Editor's Note: As we transition, we'll be adding some new features. Today, we have a contribution from John, who is heading to a key VT hockey game tomorrow in Roanoke, as outlined below. This is a great first effort on John's part, and it hopefully it represents the first of many offerings. Check back early Monday for a recap of the epic clash between VT and Florida Gulf Coast.
Oh, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for everything, and wish him the best.
I'd also like to say that it's nice to be here. Welcome to our new vision for Gobbler Country.
When you're a hockey junkie living in southwest Virginia, it's difficult to satisfy the urge to see 40-plus players lace up their skates and go hard to the net for 60 minutes. Sure, there's tv, and you could argue that the both the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are only a four hour drive away, but if you live in Hokie Nation and want to save money on gas, there's a better way to watch hockey. The answer can be found almost every week at the Roanoke Civic Center, home to the Virginia Tech ice hockey team.
While the Hokies currently compete at the club level, it's still a great experience for Tech faithful who make the short trek to Roanoke. Not only do the Hokies compete, but they are pretty darn good. Tech is currently 16-4 on the season, with seven games remaining until playoffs begin. This success is not just evidence of a good season, but of a good program as well. The ice hockey team was founded in the mid-1980's. In the 90's, Tech joined the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), essentially the NCAA of club hockey. Within the ACHA, they are part of the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Hockey Association, a very competitive league (the ACC basketball version of club hockey). If you aren't familiar with club sports at the collegiate level, it basically means that the university doesn't put money into the program, and they effectively recognize it as a recreation league team. There are no scholarships, so to some extent teams are as good or bad as they want to be.
In almost 30 years of existence, Virginia Tech's ice hockey team has become quite the powerhouse. Their achievements include a handful of league championships and an appearance at the ACHA national tournament in 2012. That's right folks, we almost had a club hockey championship before a football title, and there's still plenty of time. But enough about history: this season, third year coach Joe Mullen has his team poised to try and make another run for the gold. The Hokies are a balanced team, with nearly a third of the 31 players having nine or more points on the season. 6'1" winger Alex Smith, a senior from Malvern, Pennsylvania, leads all scorers with 10 goals and 12 assists, good for 22 points through 19 games. Defenseman Alec Burgman and forward Doug Macdonald (both also from Pennsylvania) are right behind him with 18 and 16 points respectively through 19 games.
In the net for the Hokies, Walker Detweiler has played very well, with a 2.80 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. At 6'3", Detweiler is the biggest player on the team, and the only thing bigger than his NHL-like frame is his 12-3 record as the starting goaltender this season, recording shutouts in three of those wins. He is one of many reasons why the Hokies are ranked second in the ACHA Southeast.
The team to beat this season is top ranked Florida Gulf Coast, who you might remember from last year's NCAA basketball tournament. The Eagles will battle with the Hokies tomorrow, Sunday January 19th, for domination of the ACHA southeast region. FGCU is a juggernaut, they are 19-1-1 on the season and they aren't just beating teams, they are crushing them. The team has scored eight or more goals in half of their games. This is a team that won the national championship just two years ago. A lot of their success is due to their size. They are a big team, with half of their players standing at 6'0 or taller. By contrast the Hokies are smaller, but do have the advantage of home ice in this matchup. A victory over top ranked FGCU would be one of the most meaningful victories in the history of the program, and a nice resume builder as Tech looks to add to playoff runs of past seasons.
Tech is good enough to go to the national tournament. Last season they were one game away from making a repeat trip to the big dance but lost to Bowling Green late in the playoffs. The program has had enough success to be considered one of the best in club hockey, but it seems they are missing the edge that would bump them up to elite status and a national championship (a recurring theme for Tech sports). If they can beat FGCU, it would be a huge step towards the next level, and a sign that Tech may be able to grab that elusive national championship.
I know some you might be thinking "It's a club sport, why do I care?" Yes, club sports are like the 1980's B movies of the sports world, but this ice hockey team bumps that up to the Patrick Swayze B-movie level. It won't break box office records, but man is it fun to watch. They aren't going to go up to Boston and beat any of those powerhouse Division 1 NCAA hockey teams any time soon, but let's be honest, this isn't New England. It's Virginia, and the ACHA is our NCAA. A championship in club hockey, considering our school's location, would be downright impressive. Even without a championship, this is a legitimate top 5 team, for a football school in the south, that's unheard of.
I urge all of you to cheer on this team, and to try to make it to a game if you are able. I always try to make it out for at least two or three games a year. Admission is only $5.00 (free if you are a student or faculty member), and the games are always a lot of fun (you even see a few fights sometimes). I take great pleasure in watching the orange and maroon play West Virginia in a sport where hard contact is encouraged. There's nothing like a rivalry game, especially in hockey, where players are allowed to truly channel their emotions into the sport. The Hokies have also sparked what has become an intense rivalry against Liberty University, yielding some of the best hockey games I have ever seen.
This team probably isn't going to make the headlines on ESPN, and without university support they aren't going to the fabled Frozen Four anytime soon. That being said, these kids suit up in orange and maroon every day, and that's enough for all of us to cheer them on.