Matt Pulver (21) had his first two seasons at Air Force cut short by injuries. Last year was the first complete season he’d played since he was 16. Photo courtesy of Marty France, Air Force Athletics
Billeting players for the Colorado Rampage was nothing new for Rick and Ary Sharp when Matt Pulver arrived at their doorstep in the summer of 2014.
What the Sharps — and Pulver — really got was the beginning of what undoubtedly will be a lifelong friendship. It’s one that has grown even stronger since 2016, when Pulver returned to the Colorado Springs area to play for the Air Force Academy and the Sharps became his sponsors.
“They made me feel right at home,” said Pulver, who is about to embark upon his senior season and was selected the Falcons’ captain this past spring. “They have been there when I’ve been down in the dumps and kept getting hurt.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of their life and to have them in mine.”
In hindsight, the pairing between Pulver and the Sharps makes a lot of sense.
Rick Sharp, an information technology professional, spent 20 years in the Air Force — retiring as a master sergeant — and is an avid hockey fan and adult league player. He also is heavily involved with USA Warriors Hockey, a program for those wounded defending the United States.
Having a Division I program representing his branch of service was a natural draw, and he and his family have been season ticket holders at Cadet Arena since 2002.
Pulver, meanwhile, was a bit of a rarity among Falcons recruits in that he was just midway through high school when he committed in February 2014. Air Force trends toward older players in its recruiting process, but the versatile forward profiled well to what Falcons coach Frank Serratore and his staff seek in recruits — excellence in the classroom as well as on the ice, and character in spades.
That last part came in handy for Pulver, who has had to overcome three major shoulder injuries, including ones that ended his freshman season after just eight games and his sophomore year after 20.
This past season, when Pulver was honored as the Falcons’ most improved player, was the first complete season he’d played since he was 16.
The Sharps (pictured L to R), Danny, Ary, Paula and Rick Sharp occupy an important place in the life of Matt Pulver (center), billeting him when he was with the Rampage and sponsoring him at Air Force. Photo courtesy of the Sharps
“That’s all him, his resilience,” Ary Sharp said. “I don’t think he ever lost sight of the big picture. He has a kind word for everyone he meets.”
Pulver’s resilience was put to a supreme test in the fall of 2016 when he tore up one shoulder and was unable to rehab it. That necessitated the first surgery. Then, midway through the 2017-18 season, he blew out the other one.
“I was sad and discouraged to hear about it, knowing what he was going to have to face,” Rick Sharp said. “I’ll never forget the night it happened. Frank drove him to the hospital and was just beside himself.
“Matt’s mom (Jody) came out to help him go back and forth to appointments, and they both stayed at our house after the surgeries. Matt slept in our recliner for days because he had to keep his arm propped up.”
This past season, Pulver played more games (36) for Air Force than he had during his first two seasons combined. His numbers were modest (nine points, five goals), but he left a big impression — on both teammates and opponents. An excellent skater and a physical, tenacious defender, Pulver was one of the Falcons’ top penalty killers and a mainstay in the closing minutes of close games.
“There are no excuses with Matt. He is one of those rare people who raises the expectations for everyone, because if you see how hard he works, no one else has any room to give any less effort. And if they do, he won’t put up with it.”
—Drew Bodette, Air Force assistant strength and conditioning coach
Upon the completion of the season, his teammates wasted no time voting him captain for the 2019-20 campaign. That despite the fact that 13 of them are older than Pulver, who turned 22 in June. In fact, he’s just one year older than eight of the Falcons’ freshmen.
“I’m a big believer in having players pick the captain, and they did a terrific job with this pick,” Serratore said. “Matt is very prideful, and his teammates saw how he dealt with and battled through injuries.”
Added Rick Sharp: “Matt came to our house to tell us he was going to be named captain, and we couldn’t have been happier. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player. He stuck with it through all those injuries.”
Pulver’s tenacity was evident in the Falcons’ weight room this offseason, too, strength and conditioning coach Drew Bodette said.
“There are no excuses with Matt,” Bodette said. “He is one of those rare people who raises the expectations for everyone, because if you see how hard he works, no one else has any room to give any less effort. And if they do, he won’t put up with it.”
Of course, this is not a new development with Pulver.
Andrew Sherman, his 18U AAA coach with the Rampage, said Pulver holds a distinction with the club that no one else has achieved.
During that one season, Pulver said Sherman instilled in him a lesson that has paid dividends ever since.
“His focus on work ethic, outworking your opponent every game,” Pulver said. “That really stuck with me through these injuries. I knew that to get back in the lineup, I’d have to work hard.”
Having both shoulders rebuilt could have provided Pulver with an opportunity to gracefully step away from a game he loves had he so wanted. And who would have blamed him? Between his education and upcoming military career, he’d have a great start in whatever direction he goes. But that’s not how the Falcons’ captain rolls.
“He couldn’t catch a break,” Sherman said. “When I hear his name and think of him, I have mixed emotions. I’m glad I had him that season, but I wished I could have had for four years.
“He is such a quality person, and I think everyone who meets him realizes that.”