to persevere in spite of setbacks and never lose sight of their ultimate goal." – Speed skater Dianne Holum
With a single declaration of a recent epiphany – Sean Haq was cut off.
No longer was his family willing to send their financial support. The money stopped coming in and the Cal Berkeley junior suddenly found himself without the reassuring aid parents can provide when money is tight.
His epiphany was to pursue his dream of someday playing professional hockey and it was a decision his parents would not support.
He applied for independence with the university and was rejected. The miniscule income he could muster made qualifying for loans at the school improbable. With private loans and a job at Berkeley Iceland, he had just enough money to pay for food.
Understanding strangers and friends rebuilt his foundation of financial safety. His landlord delayed rent until Haq could afford it, eventually paying August through December all at once.
His roommates and current Cal hockey teammates, James Yim and Dylan Taylor, spotted him money, even helping him pay for a new computer.
Now Haq finds support and encouragement from within the hockey community, but in the beginning and throughout much of his on-ice career, it was his parents who made it all possible.
His father wanted his son to play hockey because of its popularity in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – though he knew relatively nothing about the sport. At the age of five, in 1988, Haq became part of a team for the first time, joining the in-house Shrewsbury Colonials.
His father had good intentions, but wasn't aware of equipment needs. "My first pair of skates were black figure skates," Haq said. "I had all the equipment, but no pants – just a really long jersey. The first helmet I owned was enormous and I used it for the next ten years."
Today his gear is top-notch with legit ice hockey skates and a helmet that fits. He dons a full uniform of striking blue and gold as the top-line center for the American Collegiate Hockey Association's Cal-Berkeley Golden Bears.
Haq and his linemates Amir Moazeni and Chris Moulton are currently ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 in the Pac 8 conference individual point standings. Haq is the top playmaker, registering 38 assists in 28 games. With 13 goals for a total of 51 points, he is just five points shy of the top spot.
On the ice, his dark brown eyes glare out from behind a caged mask with an intensity rarely matched by his opponents. There are few who can contain the 5-foot-9, 155-pound center.
Haq understands his size and strength may be lacking, but he believes his passion for the game more than makes up for it.
"Off the ice I'm 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, but on the ice I play like I'm 200."
The Golden Bears' main man between the pipes, Brad Buss, first met Haq in the fall of 2003 and was immediately impressed by his abilities, passion and commitment to the game and his team.
"He's not a big guy like the stereotypical hockey player, but his love of the game will more than make up for his lack of size," Buss said.
The 21-year old forward's small stature hasn't interfered with his ability to still be effective.
"I try to throw my body around just to show them I'm not intimidated because of my size, but I wouldn't want to intentionally hurt somebody," Haq said.
Earlier in the season, Cal split their series with the University of Oregon 1-1. The Bears won the first match, but Haq wasn't on the ice – he was serving a DQ.
"We had played Utah State the prior game and I was kicked out for destroying one of their players with what I considered to be a clean check," Haq said. "The referee basically gave me an ‘intent to injure,' which is ridiculous. I don't want to be associated with those types of calls because I also want to be a good role player."
Haq tries to keep his physical play within the limits of the rulebook, but his mouth has no such constraints. As his talent grew, so did his reputation as an instigator.
On the Olympic sized sheet of ice at Berkeley Iceland his roar of frustration, disagreement or dissatisfaction reverberates throughout the rink, often overtaking the hollers from fans, the swoosh of blades cutting ice and the thwack of the puck hitting the backboards.
Cal head coach Cyril P. Allen said he's trying to help Haq learn how to best harness and focus his skills to benefit his team on a consistent basis.
"Sean is one of the most gifted athletes I've had the pleasure to work with over my many years of coaching," Allen said. "He is just learning how to persevere through adversity and disappointment."
Haq believes he's probably one of the more hated players in the league, not only for his ability to put the puck in the net, but for being outspoken as a way to infiltrate the minds of his rivals.
"It's not serious. It's only on the ice," Haq said. "In my head I think if my opponent doesn't have a problem with me, then I'm doing something wrong."
Buss recalled an incident involving Haq during one of Cal's biggest games of the season, when the 10th ranked Cal Bears held the third-ranked Utah State Aggies to a 2-2 tie at Berkeley Iceland on January 21.
"It was late in the game and there was a heavy attack by Utah in our zone and I lost my stick so Sean handed me his stick," Buss said. "And in the frenzy Sean just ran over to the puck, picked it up and threw it out of the zone – which drew a whistle."
During another recent game against UCLA, Haq carried the puck behind the Bruins' net, semi-burned a defenseman and with all eyes on him – as they often are when he has possession – dished the puck to an unmarked Moulton for the goal.
Moulton is often surprised by the way Haq is capable of putting the puck on his stick, even when the pass appears nearly impossible.
"He has made passes that I thought he could never get to me," Moulton said. "I always knew I had a good wrist shot, but I wasn't aware of my one-timer till I came to Cal and part of it has to do with the great passes Sean makes."
Haq's uncanny knack for the game first began to get noticed when he joined the New England College Development League, playing for the Bantam AAA team during the 1996-97 season. On his very first shift of his very first game in the league, Haq broke his wrist.
"I was so small and my jersey was so big, my hand got wrapped up against my chest as I was checked and it broke," Haq said. "But I played the rest of that game and even got an assist." The following year, Haq joined the Boston Jr. Terriers Triple-A team, which plays in the Metropolitan Boston Hockey League. The league, now in its 28th season, can boast a long list of successful graduates including Tom Barasso, Jeremy Roenick, Billy Guerin, Jeff Norton and Keith Tkachuk.
The coach of the Terriers gave Haq the number 55 sweater and he's displayed the double-five digit on his back ever since.
"I've kept the number because of my dad," Haq said. "He was always pushing me in hockey when I was younger, so when I made the team it meant a lot to him – and he was proud of me." Haq went on to play Junior Varsity for his high school in Shrewsbury before his father's job moved the family to San Jose, California in 1998.
That year he was a member of the bantam Norcal Rep AA team in the Southwest Youth Hockey League and helped his team win the League Championships as well as the California State Championships, registering points in both contests.
"We beat the West Valley Wolves in the State Championships, but California was the only state that sent two teams – us and the Wolves," Haq said. "Then we met the Wolves again in the final game at the regional level in Anchorage, Alaska – and lost. If we had won that game we would have gone on to Nationals."
Haq has been playing hockey for 16-plus years and has never had the opportunity to partake in a national tournament, the closest opportunity having been squandered by a vengeful West Valley club.
The next best thing for Haq, in lieu of showcasing his talent on the national stage, is the end-of-season ACHA Pac 8 tournament. Last year, the Golden Bears upset both the University of Washington and the University of Southern California to win the Pac 8 trophy.
"The 3-2 win over USC in the championship game was one of the best moments of my life," Haq said. "We were tied 2-2 and there were four minutes left. Our D-man James Yim passed to Jason Katzen in our own zone. The USC defenseman pinched in to try and keep the puck, so Jason passed it off the boards to me. I went down the ice on a two-on-one with Chris (Moulton). I was on the right, he was on the left and I took the shot near the slot and it went five-hole."
That same season Haq was given the Julius Schroeder Award. The Cal coaches determine who receives the honor based on their hard work, dedication and inspiration to others.
"Sean is one of the most gifted athletes I've had the pleasure to work with over my many years of coaching," Allen said. When he first arrived at tryouts, it was apparent that Sean possessed extraordinary talent. I see incredible opportunities in his future, both on the ice and in life."
John McNulty was head coach of the Santa Clara Blackhawks, a team on which Haq played for two seasons. During his first year with the organization, he was the youngest on the team and led all rookies in points. For the 2000-01 season he was the top scorer on the Blackhawks roster.
"In my 12 seasons of coaching he is the player that a coach wishes he could have every season," McNulty said. "Sean was very easy to coach, as he listens well and always wants to improve."
Haq did improve and continues to do so, but despite his ever increasing talent he didn't believe he could continue playing the game after college until Cal goalie Brad Buss inspired Haq to go for it.
"He always talked about playing at another level, but he felt it wasn't something he could do because he was living in California and playing for an unknown league," Buss said. "I told him he wasn't being fair to himself if he didn't go after it, so he could allow his dream to be realized."
This past summer Haq took a giant first step in realizing his dream after he packed his bags and headed to Niagara Falls, Canada to attend the International Hockey College - Pro Free Agent Camp. He made the cut and had his scouting report sent to all the pro leagues.
As a result, the president of the International Hockey Association, a fledgling AA level professional hockey league, called Haq asking if he would be willing to enter the draft, but Haq had to decline because of his commitment to his education at Cal.
He has also spoken with the head scout for the East Coast Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen, an affiliate of the NHL's St. Louis Blues. Haq was offered a spot in their training camp, but had to decline once again.
"I wanted to go, but once drafted they basically own you and I'm not ready to be put in that position," Haq said.
He plans to graduate from Cal next spring with a degree in nutritional sciences and attend tryouts in the fall of 2006.
"I'm willing to play for anyone in the ECHL if they'll have me, though I hold a bias for the Johnstown Chiefs as the San Jose Sharks' affiliate. I've talked to members of the Fresno Falcons and the Bakersfield Condors and exchanged emails with the coach of the Condors Marty Raymond."
Moazeni, who has known Haq since they played on a line together for Norcal Rep, believes his talented teammate and good friend can make it in the pros.
"He's not big in size, but he has the heart to succeed," Moazeni said. "Speed, hands, physical play, hockey awareness and knowledge – he has it all. But as good as a hockey player he is, he's an even better friend."
Haq continues to balance social engagements, work, school and time on the ice and anticipates the day when he can simply live the game he loves.
"Even though I went through a period of wondering whether I would eat the next day or not and struggling financially – I think it will all be worth it," Haq said. "I'll do what it takes to make it, even if it means going overseas. In the end, my passion will carry me there."
Originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Hockey and Skating Magazine.