College club hockey abundant in Northwest

Derek Harper, Staff Reporter

College club hockey is abundant in the Northwest and is more popular and competitive than one might think. CWU used to have a club team up until a few years ago, but there are still places to go out and catch a game. 

Schools in the Northwest compete at the D2 level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). Schools that field a college club ice hockey team include the University of Oregon, University of Washington (UW), Western Washington University (WWU), Gonzaga, Eastern Washington University (EWU), University of Idaho and Boise State University. 

A few teams such as Gonzaga and the University of Idaho play independent schedules. With the success that Oregon and Boise State have had, they’ve left the PAC-8 to explore other more competitive options. The most likely scenario for those two teams right now is to play competitive independent schedules while seeking to move up to the ACHA D1 level once other teams make the jump. Right now the closest team at the ACHA D1 level is University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) so for those in the Northwest there would need to be at least a small group of teams that make the jump together. 

For club teams to move from the ACHA level to the NCAA level it’s not just as simple as making the switch over an off-season. Club teams aren’t under athletics, but rather run out of their student affairs or sport club offices. So a move up to the NCAA level would require teams to be taken under athletics.

EWU has been fortunate with their success both on and off the ice. However, EWU isn’t a typical club team. Travis Allen, the EWU Club Sports Coordinator and General Manager of the hockey team described their standards. These standards include name plates in the locker room like they have in the NHL and backpacks with their name on them.

“We’re extremely fortunate at Eastern to have our own facility and it helps cut the cost on some things down and allows us to have a really nice facility,” Allen said.

Allen talked about how he and Marketing Director Tyler Pisani both want to make it a show because that’s how the team can bring fans in. He said to make the games feel like more than “just a night at the rink,” EWU tries to make games have the same feeling of a larger division league.

“With us we try to do the lights, you know we have the smoke and the show beforehand, we have the cheerleaders and we do the announcements and we have music and we have a play-by-play,” Allen said. “I think all that little stuff adds up to give a feel of a bigger time program than what we might necessarily be, being a club hockey program if that makes sense.”

A main difference between the ACHA and NCAA levels. One is the ability to provide scholarships. Since ACHA is club hockey, it can’t provide scholarships, whereas in the NCAA players can be given scholarships. 

For both players at the NCAA and ACHA level, academics are something players have to maintain a certain standard in. At EWU, players must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

“Really what we look for obviously is academics first because one if you can’t get into the college we can’t waste a ton of resources trying to get you there so obviously your grade point average is huge,” Allen said. “A lot of it we just want you to understand that school comes first.”

Former head coach of WWU Larry MacDonald described what makes the PAC-8 special. He explained how it’s one of the most prestigious conferences and is very competitive.

“I think it’s respectable, I think it’s a strong conference, it’s been around for years,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald talked about why people should follow the PAC-8, especially if they attend an institution with a team.

“Well I mean if you’re out here on the west coast and you’re going to one of those schools and you’re a hockey fan, why not?” MacDonald said.

Current member of UW’s club hockey team, Jay Singh Brar discussed how the Seattle Kraken will help grow their brand. He explained that they’re currently in talks with the Kraken to practice and play in Seattle at their practice facility. 

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us if we ultimately do finalize moving to that arena,” Brar said.

Right now, the team plays out of Mountlake Terrace just north of Seattle. Brar said the team helped the Kraken with their season ticket drive and the Kraken donated money to their program. He also explained that the Kraken are letting recreation leagues play at their Northgate practice facility and how it’ll be a great opportunity if they play there.

Allen said that people should get into the PAC-8 because it gives students connectability to the athletes, and they will see the hockey players in class so they can sit next to one of the guys that they’re going to go watch play. He said it’s more of that intimate feel when sitting right on the glass and seeing hockey’s “hard hitting action.”