Richmond's club ice hockey team has made great strides this season with a current record of 9–2, improving drastically from last year's 1–16.
“We’re back now,” said senior Samuel Blakley, one of the team’s captains.
Blakley and the team’s other captains, seniors Michael Collins and Michael Blaum, said that a lot had changed since the beginning of this year for the team, including the addition of new players and some who had played in previous years, but did not last year. But the true turning point for the team was hiring a new head coach.
Jason Block, who has been playing hockey for nearly 30 years and coaching for about 10, said that he could tell the program needed restructuring from the moment he became head coach of the team in August.
“They needed more from their coach in terms of understanding the commitments and the responsibilities of a student-athlete at a university that’s as competitive as this,” Block said. “That’s kind of what I tried to bring — that balance. They’re here to get their education and play hockey on the side.”
Ice hockey is not a varsity sport at Richmond. Because players are not bound by the commitment of a varsity team, they often have outside responsibilities vying for their time.
“As much as we all want it to be a little more intensive, it’s hard to get that commitment level,” Collins said.
Understanding this dilemma, Block focuses his efforts on making sure his players are in constant communication with him and each other so that practices can be as productive and progressive as possible.
“I’m not foolish in thinking this is all they have, and that everything’s gonna revolve around hockey schedule and games and practice —
In previous years, there were multiple practices to attend per week and weekends were dominated by travel games. Now, the team meets once a week for practice at SkateNation Plus, an ice rink located about 20 minutes from campus, and travels less in an effort to keep players on the team, Collins said.
The team is ranked 10th in the South Division of the American Collegiate Hockey Association and qualified for the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference division playoffs. Junior Ben Napierala said the team hadn’t seen this kind of success in about five years. If it is still ranked high at the end of the season, the team will compete in a regional playoff against other southern teams, he said.
The team will be playing its first home game of the semester this Friday, Feb. 3, at SkateNation Plus against Catholic University.
“[Richmond students] get discouraged to come out because it’s on weekends, at night and off campus,” Blakley said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever heard from anyone who’s been to our games that they didn’t enjoy it.”
Contact reporter Katie Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org