Club hockey revives struggling program

By Cooper Sutton

Sports Editor

Four years ago, when Connor Curry ’11 first joined the University’s club hockey team, he found himself a part of a floundering program going in no particular direction. Now, as a senior, he is the president of a team that is well-organized, well-coached and, most importantly, well-respected.

Curry follows a line of club hockey presidents who have completely changed the atmosphere of the program. Alex Rascoe ’10 and Alex Pron ’09, with the help of Club Sports Director Joe Santorini, program advisor Lewis Marrara and JT Ptacek, head coach and professor of psychology, were able to turn a disrespected, failing program into one of the most competitive club teams on campus.

Five years ago, when Pron and Rascoe were just starting out, the team played in an adult non-checking league, did not have a coach and had almost no backing from the administration.

“[The team] was about one incident away from being scrapped by the University,” Ptacek said.

The team always had talent but lacked devotion. Five years ago, only five players showed up for a game: four skaters and a goalie. They played a man down for the entire game and were not able to substitute. The Bison still won 19-5, even though less than half of the team cared enough to play.

This was not an uncommon occurrence for the fledgling Bison. By the end of the season, the team would have qualified for the playoffs except that it could not play after being kicked out of the league for excessive forfeits.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance for a bunch of kids,” Rascoe said. “Four or five kids on that team had played on national championship club teams in high school. It was kind of like being laughed at, playing against that competition. It was terrible.”

At this point some of the players, including Rascoe and Pron, decided something needed to change.  They realized that to become a legitimate program, they needed structure. They needed to be in an actual college league, to have an actual coach and to be respected in the eyes of the administration.

“It was hard. It wasn’t like I had any formal training in running a business. I was in cell biology, not management,” Rascoe said. “We had to kind of learn as we went along.”

The first and possibly most important feat necessary to improve the program was to win the trust of the administration. Without that, the team struggled to gain approval for anything. Finally Dean Marrara offered to be an official adviser to the program.

“[Marrara] was more than just a signature on a piece of paper,” Rascoe said.

With his backing, the team began to search for a coach for the 2007 season. Few options were available to a small club team like the Bison, but they eventually found a person for the job.

Unfortunately, the man they hired failed to add any legitimacy to the program. In their first practice  the Bison were made to sprint the entire time. No drills were employed and no game strategies were learned.

“We thought he was just trying to set the tone for what he was going to bring as a coach,” Curry said.

But, as the practices went on and the sprinting continued, Curry began to get a different idea.

“We were all convinced that [he made us sprint] because he didn’t know any drills. This went on for a couple weeks, then he would stop showing up periodically. Then he came to one game and didn’t say a word to the team the whole time. He didn’t even say one thing,” Curry said. “Then after that game we never saw him again.”

The team was fortunate when it was able to convince Ptacek to coach the following year.

“I decided to take on the coaching position because I saw a group of really good people working really hard on something they valued,” Ptacek said.

Under his leadership, the program was able to improve and gain structure and respectability.

Since playing in the adult league, the team has changed leagues twice. Four years ago it joined the Mason-Dixon League, where it played for two years. Now it plays in one of the most competitive Division Two leagues on the East Coast, the Great Northeast Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The newfound structure of the program has shown in other ways as well. The team now has buses to every game and practice. It also has its own website that it uses not only to promote the program but also to recruit high school players to come play as Bison.

As it stands today, the team is 5-6-1 and is in the hunt to make the playoffs. They are continually gaining recognition around the region and are becoming a better program each year. On campus, the program is even seen as one of the most competitive club sports.

Thanks to the work done by Rascoe and Pron, and now by Curry, the once fledgling club hockey program is now quickly becoming a regional powerhouse. Almost completely driven by students, the program has changed its image and its personality in only four years.

Curry is excited about his team’s improbable turn-around.

“Bottom line is, I think we have a unique story to tell,” he said. “I just know that a lot of people on campus don’t know our story and I think a lot of other club sports would be amazed to hear how much he have accomplished in so little time.”

“Being able to look back and say, ‘I did that, I did something important’—that’s what’s valuable about Bucknell,” Rascoe said. And Rascoe has done something important: with the help of a few other motivated individuals he has shown that despite all odds students can make a difference.

Over the past five years, Curry, Rascoe and their teammates have proven a cliché we have all heard so many times but often fail to see exemplified: if you truly care about something and put your mind to it, you can make it happen.

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