It’s commonly said that when sports spectators enter an ice rink to watch a fight, somehow, a hockey game breaks out. Unfortunately for Hope’s hockey team, a fight is not the most controversial part of their sport at the moment. Despite being a commonly advertised and wellfollowed team on Hope’s campus, the hockey team is not considered a varsity sport. According to Noah Weigle (‘20), “The hockey team is still considered a club because the school would have to add another women’s sport to incorporate men’s ice hockey under Title Nine. I am not sure whether the absence of this attempt is due to funding, support or the feeling that hockey does not need to be a varsity sport. I know that there has been talk of trying to make hockey a varsity sport in the future, but I think it would be difficult having to change leagues from the ACHA to the NCAA as that would be a large jump in competition.” Austin Kane (‘20) noted it would not just be a change in the conference but a change in personal life if the hockey team was made a varsity sport. He said, “I know that the goal is for hockey is to become a varsity sport, but numerous changes would need to occur if that happened. Hockey is a lot different than other sports because of junior hockey.
This is where players travel around to play junior teams in order to become skilled enough to play higher level hockey. A high school hockey player is rarely good enough to move on to NCAA hockey right away. This is why a lot of hockey players will come into college as a 21-yearold freshman. Becoming a varsity sport would demand Hope’s hockey program to change its recruiting and yearly schedule. It would also require more support from the school.” Hockey not being an official varsity sport has not been a deterrent for players that were recruited by the program, however. Skylar Miller (‘20) explained his own recruitment and the little impact the standing of the sport had on his decision. He revealed, “Coach Van Timmeren recruited me as a senior in high school towards the end of my season; I was thinking about going elsewhere at the time. However, when I came and visited and got a sense of not only Hope’s culture but also the culture of Hope Hockey, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. Knowing it was a “club” sport did not affect my decision one bit. I see it as just a label, quite honestly. We are a team that represents Hope College, and it’s a great community and culture. We draw a lot of fans to our home games, and the guys on our team really get up for those games.” Miller continued to reflect on the team’s goals for this season after 2018’s great success, stating, “ All the coaches and players know what our main goal is: to win a National Championship with the Hope community behind us all the way. When we won the National Championship in 2018, it was awesome to see all the support we got during that season. I still get chills thinking about when we won it and hearing and seeing how many people were reaching out to us that night when the game ended.” One of the advantages to Hope’s hockey team maintaining a club status is it allows players who love the game to play without having to play junior hockey before coming to college.
Junior hockey is not for the faint of heart, as Kane explained his own path to becoming a Dutchman. He said, “ I played junior hockey for a year. My goal was to go as far as I could. But I had an injury (index finger was basically cut off) that ruined my original plan for hockey. After 6 months of rehab and no hockey, I took a long time to think about my future. I came to the conclusion that academics were my priority, and I should find a career path. I received a call from Coach and one of my close friends who was the captain for Hope at the time, Garrett Gormley. They persuaded me to check it out. I immediately fell in love with the team and the campus and wanted to focus my studies in healthcare, and Hope was a perfect fit for that. The fact that it was a club sport did not affect my decision at all. Looking back now, it was one of the best decisions of my life, and I have become a part of the best family on campus. I really do not know where I would be or the type of person I would be if I had never found the hockey family. I’m grateful for every moment I’ve spent with them at Hope.” Regardless of whether or not the hockey team is labeled a varsity or club sport, its appeal to players and fans alike has not wavered. Given the jumps in competition and the change in recruitment style the team would have to endure, perhaps the topic of when or if hockey will ever make the jump to a varsity sport is not so controversial after all.