The members of the club hockey team piled into vans with their gear, roughhousing and joking on the trip from D.C. to the playoffs in Annapolis, Md.
School, playing time, girls – nothing was off limits. The players all had their guards down, even in front of media. The recurring joke?
“Just say we’re D-1,” they said.
The team, obviously, is club. But over the course of the day, serious commitment and competition balanced the haphazard planning and a goofy squad. That Feb. 13 game culminated in a heartbreaking quarterfinals loss to crosstown rival Georgetown, which also knocked the Colonials out of the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League playoffs last season.
“The best part about this team is the balance we strike between competitiveness with joking around and also just kind of being friends,” said club president Kevin Rizzo, a senior. “When we’re on the ice and in the locker room we’re usually pretty serious, and it helps a bit to blow off steam on the ride over so that we can really get focused once we get to the rink.”
The team does pretty much everything on its own: Recent graduates serve as coaches. Students reserve the cars and ice, and make sure that they have officials available for games.
The group waited in front of the Smith Center for a final member of the team who was finishing up a lab on the Friday afternoon. Once everyone was accounted for, the journey began and the players immediately started jostling for control of the auxiliary cord. The playlists, they said, were of the utmost importance.
Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” escorted the players across the Potomac River and into Maryland before they transitioned to a series of hits from the ’80s. Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” made an appearance, and everyone sang along.
“Guys who join the team obviously join because they love playing hockey. They want to play hockey, but it’s a little more than that,” Rizzo said. “At GW, there’s a lot of different kinds of people, but hockey players, there are not too many, so having a hockey team, everybody can hang out with guys who they’ve hung out with kind of their entire life.”
The quality of play is high: Most members had significant careers at high schools with prestigious hockey programs like Phillips Exeter Academy and Choate Rosemary Hall. In recent years, the team has built itself into a competitive program in the league, which consists of 10 teams in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, with renewed recruiting efforts after moving up a division in 2010. GW finished 6th in the ACCHL this season with a 9-10-1 record.
The team has developed a rivalry with Georgetown, historically the best team in the league. The Hoyas have now knocked GW out of the playoffs two years in a row, but the Colonials have the regular season edge at 3-1 over both seasons.
For one of the Georgetown games this year – at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., where the Colonials play – Rizzo said there were between 300 and 400 fans, a stark contrast from when he joined the team.
“Especially in recent years, we’ve built the team up a lot,” Rizzo said. “My freshman year, we’d have home games and there would be like six or seven people in the stands, and it was pretty much just anyone’s girlfriend who was free on a Saturday night to come and watch us play.”
GW’s only hockey team has always been a do-it-yourself project. The team came together in 1964 under player and coach Steve Macintyre, who solicited anyone – regardless of playing experience – to try out. His only request was to not be contacted after 10 p.m.
The following season, the team – which The Hatchet wrote at the time “seemed to lack everything a team should have except lots of hustle, desire and teamwork” – had a magical season and won the league championship.
Two seasons later, however, the squad disbanded because there were not enough players to fill a roster. The next year, though, the players got back on the ice after more people joined.
Now, the team has a social media chair and tries to find students with hockey backgrounds through more formal recruitment of known talent, casual methods like going up to people in the gym who are wearing hockey shirts from high school, and just getting out the word. The draw is twofold: Keep playing the game, and find a group of friends to share in something that’s otherwise absent on campus.
Heads hung after the loss to Georgetown, the team’s competitive spirits were clearly frustrated. The Colonials had stayed with the Hoyas despite an onslaught of Georgetown shots, before finally ceding three goals in quick succession to lose 6-3.
But they still reminisced about other games and trips while getting post-game meals at a Wawa, a tradition for the team.
“You get two very different stereotypes between a regular GW student and a hockey player, and you get guys on this team who really match all the different aspects you would expect,” Rizzo said.