Hockey fans and players have been missing the game they love, and Zac Bell, a 19-year-old from Ontario, is spending his days sharing pieces of thegame in a special way.
Through AlwaysHockey — his hockey tricks platform — Bell creates hockey-related content for Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and even TikTok. Sporting 136,000 followers on Instagram (including the NHL), Bell shares new videos every day. Comments flood the post, ranging from compliments to questions, and Bell tries to answer as many as he can.
His interest in hockey began years ago.
Bell had a mini-stick in his hand before he could walk. His dad played ball hockey growing up, and his mom has always been a hockey fan. One of his first memories was spending hours in the driveway with his dad practicing and developing his skills.
They lived close to Bell’s elementary school, so sometimes his dad would walk over with a couple of sticks and the two would pass the ball all the way home.
When he was seven years old, he did the “Michigan 360” move at a skills competition at the Bell Capital Cup. The crowd went wild, and that move proved to be a small glimpse into the future.
Bell created AlwaysHockey in 2014. The platform began with messing around in the driveway, working on different skills. He won a skills contest in 2015, which encouraged him to start posting more often.
“Kids instantly started gravitating toward my page, and they were liking what I was doing, and I was seeing other kids starting to do the stuff I was doing,” he said. “So it was kind of like a movement that was coming up.”
Beginning a New Chapter
A year later, a hockey-tricks community started forming, but Bell says that the group died down as quickly as it had been created. The people who ran the accounts were getting older, going to school; there just wasn’t time anymore. Bell stayed busy playing hockey — prep, AAA and junior leagues — but after a few bad head injuries last summer, he was unable to continue playing for the moment.
“I was like, man, I trained for hockey my whole life…I don’t know what else to do,” Bell said. “It was kind of like a bit of a soul-searching for me this year.”
It was around this time that AlwaysHockey resurfaced, and Bell found his rhythm again and started to post every day. It had been two years since he’d used the account, his skills had improved and people were interested.
However, the feedback he receives online isn’t always positive. Years ago, it got so bad that he decided to take a break from social media for a couple of years, but now, he can ignore the criticism and focus on the positives.
Since self-quarantines and social distancing began in light of the coronavirus, the hockey tricks community has reemerged, and Bell is getting hundreds of videos from people working on the tricks again.
His favorite video is one he received yesterday. A kid from Germany created a video of himself doing a basic stick move, tagged Bell, said how much he loved his content and thanked him for keeping him active.
“Right there sums up everything I’m about,” Bell said. “That kid, he’s not inside watching the news getting scared and freaked out about what’s going on. He’s outside, having fun, just playing hockey. That’s just what I want.”
Bell’s videos have garnered social media attention from the NHL and Barstool, among others. He’s even found his own video on his Explore pages. One of his videos went viral, and as surreal as he said that was, Bell commented on the posts once and got off social media. Instead, he chose to spend the day recording a song with a friend.
Merchandise for AlwaysHockey has been in the works for a little while, though that’s largely on pause due to social distancing. Bell is hoping to have something ready in the next few months, and he’s collaborating with a couple of designers to ensure the items are good quality. “If I won’t wear it, I won’t sell it,” he says.
Using His Platform for Good
From creating content to editing videos to posting to watching games (his favorite team is the Detroit Red Wings), Bell is always surrounded by the sport he loves most. To make his videos, ideas pop into his head at random times, and if the ideas don’t present themselves, he’ll mess around for a while and put a video together from there.
Sometimes, those videos feature a special guest. Bell doesn’t have any siblings, so he recruits his dog, Maya, to stand in one spot and act as defense. “You have to get creative,” he said. “I was getting bored of passing it to the wall all day.”
His social media posts exude a sense of positivity; his captions are quirky and fun, his comments appreciative.
He has faced several challenges in the past couple of years, and hockey has served as a constant source of support and community.
A couple of months ago, he learned his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Originally, the family wasn’t going to tell anyone but ultimately they decided to share their story in an AlwaysHockey Instagram post to try and inspire others experiencing a similar situation. They read the comments, and Bell started getting hundreds of messages of encouragement and personal stories.
“We just feel like being open and honest and sharing this with everybody and have everyone supporting and sending their prayers and their positive energy to us has really helped keep us upbeat,” Bell said. “And it’s really helped keep my mom positive, and she’s been the strongest person through this.”
Every day, his mom tells him how proud she is and encourages him to keep doing what he loves. His one goal right now is to get as many kids involved in hockey as he can.
Looking to the Future
“I think just growing the game in general, and trying to expose hockey to as many eyes as I can and try to capture the hearts of as many kids as I can,” Bell said. “I love this sport, and I want kids to experience what I’ve experienced in hockey as well.”
And when I ask him what he’s doing when he isn’t playing hockey, his answer begins with two words: “Play hockey,” he said. “It’s 25/8 here. It doesn’t stop. There is no free time…this is my free time,” he said, smiling.
Despite his injuries, Bell has been working hard and is hoping to get back to playing again soon. As always, he’s keeping a hockey stick and puck close by.
A couple of days ago, he was watching television with his family while the sun was setting, when all of a sudden, an idea for a video popped into his head. He could visualize exactly how he wanted it to turn out.
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That video, posted on Instagram on March 27, features a series of complicated hockey stick spins, flips and turns. There’s no ice rink, no screaming crowd, just him, the stick, a handful of pucks, a net and the sunset beyond.
It almost looks magical.
I’m a junior at Miami University studying journalism and psychology. My writing has been published in The New York Times, The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer. My favorite articles I’ve written are features about the Miami hockey team for my college newspaper, and I’m very excited to begin writing about hockey teams across the country.