Hockey team skates on

Sean Daugherty

Kent State ice hockey club continues to give athletes a chance to compete

Players perform drills during practice Monday. The team opens its season Sept. 28 against Youngstown State at the Battle of Ohio in Wooster. PHOTOS BY SEAN DAUGHERTY | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

Ice hockey has not been a varsity sport at Kent State for more than a decade, but the Kent State ice hockey club hasn’t received the message.

When the university cut its ice hockey program in 1991, the team was added as a club. Chris Wilk helped get the club started and has been involved ever since, first as head coach and now as general manager.

“We organized the pick-up games,” Wilk said, “and we have slowly grown to what we are today.”

Today, the team has about 30 players, four coaches and several interns.

Kurt Voss-Hoynes, player and student manager of the ice hockey team, said few students realize hockey is a club sport, but the players consider themselves more than just a club team.

“We look at (hockey) as a varsity sport,” he said. “This is hockey. This is not a joke.”

Laing Kennedy, Kent State athletic director, said the university has no plans of bringing back an ice hockey team at the varsity level.

“That would require a major capital investment,” he said. “It is difficult to add a major male program when we’d need to be looking to add a women’s program.”

The team competes in the highly-competitive Central States Collegiate Hockey League of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The league includes Ohio, Iowa State and Illinois, and it typically sends five teams to the national tournament every year, Wilk said.

The team’s season runs from the end of September to the beginning of March. Six days a week are devoted to practice and games. The year-round commitment is equivalent to varsity athletes, Voss-Hoynes said.

Wilk said the main difference between varsity and club athletes is the focus on academics and not competing in the professional leagues.

“There are 5,000 players at the club level, and three guys went on to play professionally,” he said. “These guys are here to go to school.”

Just because the players are not focused on turning pro does not mean they lack talent, Voss-Hoynes said.

“All of us have Junior experience,” he said. “We just didn’t get as many breaks as Division I players.”

Wilk said the level of competition is equivalent to that of Division III schools.

Ice hockey is a competitive club that charges dues to participate and travel to compete against other schools. Players hold fundraisers to offset the cost of equipment, travel and lodging, which can reach close to $3,000 per player.

Despite having to pay to play and not competing at the highest collegiate level, Voss-Hoynes said players are still very fortunate.

“There is a small population of (hockey players) compared to football or baseball,” he said. “Very few hockey players get to do what we’re doing.”

The team opens its season Sept. 28 at Wooster, and plays its first home game Oct. 6. Kent State will host the 2007 national tournament in March in Boardman.

The team plays its home games at the Kent State University Ice Arena. Admission is free for Kent State students.

Contact recreational services reporter Sean Daugherty at [email protected].