BY: WILSON JOHNSON
Last season, William and Mary’s Club Ice Hockey Team defeated the Appalachian State Mountaineers to take home the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League (ACCHL) M3 Elite Division championship trophy. The 3-2 win came in comeback fashion where the championship-sealing goal was scored in 5v5 sudden-death overtime.
While last year’s championship was great for Tribe Hockey, it’s clear to me after talking to a few people within the program that winning this year is even more vital to the continued success of Tribe Ice Hockey.
After a 2021-22 campaign where the team finished 7-1 in the regular season, and with the only roster losses being four graduating seniors, it is safe to say that William and Mary is the favorite to win back to back championships. Through interviewing Tribe Hockey President Max Beers, Head Coach Adam Barger, and Tribe Hockey Booster Club Executive Director Nick Larson, I have a pretty good idea of not only the goals for this upcoming season but also the long term goals of our ice hockey program.
Tribe Hockey intends on playing at a high level once again this year with their eyes on winning back to back championships. Preparation for a strong season starts in the offseason where many of the players participate in summer leagues to further improve their skill. Max mentioned that one of his teammates played in a pro summer league against NHL players and NCAA players. If access to sufficient time on a rink, or “ice time” as they call it, is not practical over the summer, then those players keep in shape by going to the gym regularly to stay in shape.
When the players come back to school, they’re in charge of organizing all practices and games. In order to practice, the players must reserve an ice hockey rink 30 minutes away. If being a busy college student having to drive 30 minutes to practice on any given day wasn’t difficult enough, you should know it also costs $400 dollars for each hour of ice time. For a team as competitive as ours, practicing on ice adds up. Nick Larson, Booster Club Executive Director, informed me that the team’s operating costs for a year total up to $50,000. With the college only being able to contribute about ⅕ of that amount, lots of fundraising has to be done by the players.
It’s no secret the responsibilities of club sport athletes and varsity athletes at William and Mary are not identical. There are quite a few more sports-unrelated responsibilities bestowed upon club athletes such as fundraising, planning practices and games, and recruiting new players just to name a few. It’s because of these extra responsibilities that these players feel like they get something different out of sports than varsity athletes; this is evidenced by Max explaining to me, “We get something [else] out of it because we’re putting something more into it.” He continued, “It has a special meaning when we all wanted this to happen and now it’s happening.” He made it very clear that he believes club sports benefit from being able to run the program as athletes.
Another crucial aspect of the continued success of the hockey program is recruiting new players. In the past, William and Mary has had to rely solely on luck of the draw when it comes to their hockey talent pool. If the incoming freshman class had any hockey players interested in playing it was considered a good year for recruiting. This, however, is not the case anymore. While some of the talent that joins the Tribe is organic, other current players saw Tribe Hockey as their deciding factor in where they decided to attend college. This is one of the next steps William and Mary Hockey is trying to take; they want to be seen as a prime destination for athletes looking to play club hockey on the east coast. The success they find this season will be a big determinant of that goal.
Within the ACCHL M3 Elite Division the Tribe faces opponents such as Old Dominion, Citadel, and VMI just to name a few. In the past, these sorts of opponents had been more than enough to handle for the Tribe, but their current team is more than capable of beating all of those teams. This season, the Tribe is trying to schedule more games against opponents who have historically been out of their weight class such as Virginia and Richmond. If the Tribe can contend with teams of this caliber, they believe they can achieve another one of their goals.
“This year we are definitely trying to cement ourselves as a candidate for moving up a division,” Max told me. This goal definitely seems achievable for the Tribe as long as they find similar success this year. In the eyes of their booster club, the sky’s the limit for this team so long as they keep finding success. “I certainly see us continuing to grow our talent pool and financial resources to the point where we can play and compete in division II or even division I [of the ACCHL],” Nick Larson told me. It’s obvious that our hockey team is prepared to take a huge leap this season.
When I asked head coach Adam Barger about how they planned on replicating the success found last season, he had a very interesting response. I thought the four-year head coach would’ve iterated something along the lines of “practice makes perfect” or “hard work pays off,” but he was instead more concerned with the idea of team community and continuing to flourish as a program. “We’re not a good team because we won a championship, we won a championship because we’re a good team,” he stated, followed by “Winning is not our goal. Having a successful team is our goal.” What he means is by forming a team that has talent, camaraderie, and dedication is paramount because if you have these qualities in your team, there is no more certain outcome than winning games.
If you decide to hop on this William and Mary Ice Hockey bandwagon along with me, you can not only expect to see the highest level of hockey in the region, but also some of the highest character athletes. In a sport where the best character isn’t always inspired, you can expect this team to represent William and Mary athletics as good as any wearing the green and gold. GO TRIBE!