They both might sport sleek red and black uniforms, call Newark’s Prudential Center home, and skate like their lives depended on it, but don’t confuse the Devils with the Ducks.
From October through February each year, Stevens club ice hockey team competes against regional competition on the same rink where the New Jersey Devils practice.
“We’ve seen them after practices, filtering out into their luxury cars,” said junior Kevin McMahon, the team captain who founded Stevens' club ice hockey program with roommate Eric Yando after his freshman year, when they both realized how much they missed the sport.
Celebrity sightings are far from the reason McMahon and his teammates give up four days a week from October through February to practice and compete.
“We all love hockey and grew up playing,” said McMahon. “We’re out here to have fun on the ice, but we’re also proud to represent our school.”
The team is led by head coach Dillon Wu, who has been at the helm since the club’s inception in 2009 and has comprised a record of 14-28 overall. Wu is a graduate of SUNY Brockport and a lifelong hockey fanatic. He is currently an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Stevens Athletics Department, and kind of lucked into the coaching job.
“Originally I saw emails going out about guys getting together to play, and I just wanted to get back on the ice, too – as a player,” said Wu. “But there was so much interest the students decided to join the official club league, so they needed a coach.”
The Ducks compete in the Metropolitan Collegiate Athletic Conference made up of other collegiate club teams in the region, such as Columbia, Fordham and Hofstra. Just 20 years ago there was no governed club ice hockey in the United States, meaning only the most elite players had the chance to compete at a higher level. Even that was limited, as NCAA Division I, II and III ice hockey – with only about 150 teams nationally – is much rarer than other college sports.
The growth of club ice hockey changed that equation. Today, Wu estimates there are 450 organized club ice hockey teams.
“It’s a great experience for these students and one they wouldn’t have had two decades ago,” said Wu.
The Ducks consist of a group of dedicated student-athletes who balance their studies with a heavy practice and game schedule. Like all 18 of Stevens club sports programs, the team is self-governed, managing all of aspects of intercollegiate competition.
It can be a full-time job. Unlike varsity sports which have assistant coaches and administrators, the club ice hockey team must not only train and compete, but do all the behind the scenes work of running an athletics program. That could involve anything from budgeting to promotion to ordering uniforms to scheduling ice time to arranging transportation.
Sometimes there are hurdles to overcome. “This year, we’re having trouble getting space on campus to store player’s equipment,” said McMahon. “The freshman dorms especially are just too small.”
Coming off of a 5-11 season, the Ducks are off to a 4-2 start in the 2011-2012 season, defeating Raritan Valley Community College, St. Thomas Aquinas College, Columbia University and Kings Point. Their losses came at the hands of Fordham University in a 6-1 defeat and Rowan University by a score of 6-3.
Star player and sophomore co-captain Brandon Hartt is one reason for the Ducks' early success. In six games, the forward has amassed 27 points on 16 goals and 11 assistants. Meanwhile, freshman Max Deluca already averages more than one point per game, with 7 goals and 7 assists, in his first season with the Ducks. Other key contributors include McMahon, Eric Yando, Jerry Riccardello and freshman Dave Chmeileski.
“We’re a little deeper than we’ve been in the past and we’re hoping that depth can carry us,” said Wu.
Wu is actively recruiting players for next season. Learn more about Stevens club ice hockey at http://www.stevensducks.com/club_sports/icehockey/index.asp.