On the ice this morning, there is no sign of the Cavaliers team that had taken Georgetown to overtime in the semifinals the day before. The Blue Devils — a squad that had mightily struggled to even make it to the semis, let alone to this third-place game — are systematically undoing their opposition and making the Hoyas look bad in the process.
“Oh shoot,” Newsome, a senior forward, says only half-jokingly to fellow senior forward and captain John Ryder. “Maybe we really aren’t that good.”
Ryder is not the captain of one of Georgetown’s 23 prestigious varsity programs, but he might as well be. After all, club hockey has become increasingly viable since it first laid its roots on the Hilltop decades ago, and results matter.
A COMPETITIVE PROCESS
The Hoyas play in the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League, a Division II coalition founded in 1995 that is also composed of Duke, Elon, George Washington, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, and — until this year — Maryland.
At the end of each regular season, all seven clubs play in a seeded tournament in February to determine the ACCHL champion.
Move it forward a month, and the resemblance to the old Big East Tournament in its final years at Madison Square Garden becomes even more apparent. And the players feel it too, “club” label or not.
“Everybody’s going their hardest and wants to win, especially during the tournament,” Ryder said, reflecting on the tournament weeks later.
That wasn’t always the case. For most of its history, the team did not cut players; anybody that came with equipment and a willingness to work was welcome.
But as its popularity has grown, club hockey has had to adjust. Now, tryouts are held at the beginning of every school year, and the process can be very competitive.
“We put out a table at the Student Activities Committee Fair, and kids come out and say, ‘I’ve always wanted to try hockey,’” Ryder said. “And we have to tell them, ‘This might not be for you.’ Everybody on the team has played high school hockey.”
Like all club teams, hockey receives its funding through the Center for Student Programs. But it also collects dues and has generous parents and other donors willing to contribute.
That extra money is necessary in part due to the lack of an ice hockey rink on campus. As a result, the team has practiced and played at a variety of local arenas over the years — most notably theKettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, which serves as the practice facility for Washington’s National Hockey League franchise.
It might not be the bright lights of the Verizon Center, but they’ll take it.
‘WE WEREN’T WORRIED’
The horn sounded, and the second period was over.
It was February 16th, the second day of the 2013 ACCHL tournament, and the Hoyas — as a result of a bye for finishing first during the regular season — were two-thirds of the way through their opening game of the tournament. They were facing, Virginia, whom they demolished 12-3 in an early-season tilt and, more notably, 11-0 only one week before.
On this day, however, as Ryder and his teammates return to the dressing room, the scoreboard reads 2-2. Seven seconds into the third, a shot from beyond the blue line will bounce off the knob of junior goalie Connor Brogan’s stick and into the net. Somehow, the Hoyas found themselves down 3-2 and on the brink of an unforeseeable upset.
“We knew it was a fluky goal, and Connor is a really good goalie who played awesome for us in the tournament last year,” Ryder said.
“As a goalie, though, when something like that happens you need to be able to just put it behind you immediately,” Brogan added. “Refocusing after a bad goal and not letting them gain any momentum from it is critical.”
That early goal, however, didn’t deter the team from executing on Head Coach Brad Card’s message at intermission.
“We had had the puck pretty much the whole game and had gotten a ton of shots, so he was just saying to keep doing the same thing and to make sure to backcheck,” Ryder said.
With less than seven minutes left in the final period, the Hoyas tied the game, going on to win in overtime on a lucky goal of their own.
“I don’t think [we were overconfident],” Ryder said. “We outshot them 60 to 20 or something, so we just missed a lot of opportunities to score. But everyone knew … everyone felt that we would pull it out.”
The first job was done, and it was on to the finals.
But as the defending champions — having beaten Maryland in the finals the year before — and the No. 1 seed, the pressure is all on them after an unconvincing semifinal.
For Ryder, that pressure is nothing new. The Cleveland native came to Georgetown already a fairly complete hockey player, having heard great things about its club team. This year, with 33 points in 16 games, he is the unquestioned offensive leader.
But when Ryder first arrived back in the fall of 2008, he didn’t stay long.
“My freshman year, I was only there for the fall. Then I left and played on this [club] team,” he said. “I did that for half a year and the whole next year and then came back in the fall of 2010, and by then, we were a good team.”
Ryder assumed partial captaincy last year and helped his squad to the tournament title, but it was through hard work and leading by example, rather than inspiring speeches, that his impact was felt.
Going up against a gritty N.C. State squad in the finals the next morning, the Hoyas need Ryder to be the player and leader everyone knows he can be.
This is Part I of a two-part series on the Georgetown club hockey program. Part II will debut Friday.