With the football team winning the school's first athletic national championship and the school weathering bad press for low turnout at basketball games, it has been easy for other athletic teams at the University of Richmond to fly under the radar.
The Richmond men's club ice hockey team is one example.
Founded in 2001, the team has been one of the most successful club teams at Richmond, winning four conference championships and four regular season championships.
"We're a club team, but it takes a lot of time and effort," head coach Kevin Silver said. "These are some of the hardest working athletes out there."
Silver has been part of the team since its first season in 2001, when the team was composed of nine skaters and one goalie. He played for three seasons when he was a student at Richmond and was an assistant coach for another two seasons. He took over as head coach this season when Tom Occhino left, having started the program and coached the team for seven seasons.
Mike Fredrickson, a senior business major with a concentration in finance, has been on the team since his freshman year. He and assistant captain John Ruane, who have both been playing hockey for more than 10 years, said hockey was a huge factor in many players' decisions to come to Richmond.
"When I was looking at colleges, I really wanted to continue playing hockey," said Ruane, a senior political science and criminal justice double major. "After speaking to a member of the hockey team when I visited the campus, I was sold."
Because it is difficult to play hockey at the NCAA level, the talent constantly gets better for club hockey, Fredrickson said.
Members of the hockey teams are required to pay dues of $500 a semester, which goes toward travel and lodging, ice time for practice facilities and other fees. Additionally, players have to bring their own equipment, which is not provided by the team or included in the dues.
"We're not scholarship athletes," Fredrickson said. "We're college students playing competitive hockey in our spare time."
The Richmond team is part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which was started in 1991 and has quickly grown into a league of more than 150 teams in three divisions.
Richmond competes in the Men's Division 3 and is part of the South Region of the league. The team is in the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference, which is composed of 19 club hockey teams from colleges and universities including the College of William and Mary, George Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth University.
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The team practices and plays its home games at Richmond Ice Zone, a 15-minute drive from campus near the Midlothian Turnpike.
Competition in the league and overall in the ACHA gets tougher every year, Silver said.
"It's getting to the point that we're starting to see a lot of guys come out of here and play professionally in the minor leagues," Silver said.
But despite the success and rising level of competition, there are obstacles. Because this is a club team, a lot of responsibility is put on the players' shoulders, Silver said.
Silver noted that many players have important roles off the ice. He said team captain Matthew Improta not only led the team on the ice but also booked the hotels, maintained the budget and organized the trips to away games and tournaments.
Another issue has been recruiting, Improta said.
"It's harder for schools like Richmond because we draw from a student body of about 3,000 students," he said. "Not to mention, hockey is not the most popular of sports."
Fredrickson said it was difficult to recruit players because of the time commitment the team required. The team practices at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday for a total of three to four hours every week. The season starts at the end of September and lasts until the end of February, but often goes into March with conference, regional and national tournaments.
Former players and alumni of Richmond are a big component of recruitment, Fredrickson said.
"There are a lot of guys who have graduated and gone on that are still connected to this team," Fredrickson said. "They know what's going on, who possibly might come play for the team and they're always looking to help."
Grant Garcia, a master of business administration candidate in finance, is playing his fourth season with the team. He started playing hockey for the team as an undergraduate student and continued to play when he enrolled in the graduate business program at Richmond. There is no doubt in his mind that he will come back and help the team when he graduates, he said.
"It's been a great ride and I plan to stick around and help coach after I graduate," Garcia said. "We are truly a family and stick together long after the seasons end."
Recently, the team hosted the Rumble in Richmond Tournament Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. The annual event features Richmond and three of the top teams in the league, which has a big impact on the national rankings, Improta said.
This year, Richmond won two out of three games, defeating Neumann College and Loyola College in Maryland, and exceeded team expectations, Ruane and Improta said. The team lost a close game to Georgia Tech. Returning just weeks after rehab on his knee, Fredrickson was awarded the tournament's most valuable player.
Compared with the last three seasons, most players and coaches would agree that this has not been the best season for the team, Silver said. For the first time in three years, the team did not qualify for the ACHA South Regional Tournament, one of four regional tournaments that determine the 16 teams that play in the National Tournament.
The team will finish the 2009 season with the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference Tournament from Feb. 20 to 22 in Greenville, N.C. The team will play Loyola for the third time this season in the opening round of the tournament at 5 p.m. on Feb. 20.
Contact reporter Nick Mider at email@example.com
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