Gem of the Week: End of the road for UND Hockey's road warrior
GRAND FORKS, ND (WDAZ)--He's known as the face of UND hockey.
This week’s Gem is credited as the man behind their historic success even though he has never laced up the skates.
It’s game day, and the cars file into the Ralph Parking lot.
It’s not a home game--the fans are packing busses to follow their beloved hockey team on the road.
The man leading the way? Al Pearson.
“Al is the glue that holds everything together,” said UND hockey fans, Mike and Judith Quinn.
The diehard fan has been following the team on the road for 45 years, despite battling Parkinson's for the past decade.
“It's the only way I can make these trips out of town, put a bus together, get my way paid, my room paid, and my tickets paid,” said Al Pearson.
"The sparkle in his eye when he is on the road, he just enjoys his hockey team,” said Bus Driver Steve Schumer.
This bus does have one important rule.
“Nobody on my bus is a hawk, they're not allowed to wear hawks on my bus,” said Al.
“Al is UND hockey, he's an icon,” said UND hockey fan, Wayne Solta.
Not only is Al an icon in Grand Forks - but any rink he walks into across the country.
“They all recognize the hat,” said Al.
And the sea of UND fans that follow can't be missed either.
“I'd like to think we make a difference and the team would tell you we make a difference,” said UND hockey fan, Al Klatt.
"It gets us fired up, to go out there right at the beginning of the game and you hear cheers it gives you the goosebumps,” said UND hockey goalie, Cam Johnson.
This retired life insurance agent/superfan is considered the backbone of the team's historic success.
Al was one of the first to touch the 2016 championship trophy.
“Caguilla came right up to me and said Al this one is for you, I felt honored, it was an honor to get down in the locker room,” said Al.
UND hockey is not only there for Al on the ice - but off it as well.
"He's part of our family and he needed some help,” said UND defenseman, Hayden Shaw.
To thank the man who bleeds North Dakota green - the team has started taking on various yard work projects for the 80 year old as his physical ability continues to get worse.
“It's so awesome to be able to give back to him because he gives so much..it's a small thing we can do and we are happy we can do that,” said Shaw.
Parkinson's may be slowing Al's physical ability down - but certainly not his sense of humor. He blamed a fall on UND's biggest rival....the Gophers.
"We don't like the Gophers so I thought it would be a good idea to explain my face,” said Al.
But soon the brakes may be put on Al's career on the bus. His Parkinson's has reached the final stage.
“It keeps me busy, occupies my mind, the more action I have, move around, being on the bus all the time, keeps me active, something to think about,” said Pearson.
"He's stubborn enough to keep going and that's what is going to keep him around, cause he's stubborn and not a quitter,” said Al’s daughter, Joanna Pearson.
Al has realized he can no longer handle the hours and hours of planning each trip - and has handed the keys to his daughter.
“For him to give the remote to somebody to watch tv, that just didn't happen so to hand over a bs trip was a tough task for him, it took 5 years,” said Joanna.
Planning each trip has become an emotional roller coaster for Joanna- knowing it could be her dad's last.
"I do dread that day but I know I will have the bus family,” said Joanna.
For now - Al is all smiles as his team puts another one on the scoreboard
“As long as I can walk I will do it,” said Pearson.
So as the bus pulls into his home away from home - possibly one of his last trips - Al knows one thing---his family on the ice and on the bus will be there for him until the end.
Al Pearson says he thinks he will get a few more rides in this season.
He predicts the Fighting Hawks will return to the Frozen Four.