Before every hockey practice, before every game, Champlain Valley Union defenseman Alex Bulla checks his numbers.
Not his goals or assists or even hits.
His blood sugar numbers.
A Type 1 diabetic, Bulla is far too busy on and off the ice to be slowed by the ailment. The multi-sport athlete — he’s a football safety in the fall and a lacrosse midfielder in the spring — balances his life between athletics, academics and school/community service, making every minute valuable.
“It takes a lot of responsibility on my part,” said Bulla of managing the diabetes. “I have to check my number multiple times before practice and especially before games. If I’m high or low, it greatly impacts my game.
“Sometimes it doesn’t always go as I plan,” he conceded, adding he keeps Gatorade on the bench to chug when he feels his energy waning.
Last summer, Bulla was a counselor-in-training at Camp Joslin in Charlton, Mass. The camp, which Bulla had attended for five years, is part of the Joslin Diabetes Center and provides a number of recreational and educational programs for boys and young men with diabetes.
“It was a great learning experience as an individual, but also to learn about diabetes, help kids and help my leadership skills,” said Bulla, who also serves on CVU’s student council and athletic leadership council. He’s also one of two CVU student representatives to the school board.
Athletically, Bulla concedes he’s probably a better lacrosse player than hockey player, but the Canadian-born defenseman — Mississauga, Ontario, though his family moved when he was eight months old — said the ice sport is his favorite. “I’ve got Canadian blood so I’ve got to love hockey,” he said, chuckling.
On the ice, CVU coach Mike Murray said, “He’s one of the dominant defensemen in the league. He never gets flustered, never gets beat.
“He’s a good stay-at-home defenseman. He makes the smart plays. He provides stability. He doesn’t rush the puck and he doesn’t get the accolades. He’s more of a classic defenseman,” said Murray.
“I see myself as a veteran defenseman,” said Bulla, one of CVU’s two experienced defensemen. “I’ve got to be on my A game and lead by example.”
He said he has restricted the offensive aspect of his game because of the overall inexperience of the defensive corps. “If I do get caught (up ice), the odd-man rush on our younger ‘D’ is not what we want,” he said. In other years, he said he was very physical but also pinched down and looked for shots, a trait he hopes his young teammates will gradually develop.
While Murray appreciates Bulla’s play, the coach sounds even more impressed with his defenseman’s leadership skills.
“He’s a junior captain leading a really young bunch of guys,” Murray said.
“When you get teams where you have older guys and younger guys, the older guys tend to do their thing,” Murray said. “Alex extends the hand to younger players. He’s very good at making all the guys very involved. We don’t seem to have that junior-senior thing.”
Bulla recalls his days as a freshman when there was a disconnect between the older and younger players. Along with senior co-captains Kirk Fontana and Patrick Keelan, Bulla has pushed team inclusivity as one way to offset the experience other teams have.
“It’s a key part to making ourselves level with veteran teams,” Bulla said. “We know where we stand in the lockerroom and everyone gets respect.
“We get to know each other, about our hockey lives and our outsides lives. It’s not a divide but about being together, engaging, trying to get each and everyone together,” said Bulla, whose Redhawks are 8-2-3 despite the team’s overall youth.
“It’s a great team, great team chemistry.”