The club hockey team will begin its home schedule on Saturday night against the Clemson Tigers and is looking forward to another successful season. The team lost six players to graduation during the offseason and will be returning fourteen, but a swarm of new players are ready to compete. The leadership and experience combined with the fresh new faces should make for an exciting team to watch.
The Jackets compete in the south region at the Division III level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the premier club-level college hockey governing body. The season began last Saturday with a 12-2 win over the Auburn Tigers in Columbus, Georgia. The rookie players’ impact was felt immediately: 10 of Tech’s 12 goals were scored by first-year players. Defenseman Joey Schutz scored a hat trick, while forwards Raphael Bonneau, from Canada, and Marc Welsch, out of Germany, each put up two more.
Club President and team captain Kenny McCrary has been involved with the team for four years. He grew up playing hockey in his hometown of Grayson, Georgia, and is ready to take this team even farther than it has been in years past.
“We’re really looking forward to the season,” McCrary said. “We kind of ended poorly last year, and I think all of the new faces coming in will make a big difference. We can go in a new direction this this year and really do well as a team.”
Alternate captain and club Vice President Mitch Carr echoed that message, adding that as long as the team is in the right mindset and ready to compete every week, they should win many games.
Becoming a member of this team requires a large commitment and a strong work ethic in order to improve on the ice. Games are held almost every Friday and Saturday night from September to mid-February, excluding the time during breaks. The Jackets also practice once a week on the ice and have another off-ice workout session.
“We get out what we put in. Everybody takes it pretty seriously, and it works out for us,” McCrary said.
“A lot of the people that played in high school are used to being on the ice almost every day of the week,” Carr said, “so for us to only practice once a week, when we show up we have to go hard because that’s the only ice we’re going to get.”
Unlike a varsity team, club teams do not have access to the luxuries and benefits that the Athletic Association provides. They cannot offer scholarships or recruit players out of high school and are not afforded access to varsity facilities and personnel.
All players must pay an average of 500 dollars per semester in club dues and buy their own equipment out-of-pocket. Home games are played 45 minutes away from campus in Cumming, Georgia, and games and practices can last deep into the night. In spite of these challenges, the team is able to put a highly competitive product on the ice.
“You get from it what you put in to it,” Carr said. “If you’re taking it seriously, the other team will take it seriously, and it can get very competitive.”
Each year the Jackets play in many tournaments, including the Savannah Tire Hockey Classic in January. This year, Tech will join UGA, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina and the Citadel in competing for the tournament’s trophy, the Thrasher Cup. Year after year this is considered to be one of the most important events on the schedule, helped by the fact that Tech has won the Cup seven times since its inception in 1999, besting UGA’s six victories.
McCrary feels that winning this tournament is one of the team’s biggest goals for this season, along with finishing in the top ten of the south region. Carr added that he would like to beat Georgia all three times the team play them.
As for personal goals, McCrary wants to match the numbers he put up his freshman year—24 goals and 25 assists—which was his best statistical year. He describes himself as a playmaker, comparing his playing style to Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
“I make things happen, get people in front of the net, and score some goals,” McCrary said.
Carr feels that he is more of a two-way player, taking care of his assignments in the defensive and offensive zones equally.
The Jackets have not yet established an identity for themselves on the ice, but both McCrary and Carr agree that an increase in defensemen will allow them to play more physically than they have in previous years.
“A lot of the new guys coming in are defensemen, and we’ve lacked defensemen in the past,” McCrary said. “We’ve had to put forwards back on defense just to balance it out, but now we have guys coming in that have played defense their entire lives, so they know that physical part of the game, and that will definitely help us.”
“I think we mesh well. We’ve got a lot of new guys, so we’re still trying to find that identity, but I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a good group of guys, and we’ll put some good work in this year. I just want to keep everybody focused and taking it seriously. We have a lot of talent, and if we use that to our advantage, we can definitely be one of the top teams in the region.”
McCrary’s message to the student body is clear.
“Come out and see us. We have a good team this year,” McCrary said. “It’s kind of a haul to get out to the games, but they’re worth it, they’re fun. Everybody has a blast when they make it out to them.”
The team plans on providing shuttles from campus for some of the biggest games this year, such as the home game against UGA on January 30th.
The Jackets will play another road game at Clemson on Friday night before the home opener, followed by two more home games against Florida and Auburn the following weekend.
The first of three games against Georgia will occur on November 5th. Home games are played at The ICE in Cumming, and fans can keep up-to-date with the team through its official website, gthockey.com.