Loyola’s men’s club hockey team is making history this week by playing its first playoff game in the organization’s 11-year history.
Club sports are separate from Loyola’s NCAA Division I teams. Tryouts are held every year for most club sports teams, and they are open to all students, but scholarships are not available for players.
For the men’s club hockey team, this is an opportunity that has been a long time coming. And for seniors Jordan Hawkins and Keegan Thornton, who are preparing to play what could be their last game wearing maroon and gold sweaters, this is a chance they’ll likely never get again.
Last season’s disappointing end, which left Loyola out of the playoffs, motivated the team this year and kept the Ramblers working toward this historic feat. The Ramblers’ overall record of 9-9-3 has secured them a playoff spot against Iowa State’s club hockey team. The success this season can be attributed to the new coaching staff and the players’ synchronicity.
Hawkins and Thornton said they do not think there was a big change between the teams playing this season as opposed to last season.
“There wasn’t too much difference in the way we changed our game play,” said Hawkins. “We actually had [a] similar [record last season], just things worked out in our favor so basically it’s just up to us to take advantage of the situation that we were handed.”
Although the game plan has not changed significantly, Hawkins and Thornton said the team’s chemistry was crucial this season.
“Some years, the team wasn’t together,” said Hawkins. “There were cliques and whatnot. I feel like this year’s team is pretty strong as a whole. This year is definitely the best chance we have with the group we have.”
The team’s bond is strong from the upperclassmen to the first-years, and this helps new players get more comfortable playing in a new league, according to Hawkins and Thornton. For example, first-year Dominic Marcus has been a strong asset for the team; he currently leads the team with 22 points and 14 goals.
“What’s happening is he and the freshman found chemistry and basically they are putting the puck in the net and they are getting the job done,” said Hawkins. “Everyone on the team has a role and they find their role.”
Hawkins and Thornton are not the only Ramblers who have found and embraced their role. Jackson Bray replaced last season’s head coach Grant Riendeau and has had great success so far in his first year as head coach. Bray, a former player at Loyola, said he looks to use his experience playing the sport to help guide the team to success.
Thornton described Bray as an overall good man with great advice and strong knowledge of the sport.
“[He] helped bring the team closer together,” said Thornton.
While Hawkins and Thornton both love hockey and have played for most of their lives, playing at a collegiate level requires a new amount of dedication.
But that dedication comes at a cost. Because it is a club sport, the players pay out of pocket. Every weekend is devoted to hockey, whether it’s playing games or practicing. They work on and off the ice, according to Thornton.
Hawkins and Thornton said they and their teammates believe these sacrifices are worth it for the sake of the game.
“Parties are always going to be there, but the friendships and the games aren’t going to be there,” said Thornton. “You can only play hockey for so long.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to face-off against the Cyclones on Feb. 12-14. Loyola will need a win to continue its postseason push; a loss would end its season.