This season marked the beginning of a new era for the Loyola’s men’s club hockey team. The Ramblers’ plan to expand and build upon their program throughout the next few years.
The team settled into a new home as they began to practice and host games at the North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook, Illinois.
Head Coach Grant Riendeau talked about how the coaching staff plans to approach the program as if it were a business.
“Personally and professionally, our coaching staff would like the visibility and maturity to keep growing with the team,” said Riendeau. “Similar to a company’s brand image, or brand equity, we’ve become a marketable brand and we need to uphold that image and keep pushing the ‘goal line.’”
Riendeau said he realizes that the players are also key to the program’s success.
“For the players, our coaching staff would like to keep increasing the level of dedication, intensity and creating a culture of tradition,” he said.
Defenseman Greg Pappas is concluding his third and final season with the Ramblers this year. The senior biology major wants to continue to see the program grow even in his absence.
“I want us to keep improving,” he said.
Loyola is currently a part of the Pacific Region of Division III club team league, which is a part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). This was a step down from a couple years ago, when they were playing in the better Division II league.
“We just didn’t have the recruits because of our limited utilities,” said Pappas, an Orland Park, Illinois, native. “So [my junior year], we dropped to Division III, but we have been pretty successful there.
“Naturally I hope we go back to Division II and hopefully Division I someday because that’s really a good league. A lot of NCAA JV hockey teams play in that league, and that’s where our coach wants our program to go.”
At the beginning of the season, the team set a goal to remain ranked in the ACHA Pacific Region Rankings and to make the playoffs. The Ramblers are currently No. 15 in the rankings, dropping two spots from the December rankings. Their position now, even with two games left in the season, is just shy of clinching one of the 10 playoff spots.
Although the Ramblers will not be participating in the playoffs this season, Loyola still had a successful season in what Andrew Hadley, a left-wing forward, described as a “building year.”
“It’s been good,” said Hadley, a sophomore finance major. “We lost a lot of guys last year and we didn’t get any new freshmen [this year]. We had a couple of new guys pick it up mid-season, but it is basically the same team as last year with the exception of the seniors. It has gone really well. By the middle of the season we kind of learned how to play each other.”
Pappas also commended the team’s season.
“First half of the season, we were off to a really good start,” he said. “We kind of hit a hiccup since we took a two-month break after Thanksgiving.”
In addition to having no recruiting class and losing some players, the Ramblers had to overcome losing their starting goalie, Nathan ‘Peck’ Pecoraro, for a period of time due to a lower body injury. Hadley said the back-up goalies, Tom Valvis and Tyler Kovach, held down the fort while awaiting Peck’s return.
The team also lacked in numbers overall. The Ramblers’ roster was only 17 men strong, which is below the average size hockey roster of 20 players.
The team did not lack in leadership, however. The Ramblers were led by captain Jordan Hawkins, a junior, who is usually a defenseman but has become a utility player for the team this season.
Seniors Nick Kemp and Jackson Bray, who are the two point leaders for the team this season, are the assistant captains. Kemp led the team this season with a team high of 46 total points from 26 goals and 20 assists, and Bray contributed 45 total points (23 goals, 22 assists).
The Ramblers currently hold a 12-11 overall record and are 6-5 at home and 6-6 away.
Loyola will hit the road this week as it plays its final games of the season at the University of Notre Dame on Feb 6. and 7.