Club ice hockey team better than ever
Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Updated: Thursday, February 24, 2011 21:02
After a combined record of 20-19-2 the previous two seasons, the 2010-11 UNC Wilmington hockey club has left mediocrity behind and has been enjoying unprecedented success as the Seahawks look to close out this season Saturday in the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference tournament.
General manager Pete Schwarz Jr. believes that a head coaching change in the offseason has been a big contributor to the team's achievements this year. Walter Coady was replaced by Bryan Hapeman.
"Even at the beginning of the season, Coach Hape had already surpassed my expectations with his passion, organization and motivation of the team over the summer," Schwarz said.
Senior Greg Taylor, who has been a member of the team since his sophomore year when he transferred to UNCW from Cape Fear Community College, has been impressed with how the team has grown together this year. With many games on the road and usually in different states, the amount of travel time the team has spent together has forced them to become closer.
"This year it feels more like a family than ever before," Taylor said. "It helps so much with the chemistry on the ice. When you're close to the guys you're on the lines with, you can critique each other more, as well as having more trust and being able to rely on them more."
Currently 20-6-2 overall and 10-0-0 in the BRHC and ranked tenth in the American Hockey Collegiate Hockey Association, the Seahawks traveled to Columbia, S.C. for the Southeast regional tournament.
UNCW entered the tournament as a tenth seed and defeated its first opponent, and number three seed, Alabama, 9-6.
"It was truly a great game; the team hit the ice determined," Schwarz said. "Everyone had a job to do and everyone executed it perfectly."
However, the Seahawks lost their second game of the tournament against number four seed Loyola, from Maryland. Earlier in the season, UNCW defeated the out-of-state foe, 5-4. But team captain Ben Dorrier suffered an injury and the Seahawks couldn't recover, losing 6-1.
"After this weekend, there are a lot of teams out there who didn't know who UNCW was and now they are going to respect us," Taylor said. "When we showed up, we were in two vans and an equipment van. Every other team there had huge charter buses and warm-up suits."
This weekend, the Seahawks host The Citadel at home in the first round of the BRHC. The winner of that game will face either Appalachian State University or UNC Charlotte. The winner of that game advances to the conference championship, Sunday, in Lynchburg, V.A.
For its last home game, UNCW hopes to pack their home rink at the Wilmington Ice House.
"The last time we had a playoff game was in 2008 for the championship game and we had nearly 600 fans in attendance," Schwarz said.
Taylor also believes that the fan support this year has helped boost the team.
"The energy we have at our home rink is great. We've had around 300 to 500 students at every game," Taylor said. "It's great because this isn't basketball, students can't get in for free and they have to drive fifteen minutes to see us play, but fans still come out and support."
Although it will take a combined team effort to get through the tournament, Schwarz said the Seahawks are led by Blair Bigwood, a freshman from Massachusetts who has tallied 85 points and is one of the top ten scorers in the nation. Bigwood was voted the BRHC rookie of the year and first line all conference.
Senoir goalie Brendan Hayes will try to stop The Citadel from scoring. Hayes is the third UNCW goalie in the last four years to win a BRHC goalie of the year award.
"I cannot say enough about this team," Schwarz said. "Everyone deserves credit for the year, because without it, there wouldn't have been such a remarkable season."