Virginia Tech's club ice hockey team arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., on earlier this week to compete in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Championship Tournament, which begins Friday, March 16.
The Hokies, a club team that competes as part of Virginia Tech’s Department of Recreational Sports, a Division of Student Affairs, are making their first-ever appearance at the tournament and are one of just 16 teams vying for the title.
Earning a spot in the national tournament is what motivated the team to leave the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League two years ago for the more competitive Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association.
While both leagues compete at the Division II level, the team decided that for it to get better and increase awareness about the club sport, it had to move to a conference that would be more of a challenge.
"The level of play is much better," Virginia Tech first-year head coach Joe Mullen said of the move. "Seven of the top 10 teams are from our league and three of the top four are from the south, which is where we play."
To reach the ACHA national tournament, Virginia Tech beat in-state rival Liberty University, 5-3, in the Southeast Regional final on Feb. 26.
Virginia Tech’s first game at the national tournament is Friday, March 16, at 9 a.m., against the Pioneers from William Paterson University. The Hokies lost to the Pioneers twice earlier this season, 6-2 and 4-3, but the team is confident heading into Friday's rematch.
"I think we're in a great position," said forward Andres Morales of Oak Hill, Va., a senior majoring in finance in Pamplin College of Business. "We get to play first thing in the morning and I think we can catch them off guard."
Virginia Tech's club team was founded in 1984, and while it was competitive for many years, it wasn't until the team moved to the MACHA that the program truly took a step forward in terms of exposure and recruiting.
"When I first got here, a lot of people around here didn't know there was a hockey team at Virginia Tech," said Morales. "Four years later, I feel like most people know that we have a team, that we're competitive, and that we have been pretty successful."
The Hokies' recent success is even more impressive considering the team travels at least an hour, and sometimes nearly two hours, twice a week, for practice because there isn’t a rink nearby. All that traveling to practices and games can add up.
Fortunately the team has received financial support to help with travel costs from Virginia Tech alumnus Winston Samuels, who earned his master’s and in animal and poultry sciences in 1980, and his Ph.D., also in animal and poultry sciences, in 1983.
Samuels is the president and chief executive officer of Maxx Performance Inc., and the father of Virginia Tech defenseman Joel Samuels of Warwick, N.Y., a senior majoring in agribusiness management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“Hockey is a very expensive sport and these kids don't get athletic scholarships,” Samuels said. “They just love the sport and dedicate themselves to making this program better.”
For more information about the Hokies' club hockey team and how you can watch their game against William Paterson University, visit them online.
Written by Gary Cope.