There are plenty of athletes that go unnoticed at Virginia Tech. One such team in particular suits up with more pads than the football team and laces up skates instead of cleats.
The Virginia Tech ice hockey team finished off their season last year with a 15-11-4 record, clenching a combined division title in the MACHA North and South division. This year, the Hokies are determined to bring the national title back to Blacksburg.
The Divison 2 club team is facing their hardest MACHA Division schedule yet. However, after losing only three seniors, captain Zack Walz is confident in the “four to five top players” the team has gained.
“We think we will have a much better season this year,” Walz said.
The phrase “off season” is completely unfamiliar to this group of hard working athletes. During the summer, almost every member of the team played in a local men’s league to stay in shape. Furthermore, the team begins practice upon returning to Blacksburg in August with a preseason camp and plays well through spring break in March.
The preseason camp also doubles as a tryout for new members of the team. Prior to move-in, prospective players will contact the coach or captains for information about the team.
“If they’re coming here, they’re serious about playing,” Walz said after explaining that the team is composed of athletes that played upper-level hockey, in addition to high school hockey previous to coming to Tech. This year, around 15 prospective players were cut during the tryouts.
Although they have the designation as a club sport, the team faces plenty of challenges throughout the season. Walz explained that the biggest challenge, in addition to helping freshmen make the transition to college-level hockey is always “getting the whole team back together.”
“I think the early camp practices help that,” Walz said. “We do everything as a team, just like any other program.”
Assistant captain Alec Burgman brought up another challenge in the length of the schedule.
“It’s not like your regular season where you’re playing for three months,” he said. “We started in August and we won’t finish up until spring break.”
The team will play two games every weekend from now until February, with the schedule potentially continuing through the end of March pending their success.
Burgman identified the Hokies as “the best team within 300 miles.”
“We all made the decision, at one point, that the education and the opportunities Virginia Tech could give us, while still playing high-level hockey, was much more important than going to a small school in the hills of Vermont to play NCAA,” Walz said.
The team has a lot to look forward to following their 4-1 start to this season. The Hokies began their season with back-to-back wins against Millersville and Bowling Green, who ended the Hokies’ season last year.
The team then moved on to a two game series against Towson’s D1 team. After defeating the Tigers at home, Tech fell short by two goals, losing to Towson on their own ice. The loss did not go unanswered, however, when the Hokies beat Delaware the following night.
The Hokies are anticipating a challenging schedule including games against top-ranked teams such as Penn State, Liberty, UMBC and Rowan. Last year’s regular season game against Penn State attracted nearly 3,000 fans, and the team is hoping for a similar turnout throughout this season.
“It’s a time commitment to get out there to Roanoke, but it’s something you have to cross off the list before you graduate,” junior Tyler Daley said.
With a little bit of support, and plenty of hard work, the Hokies are confident in their ability to bring the national title to Blacksburg.